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June 22, 2009



An interesting post. It certainly brings up quite a few questions.

The first, for me, is why be so dependent literally on the Latin for the text of the English litugy?

It brings to mind the old notion that the only "sacred" languages are Latin,koine Greek and Hebrew. That such a notion is considered quaint by most who do not speak such languages should make those advocating a literal translation pause and reflect.

Some interesting points in Catholics for ministry. Being Eastern Orthodox for many years I have grown used to the language used in the Orthodox liturgy. I do not see that much to be excited about with regards to some of the prayers and salutations but, then, I'm habituated to them and have not noticed their "strangeness", ( when the priest turns around from the altar and pronounces "The Lord be with you", the congregation does respond, " And with your spirit". Nothing too strange here if "spirit" reminds one of the Spirit but it is a bit esoteric. Also, the Creed is said with "I believe", not "we believe". The criticism is a good one though.
On the whole, I agree with the criticisms. The same criticisms could also be applied to the English translation of the Orthodox liturgy.

Which brings up a second point. Why should the Vatican be so micro-managing such a project? Why aren't the bishops who are directly involved with the life of their diocese and countries not allowed a say?
What does this imply for the notion of collegiality etc; so wonderfully expunded yet so badly practiced?

I think this development will also deeply affect ecumenical efforts. Why should Orthodox trust the Catholic side when such blatant papal dominance is being exercised over such a delicate and deep subject?


Dear Evagrius,

This is one area where, at with respect to the Orthodox, Rome's involvement will help. The fact is is that the Orthodox have been shaking their heads at our post-conciliar rites for 40 years. In short they think that we went mad.

Joseph really ad hominems are beneath you. You seem to like to point out other's faults. What would St. Ignatius say?

J. Henry Newman

One result of these new translations – an intentional result I think – is that Catholics will increasingly speak in a sort of insider argot, a bizarre mix of English, Latinisms, scraps of Thomistic talk, nostalgic references to Chesterton and Belloc and bits of code, e.g. ‘hermeneutic of continuity’. This is already happening amongst the traditionalistas, e.g. the loonie followers of Damian Thompson. One ‘assists’ at Mass, for example. We will advert to things rather than noticing them. Here is a typical comment from New Liturgical Movement

While the cappa magna is not a strictly liturgical vestment, it is still a part of the prelatial choir dress, and perhaps the one that most vividly typified the prelatial dignity. That its use has been taken up again by Cardinal O’Brien may be taken to show the ongoing influence of the re-assertion of a hermeneutic of continuity in the Church, which is also shown by a passage of the Cardinal's homily …

This is exactly what seems to have happened to Western Orthodoxy. My Orthodox friends communicate in a babel of Russian, Greek and English. Marriage is a podvig, not a spiritual struggle. They have Matushkas not priest’s wives. And so on.

The argot establishes a kind of tribal identity, us against the world (I almost wrote: contra mundum). Shallow commentators like the loquacious Fr Zuhlsdorf pick this up and promote “identity” as a goal in itself. The even shallower Peter Kreeft takes a step further and writes about Catholic jihad against this, that and the other aspect of modernism. Will we end up with the tribalism that has crippled the Middle East? The new translations are an unfortunate step in that direction.

Spirit of Vatican II

J. H. Newman, chilling but plausible! I think to make a noise about Catholicism or Catholic Identity is a subtle, insidious form of idolatry. American Bishops have not yet learnt this, as the Obama/Notre Dame debacle showed.


J. H. Newman,

Not at all plausible? Have you ever lived in the Middle East? Or in any area that has a real tribal culture? I seriously doubt it, if you had you would not make such a "shallow" comment. This is part of the excessive rhetoric of the left (perhaps I should construe your comments as equally tribal? Perhaps I should suggest then that your comments are moving society in the direction of Middle East or the former USSR?).

The reality is that both the lefties (you and Joseph O'Leary) and the right are perfect expressions of western party politics.

Spirit of Vatican II,

Idolatry? Please this is precisely the type of language about which J. H. Newman was just complaining. The argot that is being used on this website is just as peculiar.

Spirit of Vatican II

Analogies with the Middle East have a certain piquancy -- for in the Jewish, Islamic, Evangelical and Catholic worlds we see the same slide toward idolatry for the same reasons of insecure identity. I mean that we make a Golden Calf of our identity and of the allegedly threatened "continuity" of tradition, using scriptural and magisterial texts as bulwarks in a fundamentalistic way. I do think the christian churches are mirrors to one another and also that the monotheistic religions are mirrors to one another -- the same anxieties and defense formations are found in all. Excuse my jargon -- but I think you can rephrase the point I am trying to make in other terms.


I could rephrase your argument but I assume that you mean what you say. If I should be expected to rephrase your arguments, then why do you not rephrase the arguments of the right. If you did, you would have to conclude that "idolatry" and "Golden calf" are inappropriate descriptors. What is good for the goose is good for the gander.


