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What’s Next? A pastor reflects on the new Roman Missal


In December 2009, in an article on the new Roman Missal (Am., 12/14/09), I asked the question: “What if we just said ‘wait’?” I proposed that the new translation be “road tested” for a year before being widely implemented. More than 23,000 people from around the English-speaking world liked that idea and signed on to a Web site to say so. Now, after several months of using the newly translated Roman Missal, I find myself asking a new question: “What’s next?”

On the first Sunday of Advent, after carefully preparing my parishioners, I swallowed hard, read the prayers, chanted the chants and did what I was required to do. I told myself it would get easier over time. Now I am not so sure. The overloaded sentences and convoluted syntax of the collects and other prayers may be less jarring than at first, but by calling attention to themselves they continue to get in the way of prayer, at least for me. The same is true for frequently recurring words like “humbly,” “graciously,” “beseech” and “grant, we pray.” And I have an almost visceral reaction when it comes to “precious chalice,” “oblation of our service,” “summoned before you,” “conciliation,” “consubstantial with the Father” and “shed for you and for many.”

Perhaps it is a bit different for the people in the pews. My own parishioners have joined in the new responses in fairly good spirit (though with some initial eyebrow-raising), and if our varied renditions of “Lord, I am not worthy” occasionally sound like we are speaking in tongues, their “and with your spirit” comes across loud and clear (even if it sometimes sounds like “There, we did it!”).

So how does the report card look? Is the worst over? Apart from critics like me, has the new Missal been well received? Can it be called a success? I do not think so. The Missal continues to be an obstacle to prayer and to raise many more questions than it answers.

First, there is the question of justice. In spite of the outspoken concerns of liturgists, theologians, pastors and lay faithful (and some bishops, too), the new Missal, a book as heavy, awkward and clumsy as the new texts themselves, was rolled out right on schedule—in far more timely fashion than the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner, although to considerably less acclaim. This was no small achievement given that, after the Missal finally received the approval of most, not all, of the bishops’ conferences of the English-speaking world, its test flight to Rome resulted in hundreds of last-minute, behind-the-scenes changes made by some nameless Vatican editors.

Second, there is the question of language. Some of the Latin originals of our prayers are wonderful compositions—simple yet profound and expressed with classical economy of language. Not so these translations, where “Roman brevity” is nowhere to be seen. On almost every page, there are passages so turgid as to be distasteful and, in many cases, downright baffling. [More]


Michael Ryan/America



  1. Doris Cabrera says:

    I have to comment on this, although I held back for a number of weeks; I am an active member of The Mission San Luis Rey parish in Oceanside, CA. My feelings on all of this boils down to the new translation of the liturgia, and may I add that I speak French, Italian, Spanish, and English fluently, with a little bit of Mandarin and Armenian; I do not

  2. Albert2007 says:

    The author cites “the question of justice” and says that “[i]n spite of the outspoken concerns of liturgists, theologians, pastors and lay faithful (and some bishops, too), the new Missal … was rolled out right on schedule ….” Where was the “justice” in the early 1970s when the Novus Ordo was rolled out despite the outspoken concerns of liturgists, theologians, pastors and lay faithful? The bishops of Vatican II said Latin was to retain its pride of place and did not say it should be eliminated from the Mass, and yet that’s what happened. (The Council also did not mandate the destruction of high altars and Communion rails, yet that is what was done by many pastors, over the strenuous and heartfelt objections of many parishioners.) Many of the changes in the English translation of the 3rd edition of the Roman Missal were made to correct the inaccurate translations made in the early 1970s by nameless editors at ICEL (Int’l Comm’n on English in the Liturgy). English-speaking Catholics are belatedly (40 years later) joining non-English-speaking Catholics who have been using a faithful translation of the Latin text for the past 40 years.

