Patience urged in wait for new Mass translation


Pope Francis’ recent motu proprio, Magnum Principium (“The Great Principle”) has opened the way for a more relatable translation of the Mass and other prayers, but New Zealand Church leaders said a new English translation would not happen any time soon.

Auckland Bishop Patrick Dunn, New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference president, said there will be a little more clarity on the matter after the International Commission on English in the Liturgy meeting this month.

Bishop Dunn left on October 12 to attend the meeting in Washington, DC which was to be held on October 12-16. ICEL has representation from 11 Catholic bishops’ conferences in countries where English is used in the celebration of Mass.

NZCBC secretary Palmerston North Bishop Charles Drennan urged “pazienza — patience”.

“What happens next? It is too early to say. What I can say is what we all know: a better translation of the Mass is possible,” he said in an opinion piece in the Wellington archdiocese and Palmerston North diocese publication Wel-Com.

Bishop Drennan said the motu propio is about how the Pope sees the Church.

“He is reminding us that the universality of the Church means that every culture is called to contribute to the understanding of our Catholic belief that Jesus Christ is the universal saviour of every generation and people,” he said.

In Magnum Principium, Pope Francis said, “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.”

National Liturgy Office director Louise Campbell said this re-establishes the norms first set down in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.

“It’s really affirming the work they (bishops) have done in the past and putting that responsibility and authority back to them instead of having to thread it through one more additional committee,” she said.

Mrs Campbell said there is already a body of translated text sitting in ICEL offices that had been agreed unanimously by the bishops’ conferences.

“There’s a burning hope that this just may see an opening in which those texts can now be brought back,” she said.

“They (texts) would have to be revised again. And they would have to include prayers for the different saints that have been canonised between now and then. It won’t just happen overnight,” she said.

“But there’s a distinct possibility that those texts could be looked at with fresh eyes and brought forward sooner rather than later as the texts for the praying Church. I’d love to see that,” she said.

The most recent translation of the Mass was introduced six years ago and is often criticised as clunky and awkward with long subordinate clauses due to an almost literal translation from Latin.

Bishop Drennan said he does not see Pope Francis’ move as a step in a tussle between “progressive versus conservative”.

“Pope Benedict’s love for liturgy saw him underline the duty to preserve a sense of the transcendent and reverence,” Bishop Drennan said. “Pope Francis’s love for liturgy sees him underline that liturgy must be comprehensible and should be understood in the context of evangelisation, which draws people in as participants, not observers, of the liturgy. Both are right.”

Mrs Campbell said she does not believe that decentralising the translations will lead to disunity in the Church, as some critics of the motu proprio assert.

“There’s just so many gifts and talents that have to come together to provide a remarkably good translation that no one little group of people has got all that in their own right. But together, bring the best of everybody together, then you’ve got a process and people who can take it forward,” she said. “This is the treasure that ICEL is.”

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Rowena Orejana

Reader Interactions


  1. Tim Morgan says

    You shall tell them by their fruit! Take the statistics of the Church in NZ (with far less population than we have today) and compare the number of Priests, Nuns and Parishs to what we have today 50 years after they tampered with the Mass and now they want to experiment more! The Tower of Bable and its fruits, unite and close more Parishes!

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