How can we say that the new translation of the Mass has been well or badly received? Most parishes don’t have the text yet

Pope Benedict XVI, Bishop Roche and Pierpaolo Finaldi (Photo courtesy of Mr Finaldi)

Last Wednesday, Bishop Arthur Roche of Leeds presented Pope Benedict with a copy of the new Roman Missal.

The missal was a specially bound version of the Catholic Truth Society (CTS) altar missal used by priests in Britain.

Accompanying Bishop Roche was Mgr Bruce Harbert, former executive director of ICEL, Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne and Pierpaolo Finaldi, commissioning editor at the CTS.

According to Mr Finaldi, the Pope immediately asked how the new English translation had been received in parishes and remarked on the importance of beauty in liturgical books. Bishop Roche said the translation had been received well.

Well, how true is that? The comments under this piece on the Herald website included the view that “The new translation has been well received by 95 per cent of Catholics. It is only a tiny percentage who are unhappy, and pretty well all of them are Tablet readers. What else would anyone expect from those people!” But it was also opined by one commentator that he didn’t believe that “the new translation has gone down particularly well”. He went on to say that “ Most of the reaction I have heard seems to be indifferent or slightly negative. And that’s in a reasonably conservative parish with not many liberals as far as I’m aware. The new translation isn’t a failure and I’m sure we’ll get used to it in the end, but it isn’t the great success that was hoped for either.”

If this actually is the case in some parishes, however, the question really is “what else do you expect, when the only part of the Mass which people have any chance of being at all familiar with so far are the people’s parts on the Mass cards, which are all that most parishes are providing so far. But overwhelmingly the greater part of the text, which we should all, over the months and years to come, be becoming familiar with and absorbing into our prayer lives, are the parts the priest says on our behalf, firstly in the invariable prayers of the mass (the Common or Ordinary of the Mass) and in the Proper of the Mass: those prayers which change daily and weekly. That means that until parishes provide booklets with the text of the entire Ordinary of the Mass in them, and until we furnish ourselves with Sunday and Daily Missals (if you go to Mass during the week), any question as to how the Mass is being received is premature: all we can say is “so far, so good”.

The people’s Sunday Missals will be published by the CTS on November 23; the mass booklets are available now. Parishes are going, I suspect, to be slow in providing these: but I cannot recommend too strongly that you don’t wait for this, but get your own, now, particularly so that you can become familiar with the often very beautifully translated Eucharistic prayers. And while you’re about it, don’t just get the English language version, but the version which gives you both the Latin and the English texts: for, whether you normally attend Mass in Latin or in English, you will benefit hugely from having the other language on the opposite page: if you are attending Mass in Latin, you will now have a translation on the opposite page which is so close and faithful that it is a real help with unravelling the Latin text (which of course, the old translation, being nothing but a very rough paraphrase, often abbreviated, simply wasn’t). The CTS kindly sent me a copy of their very beautiful presentation Mass booklet (£4.99), with its leather-effect cover, and I have found its use immensely enriching, even though I more often attend Sunday Mass in Latin. (Incidentally, this is now out of print: demand was so high that the CTS, they tell me, were taken by surprise and they sold out. But the ordinary non-leatherette version is still available at £2.50).

And if, as I suppose most people do, you normally attend Mass celebrated in English, it is almost equally valuable to have the text there in Latin on the opposite page: for, as your eyes travel between the two, you will certainly come to see how rich and faithful a translation we now have; and unless you have a heart of stone, you will over the years ahead come to love the English text we have now been given in a way I always found impossible with the gawky and inaccurate translation now thankfully receding into the mists of time.

The Sunday and Daily Missals will be even more worth having: the work of translating all the propers has been massive, and the Latin and English versions of every prayer (common and proper) in the Mass sit side by side on the same page in parallel columns (much easier to follow) rather than on opposite pages: this is immensely valuable. Have a look at how this is laid out on the CTS website: you can turn over several pages, which shows how the whole thing works, here.

The commonplace nature of the old propers made it, I found, difficult to pray them with the priest: they came to seem like something that had to be said so that the Mass could be got through. But this has to be wrong: prayers are meant to be prayed; and I am sure that one result of our increasing familiarity with the new translations of the propers will be that more and more we will come to pray them ourselves: some of them are beautiful enough to learn by heart. Compare the prayer after communion for the first Sunday in Advent, in its new translation, with what it replaces. This prayer was originally boiled down to read


may our communion

teach us to love heaven.

May its promise and hope

guide our way on earth.


It was hardly memorable (or correctly translated). This is now accurately and fully translated as follows:



May the mysteries we have celebrated profit us, we pray, O Lord,

for even now, as we walk amid passing things

you teach us by them to love the things of heaven

and hold fast to what will endure

Or consider the collect for the same Sunday:


(Old version)

All-powerful God,

increase our strength of will for doing good

that Christ may find an eager welcome at his coming

and call us to his side in the kingdom of heaven.


(New version)

Grant your faithful, almighty God, we pray,

The resolve

to run forth with righteous deeds,

to meet your Christ at his coming,

so that gathered at His right hand

they may be worthy to possess the heavenly kingdom.


I could go on, comparing what we now have with what we were fobbed off with for so long. But though it is important to understand (and give thanks for) the vast improvement which Mgr Bruce Harbert, as Executive Director of ICEL presided over, it is much more important to simply begin to use it in prayer. But first we need to have the texts. That is the next stage; and parishes and individuals need to acquire them so that we can all move into the future. Until we do have them, deciding whether or not the new translation has been “well received” is simply pointless: it has been received only in part. Now it is time for us all to move forward on this great adventure.