Controversy over new missal


A chara, – The Association of Catholic Priests claims that the new English translation of the Mass is archaic, elitist and sexist (Home News, February 4th).

The current English translation of the Mass is a very poor one. The second sentence that most of us hear at Mass is a blatant mistranslation. “ Et cum spirito tuo” literally means “and with your spirit”. If the church wanted this line to mean “and also with you”, then that’s what the Latin would say. Many of the prayers used throughout the year have incredibly simplified meanings, thoroughly destroying their depth and true meaning.

The current Latin text of the Mass is mainly based on liturgical texts that are over 1,000 years old, dating back to at least the time of Pope Gregory, if not before. And many of those texts are based on biblical passages that are up to 3,000 years old. So it is no surprise that a more faithful translation will end up having an ancient air to it. Even when Mass texts were being devised in Latin many centuries ago, they were never written in the Latin of the street – they were always written in a more formal manner.

The text may come across as being complicated and “elitist”. But a lot of the concepts behind the prayers of the Mass are not simple. A case in point is the use of the term “consubstantial” in the Creed to describe the relation between God the Father and God the Son. People may say, why use a fancy long word when the phrase “one in being” could be used instead. But does this simpler phrase convey the uniqueness of this relationship? The Latin term for this, “ consubstantialis” was coined by Tertullian back in the 4th century, because no existing word in Latin could accurately convey its manner.

Fears that such complicated language might be too difficult for the people in the pews are not well-founded. I own a Latin missal from the early 1960s with an English translation. And it has big words (like consubstantial) and long sentences. If the Irish people of the 1960s had no trouble with such English (many of whom would have lucky to start, let alone finish second-level education), then the modern Irish should have no trouble.

The text may be sexist, but this is also a flaw in the English language. Many of the circumlocutions used in modern English to render phrases in a sex-neutral manner are clumsy and awkward. And some of the simpler alternatives (eg using “they” as a sex-neutral pronoun) are frowned upon by grammarians.

I am under no illusion that the introduction of the new translation will be easy. It will require a lot of work for it to be a success; a lot of work from the bishops, a lot of work from priests, and also a lot of work from the laity. – Is mise,


Moy Glas Way,


Co Dublin.

Madam, – Regarding the translation of the words of consecration in the new Roman missal, perhaps this much might shed light. The Lord’s Supper is reported four times in the New Testament, in Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24, Luke 22:19-20 and 1 Corinthians 11:23-25. Already there are two streams: Matthew and Mark resemble each other and Luke and Paul are very alike. However, the wording of all four versions differs and, in particular, the phrase “poured out for many” is found only in Matthew and Mark and not in the historically earliest account, which comes from St Paul. All versions have been influenced by a developing liturgical tradition and also the theology of each of the writers.

This has led a great biblical scholar and priest, John P Meier, to try to establish the probable historical words of Jesus at the Last Supper. According to his research, the text behind the versions would be: “He took bread, and giving thanks (or: pronouncing a blessing), broke [it] and said: ‘this is my body’. Likewise also the cup, after supper, saying ‘this cup is the covenant in my blood’.” The additional phrases found in the New Testament reflect evolving tradition and theology. It may be worth adding that the current Roman missal uses its own tradition which further expands the biblical data, without following, to the letter, either the Gospels or St Paul.

Finally, even in St Matthew, the words “poured out for many” are preceded by “drink from it, all of you”. – Yours, etc,



Department of Scripture,

Milltown Institute of Theology and Philosophy,

Sandford Road,

Dublin 6.

Madam, – Perhaps overconfidently, I regard myself as reasonably literate in English.

Learning that the new RC missal substitutes “consubstantial with the Father” for “of one being with the father”, my confidence begins to falter! But perhaps the new text is aimed at those who count angels on the head of a pin? I had hoped that the new missal would show a willingness to espouse inclusiveness in relation to women — a fond hope, the third person singular is invariably male throughout.

While I wouldn’t presume to debate the rights and wrongs of female priests, I would have thought that the inclusion of the odd “s/he” or “her” would hardly have amounted to blasphemy. But perhaps those who count angels on the heads of pins are also misogynists? Were Jesus to reappear among us today, he would be unlikely to use many four-syllable, 14-letter words to get his message across – and I can’t imagine him excluding women! – Yours, etc,


Milltown Road,

Dublin 6.

A chara, – The latest Roman missal: a weapon of Mass destruction? – Is mise,


Avoca Avenue,


Co Dublin.