Rorate Caeli

What is the basic difficulty?

Bishop Trautman, of Erie, chairman of the Committee on the Liturgy of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, asks in the Jesuit weekly America:

Why have the new translations become so problematic, so non-pastoral? What is the basic difficulty?

May we venture a guess? We call to the stand Dom Prosper Guéranger:

Since the liturgical reform had for one of its principal aims the abolition of actions and formulas of mystical signification, it is a logical consequence that its authors had to vindicate the use of the vernacular in divine worship.

This is in the eyes of sectarians a most important item. 'Worship is no secret matter.' 'The people,' they say, 'must understand what they sing.'

Hatred for the Latin language is inborn in the hearts of all the enemies of Rome. They recognize it as the bond among Catholics throughout the universe, as the arsenal of orthodoxy against all the subtleties of the sectarian spirit. ...

The spirit of rebellion which drives them to confide the universal prayer to the language of each people, of each province, of each century, has for the rest produced its fruits, and the reformed themselves constantly perceive that the Catholic people, in spite of their Latin prayers, relish better and accomplish with more zeal the duties of the cult than most of the Protestant people. At every hour of the day, divine worship takes place in Catholic churches. The faithful Catholic who attends leaves his mother tongue at the door. Apart form the sermons, he hears nothing but mysterious words which, even so, are not heard in the most solemn moment of the Canon of the Mass. Nevertheless, this mystery charms him in such a way that he is not jealous of the lot of the Protestant, even though the ear of the latter doesn’t hear a single sound without perceiving its meaning.

While the reformed temple assembles, with great difficulty, purist Christians once a week, the 'Popish Church' watches unceasingly her numerous altars visited upon by her religious children; every day, they withdraw from their work to come hear those mysterious words which must be of God, for they nourish the faith and ease the pains.

We must admit it is a master blow of Protestantism to have declared war on the sacred language. If it should ever succeed in destroying it, it would be well on the way to victory. Exposed to profane gaze, like a virgin who has been violated, from that moment on the Liturgy has lost much of its sacred character, and very soon people find that it is not worthwhile putting aside one’s work or pleasure in order to go and listen to what is being spoken in the way one speaks on the town square. ...

The Anti-Liturgical Heresy
(L'Hérésie Anti-Liturgiste, an excerpt of the Institutions Liturgiques, v. 1)

The Institutions Liturgiques, v. 1, were first published in 1840; Chapter 3 of Volume 2 of the same work includes a thorough presentation of the issue of liturgical language.


  1. Anonymous6:35 PM


    New Catholic, I'm constantly amazed at your ability to find the "on the money" quote. Excellent and insightful, as usual.

    In Christ,

  2. It seems that Dom Guéranger is saying, it's always better for a Catholic not to understand all of the liturgical language he hears. Why is this?

    Some reasons I can think of: because the effort to learn the meaning by learning Latin is salutary; because incomplete understanding of the Liturgy symbolizes God's own incomprehensibility; because if a man doesn't understand it his pride (and desire to change things) is kept in check.

    I don't mean to suggest that anyone of these is or must be the reason. But curiously Dom G.'s point of view here quoted seems to suggest that understanding the sacred language is a disadvantage to the ordinary Catholic.

  3. "it's always better for a Catholic not to understand all of the liturgical language he hears."

    Andrew: An implication of your argument (and that of the modernist liturgists such as Trautperson), seems to assume that hearers of vernacular liturgy "understand" all of what they hear. They don't, even in the plainest language. But they think they do, which is dangerous. Hearers of latin, reading a translation, know that they don't comprehend it fully, which is a salutory mortification of the intellect, and an encouragement to further study of sacred texts, whicn, again, is a question you postulate.

    Understanding is never a disadvantage, it is the assumption of understanding that fosters intellectual pride, and gives rise to error and hersey. Seems a pretty simple equation, doesn't it? But further to the issues of intellectual pride and assumed understanding, the periodic divisions which appear in the church can be pretty much traced back to the apparrant inability of quite a few highly educated persons to correctly comprehend the meaning of the word "No."

  4. Anonymous7:26 PM

    I wonder what they think about having no one to pastor to with such a liturgy. Just see how empty their churches will be when the baby boomers start dying off.

  5. Hebdomaday, it's not my argument that it would be always better not to understand... it's precisely what Dom Guéranger said.

    I offered three reasons why he might be right, and I take it that you accept the first and the third; viz., that not understanding is healthfully mortifying, and that it might induce one to study Latin. I agree.

