05 March 2015, The Tablet

Open letter to English-speaking bishops

One of the great blessings in my life has come from teaching (and learning) from many of you when you were seminarians or young priests and took courses with me in Rome (1973–2006) and elsewhere. Some of you came to me for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Many of you have invited me to lecture or lead retreats in your dioceses and welcomed me when I came. I have treasured our friendship and been encouraged by your example.

My hope is now that you will act quickly to help English-speaking Catholics participate more effectively in the liturgy – a central recommendation in Vatican II’s very first document. You all know that your episcopal conferences approved a revised translation completed after 17 years of work by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy. You also know that this 1998 translation, when sent to the Congregation for Divine Worship (CDW), was simply rejected without any dialogue. Roman authorities set up a committee called Vox Clara (“a clear voice”) which was largely responsible for a “revised” translation in 2010 that came into force in November 2011. Ironically, the results produced by Vox Clara were too often unclear and sometimes verging on the unintelligible. This 2010 translation regularly sounds like Latin texts transposed into English words rather than genuine English. Mgr Ronald Knox, like many others before and after him, wanted translations that “read like a first-rate native thing”. Who could say that of our present Missal?

Those who prepared the 2010 Missal aimed at a “sacral style” – something that is alien to the direct and familiar way of speaking to God and about God practised by the psalmists and taught by Jesus. He never encouraged us to say: “graciously grant, we pray, that you give us our daily bread”, or “may thy will, we pray, O Lord, be done through your prevenient grace”. He asked us to pray simply and directly to God: “thy will be done; give us this day our daily bread”.

What would Jesus say about the 2010 Missal? Would he approve of its clunky, Latinised English that aspires to a “sacral” style which allegedly will “inspire” worshippers?

Many of you have copies of the “Missal that wasn’t”, the 1998 translation summarily dismissed by the CDW. It’s easily available on the internet. Set it alongside the 2010 Missal and there should be no debate about the version to choose. Like the Lord’s Prayer and like the Psalms, which fed the prayer life of Jesus, the 1998 translation is straightforward. As an example of genuine English, it is incomparably better than that imposed on English-speaking Catholics in November 2011.

Remembering the blessing of your long-standing presence in my life, I yearn for a final blessing, a quick solution to our liturgical woes. The 1998 translation is there, waiting in the wings. Please pass on now to English-speaking Catholics the 1998 translation that you or your predecessors originally voted for only a few years ago.

Gerald O’Collins SJ, Parkville, Australia

As Mass finished this morning (Saturday of the first week in Lent) and the assembly had endured my stumbling attempt to chew the gristle of the post-Communion prayer, a parishioner was heard to say, not so sotto voce, “I think we should pray for the translators of the new Roman Missal – after all he did say we should pray for our enemies.” The resultant laughter and smiling was like a beam of light in a dark place!

(Fr) David Osborne, Cranleigh, Surrey

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