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The old ICEL translation weakened reverence for the Mass: the new one will help rebuild it

The new translation is more faithful and more beautiful: these are words which will sink into the soul

By on Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Pope Benedict XVI raises the Eucharist at Bellahouston Park, Scotland (Photo: CNS)

Pope Benedict XVI raises the Eucharist at Bellahouston Park, Scotland (Photo: CNS)

“Will the new English translation of the liturgy make our worship more reverent? I doubt it.” Those are the words of Fr Dwight Longenecker, an excellent American priest I have known for many years; he used to write for me when I was editor of this paper,  when he lived in England (before he was ordained). I have never knowingly disagreed with him before, but I do now. This is his argument:

“Catholic worship isn’t reverent or irreverent just because of the words you use. This should be obvious to anyone who has attended a reverently and carefully celebrated Novus Ordo Mass.
“What is more important than the words is how the Mass is celebrated by both the priest and the people. I am quite sure that when the new Mass is introduced that Fr Folkmass will still celebrate Mass in his usual game show host style while other priests will celebrate the Mass casually and carelessly.”

Now of course, we all know that there is some truth in this. If Mass is celebrated irreverently or sloppily, it may fulfil your Sunday obligation: but we have all been to Mass away from our usual church infuriated or depressed by the way the liturgy has been performed. And the Latin of the old Mass, or so I am told, was often gabbled without care or reverence [true or false?]. But to say that “Catholic worship isn’t reverent or irreverent just because of the words you use” is misleading. I am convinced that the grossly reductionist translation we use now has reflected, and has also been a partial cause of, a grossly reductionist liturgical culture which has caused untold harm to the whole spiritual life of the Catholic Church in English-speaking countries.
I wrote about the new translation some months ago and I won’t repeat it now; for what I said then go here. It was supervised by Mgr Bruce Harbert, who wrote about how the new translation should be carried out in the Herald some years ago and about a year later was, to my delight, himself appointed to be in charge of the whole operation, a sign that Rome was really serious about it.

Let me indicate one way in which, I believe, the old translation undermined reverence for God, and in which the new translation will over time help to restore and strengthen it. The then Fr Harbert pointed out in the Herald that in the old ICEL translation, any indication of humility in the Latin text, which might be indicated in translation by some such phrase as “we humbly beseech you”, was simply suppressed in the Mass we have: there are very many examples of this. This, together with a consistent reduction of devotional intensity and theological meaning gives at times an almost peremptory, even irreverent, tone to the text which over the years has surely had its effect on the whole spiritual life of the Church. The texts are, to begin with, considerably shorter than they need to be if all the meaning the Latin texts contain is to be conveyed. Consider the present translation of the opening sentences of Eucharistic Prayer I, the Roman Canon:

We come to you, Father,
with praise and thanksgiving,
through Jesus Christ  your Son.
Through him we ask you to accept and bless+
these gifts we offer you in sacrifice.
We offer them for your holy catholic Church,
watch over it Lord and guide it;
grant it peace and unity throughout the world.

It’s almost as though the translators want to get the whole thing over as soon as they can. Compare this, now, with the new, more faithful, translation:

To you, most merciful Father,
we therefore humbly pray
through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord.
We ask you to accept and bless + these gifts,
these offerings,
these holy and undefiled sacrifices,
which we offer you first of all
for your holy Catholic Church.
Be pleased to grant her peace,
to guard, unite and govern her
throughout the whole world…

Interesting, is it not, that in the old ICEL translation, the word Catholic is spelled with a lower-case initial “c”? That just about says it all: “If it has meaning, reduce it: and let’s not get too mawkish about this business, it’s just something we have to get through before we can all go home for lunch.” A little unjust perhaps? But only a little.
I was greatly tempted to compare the old and new translations of the most venerable part of the Mass, the blessing of bread and wine so that it may become His most precious body and blood. But there would have been a danger of making a polemic out of these sacred words; this is not, I think, permissible. But we know what we are used to; and I think it is decent and right to give thanks for what we will be hearing our priests say from September on:

In the same way, when supper was ended,
he took this precious chalice
into his holy and venerable hands,
and once more giving you thanks, he said the blessing
and gave it to his disciples, saying:
Take this, all of you, and drink from it,
for this is the Cup of my Blood,
the Blood of the new and eternal Covenant;
it will be poured out for you and for all
for the forgiveness of sins.
Do this in memory of me.

