The Motu Proprio – where it will bite

On social media there are clergy and others who are worried, as I am, about the extra burden of expense new missals would bring to parishes, and many an individual, already struggling to make ends meet.

However, it would be a brave anglophone bishops’ conference that would submit a new translation of the missal now. The last one took almost ten years to produce and was attended by such angst that one wonders who in his right mind would want to renew that saga now.

If the missal is in the crosshairs, it will be for small but crucial details. The words of consecration over the chalice, for example, were correctly translated at last in the current missal to render pro multis as “for many” (rather than the previous “for all”). Some flights of theological fancy were enjoined to justify the mistranslation (which tends in the direction of heresy), but usually it was about inclusiveness informed by the general modern disbelief in hell. John 17 will show you why we must employ “for many”; it is simply fidelity to Christ.

Nevertheless, I would be prepared to bet some of the monastery’s money that this little chestnut will fall onto our plates again. It is do-able, as it were, as a new missal would not be needed to incorporate any corruption return to the mistranslation. We could just pencil it in. Or not… After all, we’ve already pencilled in “with blessed Joseph her spouse” into three of the Eucharistic Prayers.

One might wonder if the likely battleground will be the proposed new lectionary. We were all set to get one rendered in the English Standard Version (ESV), a scholarly revision of the Revised Standard Version (RSV). The RSV was, in fact, the first translation used for the reformed lectionary and we still use it at Douai. It reads well with its dignified English, and avoids the banalities and dubious translations of the Jerusalem version currently used in most non-North American anglophone countries. The ESV would have been edited slightly for Catholic use, maintained the noble register of English while avoiding anything too archaic, and benefited from the latest scholarship. And it would have been a decent and legitimate ecumenical gesture. It would have cost more money too, it must be admitted.


But it would not have employed inclusive language. This will be the battleground for the revised lectionary. One is left to wonder if, with the ESV lectionary all but approved, its demise was not due to this motu proprio being on the drawing board. If the lectionary had gone ahead it would have been a done deal and impossible, in economic terms alone, to reverse. But now…

On a more fundamental level, perhaps the most subtly unsettling thing about Magnum principium is the very first sentence. It is the interpretive key to all that follows it:

The great principle, established by the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, according to which liturgical prayer be accommodated to the comprehension of the people so that it might be understood, required the weighty task of introducing the vernacular language into the liturgy and of preparing and approving the versions of the liturgical books, a charge that was entrusted to the Bishops.

Read the council’s liturgy constitution Sacrosanctum concilium and tell me, please, where in it we find this “great principle”. Whether popular comprehension of the liturgy was in fact a “great principle” in the document is highly debatable; but that it “required the weighty task of introducing the vernacular into the liturgy” is nigh impossible to sustain. The same conciliar constitution says quite clearly:

36 §1. Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites.

It does of course go on to undermine its own clarity by allowing for possible use of the vernacular, “to apply in the first place to the readings and directives, and to some of the prayers and chants, according to the regulations on this matter to be laid down separately in subsequent chapters.” (36 §2) What do we find in “subsequent chapters”: concessions for vernacular use in the Divine Office in chapter 4, and some dangerously nebulous concessions for different cultures especially in mission lands in chapter 1, II, D (which is not, in fact, a “subsequent” chapter).

In chapter 2, which addresses reform of the Mass, it mentions nothing about the vernacular. It does enjoin (#48),

that Christ’s faithful, when present at this mystery of faith, should not be there as strangers or silent spectators; on the contrary, through a good understanding of the rites and prayers they should take part in the sacred action conscious of what they are doing, with devotion and full collaboration.

Rather than use of the vernacular the council recommends “good understanding” as the way to facilitate participation. In this it is consistent with what it taught earlier in this same constitution on active participation. In #14, having expressed an “earnest desire” that “all the faithful should be led to that fully conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy”, the council fathers decree not the use of the vernacular. In fact there is not even a hint of it. Instead they decree

therefore pastors of souls must zealously strive to achieve it [ie participation], by means of the necessary instruction, in all their pastoral work.

Instruction. Greater and more profound knowledge of the rites and their meaning. This was the aim of the original Liturgical Movement: not to change/improve our worship but to change/improve the worshippers.

Somehow, this quickly came to mean that, somehow, it “required the weighty task of introducing the vernacular language into the liturgy”.

It is quite the non sequitur.


7 thoughts on “The Motu Proprio – where it will bite

  1. As for the extremely modest ‘reforms’ apparently actually mandated by the council, and the catastrophic liturgical and spiritual meltdown which quickly ensued, a theology professor I knew commented that ‘The old system was a system of taboos. And when you started to remove them, the question became: where and how do you stop?’


    1. Taboo is certainly one way of looking at it, though of course the modern secular mind generally thinks of taboos as something that SHOULD be removed. But he was saying pretty much what I would say: once the principle of structural change is introduced to a liturgy the structure of which had been unchanged since Gregory the Great (and even he only aded a little bit), then all the structure is up for grabs. Thus the Novus Ordo. Give ’em an inch…

      Liked by 2 people

  2. The opening lie of this MP is typical of the way V2 is frequently wrongly invoked and deceives and misleads the general “person in the pew”.

    I won’t object if “in a similar way” is replaced by the English “likewise”.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. SC is partly to blame, for using ‘translations’ and ‘versions’ (in the Latin text also) as if the two words were synonymous – either the writers assumed they were, or else they wanted to create deliberate ambiguity. This loose use of language is typical of all the main V2 documents. It would be interesting to know who authored and who edited the official text of these documents that were signed by so many bishops who were afterwards horrified at the meanings extracted from them.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. While it is unlikely that there will be widespread interest in yet another translation of the Missal, I fear that individual priests/bishops will supply their own ‘versions’ by changing words and phrases at will.

    This has been going on for decades by some. The Motu Proprio will be viewed as endorsement of the practice. Tower of Babel, indeed!


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