  3. dustigirl says:

    You are right on Father. I wrote to our Archbishop
    Most Rev. Roger L. Schwietz, OMI
    requesting that he bring these concerns to the Holy Father when he visited Rome this year for his ad-lima visit. This is what I said. Six pasishioners sign this.
    The liturgical changes implemented at Advent 2011, rather than being a source of unity are, at least for the people in the pews, a source of confusion and division and creating doubt and so I ask you Archbishop and our Holy Father please prayerfully reconsider this action. I do not address the changes for the celebrant.
    At the liturgy despite “aids and helps like the cards in the pews” the congregation is confused, and anyone away from the church, for illness for example, even for a short time does not feel welcome but rather a stranger in our church.
    Rather than promoting better worship, confusion is reigning.
    This was not the case when implementing the changes of Vatican II.
    The new language of congregational response drives a wedge between our “separated brethren” and Catholicism and so creates division.
    Our educated young people have and are expressing doubt. “If the church can change the language, posture of worship, and require only certain music for parts of the liturgy, what else can/will be changed?”
    We are lifelong very active and praying Catholics having had active involvement the church and in parish ministries for many years. Re: “Documents of Vatican II. The changes implemented brought life to the church from the outset.

    We were adults when the second Vatican Council took place and experienced the changes implemented at that time. It was evident that the Holy Spirit was active during that time and in the years since.
    We have, in the years since Vatican II, come to believe we are the church, the people of God. Our youth are the future of the church. We strive to listen to the Holy Spirit rather than create doubt and drive them away because of semantics. We are more and more in unity with our “separated brethren” in worship even to the point where they have adopted much of our liturgical language and cycle of readings and on social justice issues. We celebrate with our Catholic sisters and brothers, liturgies in their native languages.
    Do we, now, negate the centuries of excellent music in the church, or the nearly 50 years of ecumenical dialogue and progress toward Christian unity because of semantics or give our young people one more reason to abandon Catholicism, and cause confusion for the faithful in the pews?
    I received a reply the he would carry this message to the Congreation on the Liturgy~ Keep up you preaching Father.

  4. Paul Skizinski says:

    Father Ryan, I agree with you wholeheartedly. You have put many of my thoughts into words. The clumsy, archaic verbiage interferes with the spirit of prayer. In response to Mr. McCaughey, this is nothing like what happened following Vatican II, which was a breath of fresh air in a Church that was finally catching up with the times.

    • William L McCaughey says:

      Yes, the Church has caught up with the times, and like our times, is now in a state of chaos and dissent! Churches are being closed; seminaries are being closed and vocations are down. Numerous Catholic schools have closed their doors or no longer teach the Faith. This is progress??? The Church was much more unified liturgically and doctrinally before VAT II than afterwards. And as for ecumenism, the Protestants are having a field day in Latin America converting Catholics to their various sects. Some dialogue! When growing up in the 50s and 60s, I never realized that my prayer life was being hindered by “clumsy, archaic verbiage.” A great many saints living before VAT II obviously did not have their prayer life unduly affected by it either!!

  5. Pierre A. Belhumeur says:

    As a lifelong Catholic of 69 years, actively involved in and with the Church, I wholeheartedly agree with Fr. Ryan’s opinions. In his teachings, Jesus constantly favored the simple and the uncomplicated to express princi-ples and doctrine, much as did Mother Theresa. Not so with these changes to the Roman Missal.

  6. Eileen Kovatch says:

    The language is indeed awkward and certainly not the way I talk to God. I have always thought the motivation behind the changes was to avoid dealing with more meaningful issues or an attempt to ease back into Latin Masses since the new language doesn’t make any more sense than what we have now.

  7. William L McCaughey says:

    I find it hard to comprehend what all the fuss is about! Back in 1969 we were suddenly confronted with Pope Paul’s new Mass which was quite different from the mass we had grown up with, and which had nourished generations of saints and sinners. We were told to get over it and get with the program. Like good Catholics, we swallowed the pill and tried to cope with the many variations on a theme! And now people are quibbling over a few minor changes!! As they told us back then, get over it and grow up!

    • Carl says:

      Turgidity is not a minor change. Example: “[S]urpass, for the honor of your name, what you pledged to the Patriarchs by reason of the faith, and through sacred adoption increase the children of your promise, so that what the Saints of old never doubted would come to pass your Church may now see in great part fulfilled.” I gather you think it is childish and immature to prefer the simpler and beautiful…and clearer???

  8. Tony says:

    But, did Jesus die for many or all of humanity?

  9. Gaylend Meeks says:

    It is called Unity . Keep the faith Father


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