    But it's curious, isn't it, that Dom Guéranger seems to propose that there always ought to be some lack of understanding : learn Latin but don't become fluent. Because ce mystère le charme. (And... Dom G. continues by stating explicitly that the Protestant (he who prays in the vernacular!) "only hears sounds whose meaning he perceives".)

    For myself, I love to hear Latin even when I can't follow it, but I always thought that was merely an esoteric taste of mine; I didn't suppose it was actually spiritually valuable.

  6. may I simply say :
    the problem is the "litniks", the litnik networks that have been entrusted too long translations and above all ... litnik bishops that are creating false problems rather than solving the real ones.

  7. I respectfully disagree with Dom Guéranger. He seems to be raising up Latin almost as a cult of the church. Latin is a magnificent and beautiful language that is a part of the patrimony of the Western Church. And it should never have been so casually abandoned. But it was never the universal language of the Church. That is a myth. To the rather doubtful extent that any language can historically claim to have been universal within the Church that honor probably belongs to Greek.

    But it would have been a short lived honor. In the earliest days of the Church liturgy was usually in Greek. This was true in Rome as well as in the East. Greek was the language used by most educated people in those days. However Latin slowly became the accepted language in the West for precisely the reason so derided by its modern day defenders. It was the vernacular. It what the people understood. In the East Greek remained the lingua franca of worship and in the Slavic lands Slavonic entered into use thanks in no small part the great missionary saints Kyril & Methodius.

    In the Eastern Churches, whose customs Rome periodically pays lip service to respecting, the Church has always maintained the use of the vernacular as the proper normative language for worship. Yes, there is a place for ancient liturgical languages. I enthusiastically endorse Latin Gregorian Chant and parts of the liturgy being sung or chanted in Latin. Just as I believe that an Orthodox Liturgy in Slavonic is one of the closest foretastes of heaven anyone is likely to encounter in this world.

    But liturgy is the prayer of all the people (at least in Orthodox theology). It is the prayer of the whole Church, not just a single priest. Indeed in Orthodoxy no priest may celebrate the Holy Mysteries of the Altar alone. Such was once true in the West. As such it needs to be understood by those offering it up. Reciting prayers you don’t understand to my mind is a very questionable practice.

    My great enthusiasm is not for the language, as beautiful as Latin is. Rather it is for the words and rubrics of the ancient rite of the Western Church. Those who believe the Tridentine Rite should only be celebrated in Latin are mistaken. In my very humble opinion the best thing that could be done after the publication of the MP is to order a translation of the Pian Missal into the vernacular with that translations closely controlled by an unimpeachably orthodox (small 'o') department of the Vatican. Those who think it is not possible to produce a reverent liturgy in English have likely never read the so called English Missal still used by many "Old Catholics" and some High Church Anglicans. That is essentaily the classical Roman Rite translated into High English. It is magnificent in its language and Rome could do much worse than adopt it for use as the normative missal in the English speaking world with a few minor changes to ensure it fully conforms to Roman Catholic doctrine etc.


  8. Ad Orientem, I believe you may have misread Dom Guéranger's words. He, who deeply loved the ancient rites of the East, from Ethiopia to Constantinople, is speaking of the rites of the West in this excerpt -- perhaps you should read the chapter we indicated at the end of our post for his whole assessment of the question of language in the liturgy.

    The expression "universal language" is not even used in the excerpt... What is said is that Latin was a bond among Catholics throughout the universe. And was that incorrect?

    As for the Orthodox, the experience of the Diaspora is too short for a thorough analysis, and increasingly influenced by converts in North America, which prevents an adequate liturgical history. What must be said, however, is that the great separate churches of the East, including the Church of Greece and the Moscow Patriarchate, use liturgical languages which are as far removed from the common language of the people as Latin is to many Western languages...

  9. Anonymous10:16 PM

    "Speak up, Speak up"?????

    We have been trying, your excellency, but you don't listen (ya putz).

  10. Anonymous10:44 PM

    "In my very humble opinion the best thing that could be done after the publication of the MP is to order a translation of the Pian Missal into the vernacular with that translations closely controlled by an unimpeachably orthodox (small 'o') department of the Vatican.

    More work for the Vatican or Bishop Conferences "translators" which in any case are of the poorest quality.

    The best thing for the Catholic Church would be to close the Congregation for the Liturgy, althogether. It is the worst dicastery of the whole Vatican, it is a nest of rats.