Fr. Joseph,

What evidence is there of "ignorance of Latin" or English? This seems like an entirely gratuitous assertion.

The reality is that while the English chosen by ICEL to represent the Latin prayers is perhaps fine for those from most of the U.S., it was deeply insentive to the usage of southerners. So while a removal of hierarchical elements may suit the sensibilities of what my southern friends call "Yankees", it certainly does not suit their sensibilities or culture.

You cannot both argue for inculturation when it suits your culture and deny its usage when it does not suit your sensibilities.


I didn't know that "southerners" were that hiearchical. Perhaps that explains their problems.

Those in charge are, as has been pointed out, on the whole not native speakers of English. They are, therefore, unacquainted with the nuances of English.

J. Henry Newman

Joseph, “idolatry” may be a bit too strong, but only a bit. Rather than using tradition as a bridge from this world to God, people are building a house on the bridge. The cappa magnas and maniples and worries about ‘slavishly accurate liturgical translations’ (they are mostly inaccurate, but let that pass) may be helpful but they are means not ends. So I think “idolatry” is not wrong.

Here is Thomas Merton, writing in 1969 about the (post-Vatican II) rediscovery of monastic theology:

The Middle Ages are still regarded with understandable misgivings because in America the word “medieval” refers in fact to the pseudo-medieval mishmash of romanticism, conservatism and authoritarianism whose epiphany was the pseudo-Gothic parish church in an ethnic ghetto, giving itself the airs of a cathedral though dwarfed by the surrounding factories. (Merton’s preface to THE MONASTIC THEOLOGY OF AELRED OF RIEVAULX, by Amédée Hallier OCSO, Cistercian Studies Series).

“Not” I am based in London but have lived and worked in the Middle East since the early 1990s – in 10 countries altogether. My Arabic is very weak – it is a difficult language. But I have seen, again and again, otherwise well-meaning and intelligent leaders who want organisations filled with people of merit but end up being “forced by the culture” to prefer mediocre people who display loyalty and who utter tribal shibboleths over those of insight and diligence who don’t. This has hampered universities, governments and companies.

Something like seems to be happening in the Church; it is otherwise hard to explain how we have ended up with some surpassingly stupid bishops, including some elevated to high curial offices.

The other comparison to the Middle East that is apropos was also pointed out on this website, when Joseph summarised Aidan O'Neill's outstanding essay, ROMAN CATHOLICISM AND THE TEMPTATION OF SHARI'A. O'Neill doesn't mention the self-appointed liturgical muṭawiʿiyn (religious police) who pepper bishops' offices and dicasteries with complaints about liturgical errors at Mass.

None of this has anything to do with “leftism” or “rightism” or with the former USSR.

One thing I will give the traditionalists: they have mastered and made better use of blogs and “new media” than the Catholic mainstream. Reading some of the blogs you could get the impression that an overwhelming wave of Catholics are clamouring for Tridentine Masses and the new translations, while a few ancient “lefties” desperately cling to their clown masses and polyester vestments. But this is because the traditionalists know how to use cross-references: Fr Finigan reports that Fr Z says that Damian Thompson reports that the Rorate Caeli website indicates that Fr Finigan says that … and round and round it goes. Big noise, few people.

Luckily, we can switch off the computers and go out into the world and attend real church, not chapel-webcams or “liturgical eye candy” (they actually call it that). And there we find the traditionalists as they are: a fairly small cranky tribe, linked by codewords and by fears of outsiders. It’s all in Mary Douglas.

Most people in the pews – and where I live, the churches are still pretty full – just want to get on with their prayers and their lives in Christ. They aren’t wound up because Father faces the people or because the liturgy says that the blood of Christ was shed “for all”. And I think Bp Trautman is right: they will find the language of the new translations as foreign and odd.

Spirit of Vatican II

For arguments about the actual content of the translations, see the other entries under this rubric of Crisis in the Liturgy.



You write, "But I have seen, again and again, otherwise well-meaning and intelligent leaders who want organisations filled with people of merit but end up being “forced by the culture” to prefer mediocre people who display loyalty and who utter tribal shibboleths over those of insight and diligence who don’t. This has hampered universities, governments and companies. "

But my point still stands. There is a vast difference between party politics and tribalism.

Aidan O'Neill's essay suffers from the same problem that we see here: an unhelpful analogy.

You write, "None of this has anything to do with “leftism” or “rightism” or with the former USSR."

This is correct and that was precisely my point. If I compare the left to the USSR you reject it since the analogy is not simply an analogy. There is simply to great a difference between Stalin's regime which killed over 50 million and the left in the West.

It is equally not helpful to draw an analogy between radical islamists and Benedict. Last time I checked Benedict had not threatened to kill anyone.

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