Irish priests ask for five-year delay in missal adoption

by Dennis Coday

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Last week, the newly formed the Association of Catholic Priests of Ireland, which according to Catholic News Service, represents about 400 of Ireland's 4,500 priests, called for a five-year waiting period to study alternatives to the new English translation of the missal.

Here's the text of a news release that I received today:

New Translation of the Missal Unacceptable says the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP).

The ACP understands that the Irish Conference of Bishops has decided that the new translation of the Missal will be introduced in Ireland on the First Sunday of Advent 2011. While a new and improved version of the current missal would be welcome, this new translation is not what is needed.

The ACP urgently calls on the bishops to defer its introduction for five years. During that period the bishops, together with the people and priests, can properly examine the suitability of these texts for the Irish Church.

The celebration of the Mass is central to our work as priests and, more importantly, to the lives of the people we serve. In the words of the central document of Vatican II, Lumen Gentium (The Light of the People), the Mass is the source and summit of the Christian life. (LG11). Our concerns flow from our experience as pastors who attempt each Sunday to celebrate the liturgy with our people in a meaningful, dignified and prayerful way. Many bishops, priests, lay people, theologians and liturgists across the English speaking world share our concerns.

Opposition on the grounds of the language used

A word-for-word translation from Latin into a vernacular language, mandated by the document Liturgiam Authenticam (March 2001), demonstrates a lack of awareness of the insights gained from linguistics and anthropology during the past 100 years. Translators in other international bodies follow the dynamic equivalent norm which means translating according to the sense of the original text, rather than literally.

The ACP is gravely concerned that this literal translation from Latin has produced texts that are archaic, elitist and obscure and not in keeping with the natural rhythm, cadence and syntax of the English language. In fact, from the few available samples of the new texts, it is clear that the style of English used throughout the Mass will be so convoluted that it will be difficult to read the prayers in public. In the words of Bishop Donald Trautman, former chair of the United States Bishops Liturgical Committee, this is a translation where the vocabulary is not readily understandable by the average Catholic. How can someone read the text in public when some of the sentences contain 70 or 80 words.

It is particularly ironic that this Latinized, stilted English is being imposed on Irish people who are so blessed with world-renowned poets, playwrights, and novelists. Catholics should be allowed to pray publically in their own language. Jesus used the language of the people when he was speaking with them. The New Testament is written in the language of the ordinary people, not classical Greek.

The ACP is aware of the history of this translation. It regrets that the expertise of scholars in many disciplines was spurned. Many of these scholars gave their time and talents freely to help the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL), produce acceptable texts. In 1998 the ICEL translation was accepted and approved by every conferences of bishops in the English speaking world. The translation is also in conflict with the Constitution of the Sacred Liturgy which has a whole section on norms for adapting the Liturgy to the temperament and traditions of people. This allows for legitimate variations and adaptations. (No. 38). This translation runs contrary to one of the main goals of our Association, namely: That liturgical celebrations use rituals and language that are easily understood, inclusive and accessible to all.

A Theological Problem

A central teaching of the Christian Churches is that Jesus died for all people. This meaning is conveyed in the current translation of the Latin words of consecration over the chalice, pro vobis et pro multis. The phrase is translated "for you and for all" in the current missal. The new text opts for the more literal translation, "for you and for many." In English, the word many contrasts with the word few, so people may be led to ask, are there some for whom Jesus did not die? Furthermore, in a country where ecumenism should be an important pastoral priority, it is worth noting that the new text is less ecumenical than the current one.

Ignoring Lay People

In Ireland, hundreds of thousands of lay people attend Mass each Sunday. This is the principle expression of their faith, the most important prayer they can offer to God and the focal point of their togetherness as a Christian and parish community. Together we are the people of God, yet we were ignored during the period when the texts were being translated.

Ignoring Women

Many women will be rightly enraged by the continued deliberate use of non-inclusive language. The ACP strongly opposes the introduction and use of any texts which will insult and offend women who are at the heart of every Christian community in Ireland.

Ignoring Priests

Priests, who work hard with their parishioners to celebrate the Eucharist in a prayerful, dignified manner, were ignored by those who translated these texts. They have a better knowledge of the prayer-life and liturgical needs of Irish Catholics than anyone in a curial office in Rome. The ACP believes that the Irish bishops should have consulted widely with their priests and people before agreeing to impose these texts on Irish Catholics.

Confusion and Division

The ACP believes that the imposition of the new texts could lead to chaos and confusion. The new translation may be fully implemented in some churches and rejected in others. Some priests will adopt a pick-and-mix approach using some texts from the current Missal and others from the new translation. There may be frustration and even anger among laity, religious and priests alike. As a result, the celebration of the Eucharist, instead of being a symbol of unity, could become a focus of disagreement and division. The Irish church does not need this confusion and disharmony, especially at this time.


The ACP calls on the members of the Irish Episcopal Conference to postpone the launch of these new translations. We ask the bishops to engage with Irish Catholics with a view to developing a new set of texts that will adequately reflect the literary genius and spiritual needs of our Church community in these modern times. We suggest that the Irish bishops take a lead from the German bishops, who have objected to good German texts being replaced with unfamiliar new interpretations and to assert the right of the Irish Conference of Bishops to make its own decisions in regard to the celebration of the Liturgy in Ireland. (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 36 4)

Bishops are the chief pastors of their dioceses. They should give priority to the liturgical needs of the priests and people above everything else. We encourage priests, laypeople and religious to read these proposed new texts. If you share the perspective of the ACP as outlined above, we urge you to make your concerns known to the bishop of your diocese.

The U.S. version of some of these texts can be found in

Since Rome is intent on imposing this new text on the Irish Catholic Church without proper consultation you might wish to share your views on this and other matters with the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, H. E. Card. Antonio CAIZARES LLOVERA.

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