  11. Anonymous10:52 PM

    ad orientem, I must agree with new catholic. Greek usage might have been "universal" up until the fourth century, but not after. The reason Charlamagne and St. Francis of Assisi advocated a Latin Mass very similar to the Tridentine rite, is not because it was vernacular in the ninth and fourteenth centuries in Germany and Italy, for instance, but because it was universal. The beauty of the Latin rite, of course, is partly because it links us with believers throughout the history of the Church, including many of the greatest saints. It can link us with believers throughout the world, creating a solidarity vertically through the ages and horizontally in the present time which the Novus Ordo just cannot do.

  12. Anonymous12:22 AM

    I think it would be useful to write the very contacts Bishop Trautman lists in the America article, to whom we would voice our concern about how "non-pastoral" the translations are, to inform them of how necessary the new translations are.

  13. I daresay that Latin can and did and does link us with the faith of our ancestors and also of those who pray with us the world around. But I still don't really understand what makes it valuable to not understand the words of the liturgy, which is what Dom Guéranger in this quote seems to advocate. Not that I think he is wrong; it's just that I don't know why he is right.

  14. Anonymous2:36 AM

    Dom Gueranger does not say that it is not valuable to understand the words of the liturgy, let alone that it is valuable to not understand the words of the liturgy. He says that it is valuable to have the liturgy in a language that is not the language of everyday life; that is a language common to the whole Latin rite; that is a language that is used specifically for sacred purposes. In fact, when the Latin rite reached maturity in the fifth and sixth centuries, thus producing the basic structure of the so-called 'Tridentine' mass, the Latin it used was a literary form that would not have been readily understandable to the average worshipper. (In fact what we now call 'classical Latin' was always to some extent a deliberate construct; the language of Cicero's orations was not that of the Roman in the street, and would not have been readily understandable to the ordinary Roman.)

    'But liturgy is the prayer of all the people (at least in Orthodox theology). It is the prayer of the whole Church, not just a single priest. Indeed in Orthodoxy no priest may celebrate the Holy Mysteries of the Altar alone. Such was once true in the West. As such it needs to be understood by those offering it up.'

    This assertion confuses the liturgy being the prayer of the whole Church with the liturgy being prayed by every member of the Church in the same way. That is not the case; the priest, as a priest, has the function of representing the people to God, and in offering the mass he is praying to God on their behalf. That is why there is a distinction between priest and laity. The people participate in his prayer by uniting themselves in their intention with what the priest is doing. That does not require them to do what the priest does, and hence does not require them to understand the prayers that the priest offers to the same extent that the priest understands them. Certainly the priest must understand the Latin, but what goes for the priest does not necessarily go for the laity. In the Orthodox Church by the way there is no pretence of the laity doing what the priest does - often they concentrate on other prayers; the priest carries on the liturgy in an often inaudible dialogue with the deacon, often behind the iconstasis where he is not visible let alone audible. That is becasue it is well understood that he is doing something for the people that the people cannot do themselves; because, as noted above, he is a priets, and the whole concept of a priest is of someone who represents the people to God in a way that they cannot do themselves. This concept of the priesthood will raise hackles because it sounds clericalist, and many Catholics - even or especially traditionalist ones - will have had bad experiences with arrogant clericalism. But in my view the lamentable clericalism found today is largely the result of the loss of this sacral conception of the priesthood; the priest is told that he is not distinct from and superior to the people in a specifically sacral way, and so he looks for some other way to be superior.
    On the general conception of the vernacular in worship, it is always worth remembering that the Lord did not worship in the vernacular; he worshipped in Hebrew, a language that had gone out of common use after the Babylonian captivity some six hundred years before his time. The vernacular of his day was Aramaic.
    Alsaticus, are you suggesting that the problems with the liturgy are really solely due to bad translators etc, rather than to the original work of Bugnini et al.? Is this not wishful thinking? Are the translators not really simply carrying further the intent of the liturgical 'reform'?

  15. New Catholic,
    Just a couple of quick points. The Greek used in the liturgies of the Greek Orthodox Church (read the church of Greece not the EP) is in fact mostly modern. Some of the liturgical language used in the (few) remaining parishes under the Ecumenical Patriarchate still use a more archaic form. This however is very much an anomaly within Orthodoxy.