That “poured out” for “effundetur” (from effundo, effundere, to pour out, pour forth) is not merely more faithful, it is thereby more generous in its meaning, more powerful, simply more beautiful; these are words which will sink deep into the soul. The old ICEL translators’ mantra was always, “simplify, simplify”: as though they thought their people just weren’t up to the full meaning of the text, or in some cases should even be protected from it. It all did immense harm.
 Many Catholics are presently unaware that there is anything wrong with the translation they have. And I know, of course, that a reverent celebration of it can go far to supply its deficiencies (I have been present at a Mass celebrated by Fr Longenecker, so I know he knows what he is talking about). But Father, you surely must see that, over the years, a truly faithful – and also much more beautiful (I think you have failed to appreciate the quality of the new translation) – translation of the Mass will help to build up once more some, at least, of the reverence that was lost in the closing decades of the last century. Much more is needed, of course. But without this, we can’t even start. It all begins with the Mass and what it signifies: it always did.

  • Phellyer

    This won’t be the last revision of the text of the Holy Mass. There will be more and more revisions confusing the faithfull more and more. The faithfull want stability, continuity and tradition in their worship of Almighty God. Hey we have got all of that . It’s called the Tidentine Mass . . well what a relief that is . . .

  • Mics413

    “…the Blood of the new and eternal Covenant;
    it will be poured out for you and for all…” The word “all” is to be “for many”…

  • Anonymous

    “The old ICEL translation weakened reverence for the Mass: the new one will help rebuild it”.

    If the new translation will help rebuild reverence for the Mass, just imagine the good it would do to return to the Tridentine Mass. It is going to happen eventually, so why not just go straight there now?

  • Anonymous

    Not in English – it’s an exclusive conditional ‘all’ indicating the many among all whose sins are forgiven.
    Pro Multis has a very specific linguistic construct – if we were to attempt to use many in English we would not be able to link it directly with the forgiveness of sins – it should require qualification, multiple conditionals and a barrel-load of catechesis to escape from error.
    If we use ‘all’ the link is not lost – the form and intention of the Latin remain intact – because it is an exclusive conditional it is not open to direct universalist interpretation — the form of the Eucharistic Mystery reamins intact

  • W Oddie

    “For many”, might mistakenly be be taken to mean “not for all”, contradicting the declaration in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 that Christ died for all, even though not all choose to accept the redemption won for them by his sacrifice.

  • Mics413

    Could say it better myself W Oddie, direct and to the point.

  • Elizabeth

    “we have all been to Mass away from our usual church infuriated or depressed by the way the liturgy has been performed.” And in our usual church!

  • Patrick Mulvey

    I can add little or nothing to the debate on the various merits or demerits of the new translation as opposed to the former. It seems to me that the later translation is more poetic whereas the former translation aimed for simplicity and clarity for a mid-twentieth century congregation.

    However, let me elaborate upon your reference to gabbling in the original Tridentine rite and with particular reference to the Low Mass. Not only was there a tendency to deliver it in a style more suited to a conversation in an Italian cafe or bar, but it was often accompanied by the whispering gallery, which only ceased during the consecration and resumed immediately afterwards. I suggest modern Latin Masses owe more to Brideshead Revisited than to the Tridentine services of yore.

    It was against this backdrop that the Vatican Council introduced vernacular translations, however faulty they may have been in retrospect. Incidentally, I seem to recall one of the strongest arguments used for the retention of the Tridentine Mass was its universality – one could go into a Church anywhere in world and follow the Mass without any difficulty.

    I am not criticising the Tridentine Church – in many ways it was far more tolerant and indulgent than it is portrayed by both contemporary liberal or orthodox Catholics, largely because it was less of a confessional Church.

