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Former ICEL official criticises ‘secretive and top-down’ translation process

By on Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Fr Ruff says the translation process has been marked by 'deception and mischief' (Photo: CNS)

Fr Ruff says the translation process has been marked by 'deception and mischief' (Photo: CNS)

The former chairman of the music committee of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) has withdrawn from all speaking engagements related to the Missal, saying he “cannot promote the new Missal translation with integrity”.

Benedictine Fr Anthony Ruff, a professor of liturgy and Gregorian chant at St John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota, made the announcement in “an open letter to the US Catholic bishops”. The letter was published in the issue of America magazine dated February 14.

Use of the new translation of the Missal is to begin on November 27, the first Sunday of Advent, in US parishes and in several other parts of the English-speaking world.

The transition to the new translation took up most of the past decade and has not been without its rough patches, with some bishops, priests and laypeople criticising changes in wording meant to bring the translation more closely into alignment with the Latin original.

There was no comment on the priest’s letter from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Fr Ruff said his involvement with the ICEL music committee, “as well as my observation of the Holy See’s handling of scandal, has gradually opened my eyes to the deep problems in the structures of authority of our Church”.

He called the Missal “part of a larger pattern of top-down impositions by a central authority that does not consider itself accountable to the larger Church”.

“When I think of how secretive the translation process was, how little consultation was done with priests or laity, how the Holy See allowed a small group to hijack the translation at the final stage, how unsatisfactory the final text is, how this text was imposed on national conferences of bishops in violation of their legitimate episcopal authority, how much deception and mischief have marked this process – and then when I think of our Lord’s teachings on service and love and unity … I weep,” Fr Ruff said in the letter.

Noting that some of his friends and acquaintances had left the Church or “remain Catholic with difficulty”, Fr Ruff said he would “stay in this Church for life and do my best to serve her”.

“This I hope to do by stating the truth as I see it, with charity and respect,” he said. “I would be ready to participate in future liturgical projects under more favourable conditions.”

A source at the USCCB said Fr Ruff’s speaking engagements were not arranged by the conference or its Secretariat for Divine Worship. The priest had reportedly been scheduled to speak about the Missal in eight dioceses.

  • liberaltradtitonalist

    How can silent onlookers speak a dead language?

    The manattilla-wearing worshipper saying the rosary often figures in polemic from both sides of this tiresome debate: trads love her, libs use her to scare us (although the rosary never did anyone harm and saying it is certainly preferable to the irreverent and distracted behaviour of so many).The fact is, the normal low mass in 1962 was the Dialogue Mass with the  congregation responding, praying with the priest, hearing the readings in English and reverently silent when appropriate.
    Everyone knew the responses and prayers and  when I went to France and Germany I was able to pray with my fellow Catholics. In the working-class South Liverpool parish I then attended, Latin caused no problems and marked off the mass as specilal and sacred.
    … And the church was packed at all five Sunday masess.

  • Virginia McGough

    I have a missal in which the Latin text and the (now superseded) English translation appear on opposite pages, making it abundantly clear that the old translation was, in fact, a paraphrase. I sometimes wondered if those responsible for the text thought I (and most of the rest of the laity) were too stupid to notice. I felt insulted and infantilised, not good dispositions for attending Mass. I’m sorry that the way the new translation has been produced has upset Fr. Ruff and hope that he will in time come to love it. My 17 year old son thinks the new translation is “less wishy-washy”. I think he has a point.

  • Tom Tracey

    No one should be against change in the church. Afterall change has been happenening right from the days of the apostles. However, change should be forward and not backward looking and the changes in the words of the Mass most ceratinly are backward looking. They hanker after the old Latin text of the Mass yet the vast majority of church members have never even known the Latin text. After all Latin was merely an accident of history as the church could quite easily have remained in the area in whcih Jesus preached. Would we then have had to make sure that any English translation was true to the Hewbrew text?

    While I have no intention of using the new transaltion, one good thing has come out of this whole debate. I now know that every word that we use, whether it be in the Mass, hymns or prayer needs to be looked at to see if it is relevant to the time in whcih we live. The more thees, thous, thines and other outdated words we can get rid off the better. Then we might actually start to attract more young people in to the church and attending Mass.

    Tom Tracey.(Follower of Jesus)
    Greenock, Scotland.

  • Tom Tracey

    Surely our duty is to follow the teachings of Jesus. The same Jesus who was prepared to criticise his own church leaders when he thought that they were wrong in what they were saying or doing.

  • Tom Tracey

    I have never bullied anyone in my life. In fact i ahve spent all of my working life trying to oppose bullying and to support those who have been the subject of it. Church tradition is not something that should be allowed to satgnate in the past but should be adapted, not destroyed, to move forward to lead the church in to the future.