  • Abaccio

    At least according to the text on the USCCB website, we have:


  • Abaccio
  • Anonymous

    I concur that the old ICEL translation weakened reverence for the Mass, and that the new one will help restore it. It pains me, though, knowing that for nearly the last 40 years, reverence and spirituality has been so very hindered, and how much further toward spiritual perfection and closer to God we would have been drawn, had we been allowed the more true and reverent translation in the first place.

  • LeFloch

    It wasn’t just ICEL that weakened reverence. It was the New Mass itself. As Cardinal Ottaviani said in 1969, the Novus Ordo Missae “represents, both as a whole and in its details, a striking departure from the Catholic theology of Mass as it was formulated in Session 22 of the Council of Trent”. The Cardinal was commenting on the new order of mass – not a faulty translation.

  • Paulus

    but the new text is going to say ‘for many’, not ‘for all’.

    More generally, can’t such a distinguished journalist as Mr Oddie see the sloppiness in the repeated redundancy. The reiteration of humility rhetoric does not strengthen the effect; it weakens it.

  • W Oddie

    But I appear to have been quoting from an earlier draft, not the final one: unless the american bishops are giving the wrong text and I was right in the first place (not inconceivable) I seem to have quote in my piece from an incorrect text: it’s nearly all right, but the translation which seems to have been finally decided appears to be (and if not please somebody tell me) as follows: Take this, all of you, and drink from it: for this is the chalice of my Blood, the Blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you AND FOR MANY for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in memory of me.”

    So where does that leave us? It’s a defensible translation (though I think “for all” is better: but it will need a little catechesis.

    None of that, however, changes my argument one whit.

  • W Oddie

    Don’t agree at all. Nothing sloppy about it.

  • Phellyer

    One wonders if we ever needed a second Vatican Council in the first place? There was no pressing need. The Church was in good shape. All the faithful were faithful. Holy Mass was just that; a holy happening in our midst where we came into contact with Almighty God. As soon as the doors were opened to change all the not so faithful kicked over the traces like jubilant teenagers just emancipated from parential authority and started making the Church in thier own image under to pretense of “making relevent to the modern world and separated bretheren etc. etc ”
    The trend should have been to make the Church more holy. Now as a result the Church is on the back foot.
    A recent meeting in Rome with the Pope and 150 Cardinals, behind closed doors, discussed how the Church must survive the next twenty years (see Inside the Vatican, Dec issue) This situation that we/the Church now find ourselves in was never dreamed of before the Vatican II. The latest manifestation of human hubris is the German & Swiss theologians calling for married priests, women priests, welcoming same sex couples etc etc . .What utter rubbish! They should stop dreaming of married priests, throw out the telly and put on their hair shirts.

  • Auricularis

    “And the Latin of the old Mass, or so I am told, was often gabbled without care or reverence [true or false?].”

    Yes in some places but so is the Novus Ordo – go to any of the masses celebrated at Knock Shrine and you’ll see

  • Patrickbright

    CATECHISMUS AD PAROCHOS, published in 1566 by Pope St Pius V in accordance with a decree of the Council of Trent says:-

    Sed verba illa, quae adduntur, pro vobis et pro multis, a Matthaeo et Luca singula a singulis sumpta sunt; quae tamen sancta ecclesia, spiritu Dei instructa, simul coniunxit; pertinent autem ad passionis fructum, atque utilitatem declarandam. Nam si eius virtutem inspiciamus, pro omnium salute sanguinem a Salvatore effusum esse fatendum erit; si vero fructum, quem ex eo homines perceperint, cogitemus, non ad omnes, sed ad multos tantum eam utilitatem pervenire, facile intelligemus. Cum igitur, pro vobis, dixit, vel eos qui aderant, vel delectos ex iudaeorum populo, quales erant discipuli, excepto Iuda, quibuscum loquebatur, significavit. Cum autem addidit, pro multis, reliquos electos ex iudaeis aut gentibus intelligi voluit. Recte ergo factum est, ut pro universis non diceretur; cum hoc loco tantummodo de fructibus passionis sermo esset, quae salutis fructum delectis solum attulit. Atque huc spectant verba illa Apostoli: Christus semel oblatus est ad multorum exhaurienda peccata; et quod Dominus apud Ioannem inquit: Ego pro eis rogo, non pro mundo rogo, sed pro his, quos dedisti mihi, quia tui sunt.

    Which, being translated by the Dominicans Fr John A McHugh and Fr Charles J Callan, amounts to this:-

    The additional words “for you and for many”, are taken, some from Matthew, some from Luke, but were joined together by the Catholic Church under the guidance of the Spirit of God. They serve to declare the fruit and advantage of His Passion. For if we look to its value, we must confess that the Redeemer shed His blood for the salvation of all; but if we look to the fruit which mankind have received from it, we shall easily find that it pertains not unto all, but to many of the human race. When therefore (our Lord) said: “For you”, He meant either those who were present, or those chosen from among the Jewish people, such as were, with the exception of
    Judas, the disciples with whom He was speaking. When He added, “And for many”, He wished to be understood to mean the remainder of the elect from among the Jews or Gentiles. With reason, therefore, were the words “for all” not used, as in this place the fruits of the Passion are alone spoken of, and to the elect only did His Passion bring the fruit of salvation. And this is the purport of the Apostle when he says: “Christ was offered once to exhaust the sins of many”; and also of the words of our Lord in John: “I pray
    for them; I pray not for the world, but for them whom thou hast given me, because they are thine.”

    Why do our modern know-alls think that they can improve on what a sainted pope confirms to have been written under the guidance of the Third Person of the Most Blessed Trinity?

  • Donna

    I was born well after the Council, so my experience in this area is limited. However, my older relatives, the ones whose formation was ‘pre-Conciliar’, are the vociferous dissenters in the family . They might know what the Church teaches, but they almost never have a clue why. They’ll insist on their status as “Catholics” even while they openly denounce doctrines and/or haven’t been to Mass in decades.

    The younger ones are either truly faithful or simply don’t bother at all, which seems to be more honest. (What Our Lord said about the lukewarm comes to mind…)

  • Deaconrty

    Sorry to burst your buble!! We do have MARRIED priests..many of them as the recent influx from the Anglican communion shows. So let’s just be real.please. At a recent Parish Pastoral Council, I introduced the topic of the revised translations and gave the group of faithful Catholics various texts to reflect on. Nobody liked it and all agreed that we did not NEED change. However, we will go along with it precisely because we are Catholic and not a congregational Church; however the latest news from USA does not bode well.
    I thank the Lord daily for Vatican II and pray for the cannonisation of Blessed John XXIII who called the Ecumneical Council that spoke to the World. I am sorry that you cannot see Vatican II as part of our rich and varried traition. We are a Holy Church-yes with many faults; let us celebrate our life together and not go back into some comfy little enclosed world

  • Mike

    Some people are very unlucky. I have been to Masses in Scotland, England and Germany and I haven’t yet been at a Mass which wasn’t celebrated in an reverential way.

  • Phellyer

    It has been the tradition for well over a thousand years to have a celibate priesthood. Why change now? You say that at your meeting no one liked change but would go along with it because we are Catholics. Precisely my point. Back in the sixties when all this modern novelty came in not many welcomed it but we all went along with it because (as we thought) the Council had orderd it. Now we know differently. The Church is based on truth and tradition not the wishful thinking of theologians. What we need is a return to Christ, a return to holiness and to bring discipline to morals. The laity must stop contracepting. Bishops and Priests (and theologians) must be holy. I say again to them. Turn off the telly and put on your hair shirt there are trying times ahead. Time is short.

  • Phellyer

    Donna. Please be patient with your older relatives. They are alienated because the religion they grew up in has changed. It is almost like a different religion to some of them. They are dissenters only because they are upholding the Faith as they knew it. They know what the Church teaches because they have Faith. Faith has to be reasonable, They don’t have to be experts to know why they hold such and such a doctirne it is sufficient to listen to the Church ” He that heareth you heareth me” comes to mind. Perhaps they don’t go to Mass because of various reasons. Perhaps it is because every parish has its own style. In Wales the Mass is in Welsh. OK for the Welsh but pity the poor unsupecting English visitor. In Holland it is even worse. There is no Nicene creed, no kneeling for the consecration. At the end there is a big applause for the choir. Every Mass in every part of the UK is different, and often upsettingly different. Not like the good old days when Mass was in the traditional rite and in Latin. We could go anywhere in the world and hear the same beautiful reverent Holy Mass. And don’t think we did not undersand Latin. We did. Every missal had the Latin on one side and the English on the other. We knew it all and we LOVED it. And we were happy. God bless you Donna

  • Frlongenecker

    I have only just discovered this discussion and simply wanted to clarify that I am actually in favor of the new translation and believe it will be of great help in the reform of the reform. I was simply making the point that better words ALONE are not enough. We will need to celebrate Mass in a manner worthy of the words we speak, and I fear that the fine new words will be wasted on many and that we may end up with masses with fine words that still have honky tonk music, sloppy servers and a groovy priest. The end result may be like a Tennessee yokel trying to recite Shakespeare…

  • Christina

    With respect, Paulpriest, you seem to disagree with the plain teaching of the Catechism of the Council of Trent, in that the correct word in English should also be ‘many’ and not ‘all’, for it is the efficacy of Christ’s Sacrifice, rather than its sufficiency that is proclaimed here, and I take, as authority, Q. XXIV of that Catechism:

    ‘…….The additional words, “for you and for many,” are taken, some from Matthew (Matt. xxvi, 28), some from Luke (Luke, xxii, 20), but have been joined together by holy Church under the guidance of the Spirit of God; and they serve to declare the fruit and advantage of his passion. For, if we look to its virtue, we shall have to confess that his blood was shed by the Saviour for the salvation of all; but if we consider the fruit which men have received from it, we easily understand that it reaches not all, but many only. When, therefore, he said “for you,” he meant either those who were present, or those chosen from amongst the Jewish people, such as were, with the exception of Judas, the disciples with whom he was speaking; but when he added, “for many” he wished to be understood the remainder of the elect from amongst the Jews or Gentiles. With reason therefore were the words, “for all” not used, as in this place the fruits of the passion are alone spoken of, and to the elect only did that bring the fruit of salvation. And this is the purport of these words of the Apostle; “Christ was offered once, to exhaust the sins of many” (Heb. Ix, 28); and also of what the Lord says in John: “I pray for them; I pray not for the world, but for them whom thou hast given me, because they are thine” (John, xvii, 9). In the words of this consecration lie hid very many other mysteries……’ .

    I believe also that this distinction is important in the context of the doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ.

  • Anonymous

    Mike: To quote John Ingram: “It is possible to slaughter a chicken in a reverential way”.

    The Novus Ordo Masses that you have seen reverentially celebrated are akin to the Protestant service of celebrating the Lord’s Supper, with the priest presiding over a banquet. Yes, it may be done reverentially, but it is a long way from the Tridentine Mass where we relive the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the altar albeit in a bloodless manner. Archbishop Bugnini and his six Protestant advisors did a very thorough job of deleting from the Tridentine Mass almost every reference to it being a sacrificial rite, and produced the worthlessNovus Ordo rite [that "banal confection" as Pope Benedict XVI has called it]. This new rite produces a communion which can be seen as the Real Presence by those who want to see it that way, or as a commemorative token by those who don’t. There is no such opportunity in the Tridentine Mass for this ambiguity.

    It is this certainty of grace which should be driving Rome towards a total and universal restoration of the Tridentine Mass and an equally wide-reaching cessation of the Novus Ordo Mass – and the sooner the liturgists see that, the better.

  • Christina

    Sorry, Patrickbright, I see that you got in before me with this. I do have problems with the bobbing-about nature of this blog, for to avoid mistakes like this of mine one would have to read the whole thread, and there often isn’t time.

  • Christina

    Donna, could you give any examples, from your experience, of doctrines that pre-conciliar Catholics deny? If they haven’t lapsed completely, but are only dissenting with good reason from the post-conciliar chaos, they will usually tell you that they believe all that they learnt by heart from the ‘Penny Catechism’, and as for not having a clue why they believe, well they would tell you that you were wrong in that, for the simple act of faith, taught and recited daily in most Catholic schools, was ‘My God, I believe in Thee, and all Thy Church doth teach, because thou hast said it, and Thy word is true’. The only deniers of Catholic doctrine, claiming to be Catholic, that I have come across in recent years are those modernists in the pews (and sanctuary) who deny the doctrine of the Real Presence, believing instead what most Protestants believe about this most essential of all Catholic doctrines.

  • Anna

    I am an English speaker who has lived abroad for all my Catholic life and thus been spared hearing the old ICEL translation. I find it incomprehensible that it was ever approved at all as an acceptable translation of the Mass, let alone that someone could be attached to it and not welcome a new version.

    Reviewers of great works of secular literature in translation like to get into the nitty-gritty and carefully ponder the merits and nuances of different translations even on the level of a single word. If some translator rendered, let’s say, Cervantes or Baudelaire into English as casually and sloppily as the old ICEL ‘translation’ renders the sacred liturgy, the translation would not even get into press, or if it did it would be savaged and ridiculed by people who care about good literature. Why should we be less concerned to have an accurate and worthy translation of the Holy Mass? It’s not about different theories of translation here, it’s about basic respect for the text.

  • Profidebookstore

    Ithought that the “for all” was to be rendered as in Latin “for many”. What then is the case?

  • Profidebookstore

    Something that Cardinal Ottaviani said has to be judged on its merits and not on the fact that “Ottaviani said it”. Could we have one example in the OF itself, not what “Ottaviani said”. I mean: in the text of the OF itself as it is celebrated; not what has been “omitted”, or what somebody else had about it.

  • Profidebookstore

    No Dr. Oddie, we must distinguish sufficiency (for all, He indeed died for all, objective Redemption), from efficacy (we all are redeemed objectively; but whether each of us will receive the fruit of this Redemption, depends on us – subjective Redemption). Otherwise, we would not have a free will with which we are created to His image. See S.Th.III, Q 79, A 7 and L.Ott: Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, p.219. By Redemption we are not bullied into salvation.

    Our liturgical guru-s would have it that “for all” better renders the Aramaic original which Chirst allegedly used at the Last Supper. But we do not know which language He used, do we? Whatever the case, they also assume that the early Christians, from whose liturgies the original biblical accounts were taken, misunderstood our Lord and handed on that misunderstanding to Greek text, and to all early translations from it, from which all subsequent copies were made and handed on to us……

    On the other hand, I understand that the “for many” is still in all Eastern Liturgies; and I know it from English rendering of the Byzantine Liturgies (Othodox: Greek, Russian; Catholic: Ukrainian, Melchite), and “Monopysite” (Coptic, Armenian, Syrian).

    From plague, hunger and war – and “experts” – save us o Lord.

  • LittleBear

    Nonsence! Most people don’t even think about what they are saying or what the priest says. Unless, the priest makes a real mistake in his praying—people are daydreaming. Oh, they are better than they were back in the days when the Mass was in Latin. But they still daydream.

    And if Dr. Oddie thinks that the vast majority of people will even pick up the Missalettes that are in the Church pews to pray along (or even to read to say the parts that they are supposed to say), he is badly mistaken.

  • Patt

    Hurry up and get it to us, enough chatter about it, and if it doesn’t work, go back to the Latin and shut up!

  • Frcolby

    From what I’ve seen, towards the end of its present work on the Mass, ICEL commendably abandoned a number of linguistic solecisms which in the name of “Liturgiam Authenticam” it had considered including in the new translation. Mercifully, bon gre ou mal gre, many of these extreme literalisms seem to have been jettisoned, though God knows the infuriating secrecy that has plagued us all these years still seems to prevent us knowing the exact text that will be imposed this autumn. Even you still quote “pro multis” as “for all” – please don’t tell me Rome has backed down on that! But please DO explain your preference for “poured out” over the traditional “shed”. I simply don’t see it. I can’t help feeling rhythm is in danger of being sacrificed – for what? Cranmer, thou shouldst be living at this hour, ICEL hath need of thee!

  • Justimax

    Quanti angeli super tectum needlum ? “needlum ” is about as Latin as “consubstantial ” is English. Bravo for the destroyers of Vat 2, who are more and more openly emerging from the woodwork.