    As for the Moscow patriarchate's use of Slavonic, this is something that is currently an interesting topic of discussion within the Russian Church. Until the militant atheists took over Russia Slavonic was widely understood by the Russian people. It was taught in almost all schools. However instruction in Slavonic was suppressed by the communists and a very large percentage of Russians no longer understand it. This has sparked something of a debate within the Russian Church. There is a general agreement among most that the present situation is not representative of good ortho-praxis. Although I have not kept up on the debate the last I heard was that there were two main thoughts on how to proceed. One is to slowly shift from Slavonic to modern Russian and the other is to begin the process of reeducating the population in Church Slavonic. My personal opinion is that the former is the more sensible course of action. However the last I heard it seemed that was a decidedly minority view. It appeared that the Church was favoring a massive reintroduction of Slavonic in the public schools system. Whatever course is taken Slavonic can not I think be fairly put in the same category as Latin, which beautiful though it is has been a dead language for more than a millennium.

    When examining the practice of the 15 autocephalous Orthodox Churches it is clear that the overwhelming norm is for the use of the vernacular in the Church’s public worship. Yes there are exceptions. But it is important to note that they are exceptions, not the norm.


  16. Slavonic is also a "dead" language, and Russians (Ukrainians, and other Slavs in the Moscow Patriarchate) Bulgarians, Serbians, Greeks (despite your assertion) are quite a substantial majority of nominal Orthodox...

    So I am missing your point here. If Church Slavonic is taught in Russian schools it will stop being a "dead language"?... Then all we have to do is bring the study of Latin back to all Western students. Problem solved...


    Ad Orientem, I believe you have made your point clear. Any further debate would be fruitless.

  17. A wonderful quotation upon which to reflect...

  18. " Ad Orientem a dit...
    New Catholic,
    Just a couple of quick points. The Greek used in the liturgies of the Greek Orthodox Church (read the church of Greece not the EP) is in fact mostly modern. Some of the liturgical language used in the (few) remaining parishes under the Ecumenical Patriarchate still use a more archaic form. This however is very much an anomaly within Orthodoxy."

    This serene statement is VERY ODD.
    As far as I know, the Church of Greece has very SOLEMNLY rejected the proposal made by one single metropolit to use modern Greek. The Holy Synod of this Orthodox Church of Greece, in Greece, was literally outraged by the idea of using common language.
    This episode took place around 2001 if my memory is right. It has been largely made public at that time and the neo-modernist metropolit was explicitely referring to the Novus Ordo horror show as a "model".

    So I think Ad orientem statement is wrong.

    nb. several Orthodox Churches in the Diaspora, especially in Northern America, have introduced vernacular but it's a general rule that Mother Churches in the East have resisted this lethal trend. Deo gratias !

  19. email to BpTrautman
    re: article in America Mag.

    "How accessible are the new translations?"

    Your Excellency Bishop Trautman:

    An astounding article, and one I am sure America was happy
    to print.

    And every time I read an article such as yours I thank God that we
    have access to the Traditional Latin Mass and do not have to
    assist at the abominable Novus Ordo Mass with its hundreds of
    variations and abuses. No two celebrations are ever the same
    except that in all cases the 'presider' is the focus; not God.

    All missals have always had English translations beside the Latin, and
    as you well know, Catholics for several hundred years have had no
    difficulty understanding the proper translations. 'Pro Multis' is never
    going to be 'for all' and 3 + 3 is never going to be '5' and 'John and
    Mary Catholic,' (and more and more young priests) much to the dismay
    of the inovators and translators know it.

    That the Novus Ordo Mass has hundreds of variations is one reason
    why the majority of Catholics no longer assist at Mass and the insulting
    language that 'John and Mary Catholic' are not intelligent enough to
    understand is another. Women in the sanctuary and unconsecrated
    hands abusing the Precious Body of Our Lord are two more.

    The Mass of St. Pius V is making a comeback and ICEL and those
    of their ilk cannot stop it because the 1962 missal is already properly
    translated and will soon be freed by Pope Benedict XVI!

    And I thank Jesus and His Blessed Mother.

  20. Hebdomadary made a very good point intially, which has been lost in the discussion: the use of the vernacular only gives the appearance of understanding. For example, the Father and the Son are "consubstantial". What does this mean? If I do not know, I would be curious to find out. But if the Father and the Son are "one in being", well, I know what each of the individual words means, so perhaps my curiosity is not piqued. However, that does not mean that I understand the concept. Bishop Trautperson would have us believe that "one in being with the Father", while allegedly expressing the same concept, is more "understandable" by hoi poloi. But all the translation has done is stripped away a technical term, and replaced it with meaningless (and misleading) drivel.

    "One in being" sounds like something a hippy would say. Oh, that's right...

  21. Anonymous6:28 PM

    I find that calling the Bishop 'Trautperson' is offensive. There are many other types of fish, and we should only use terms inclusive of all. So I urge comment writers to use the form 'Fishperson' when referring to this prelate.

    I know people may point out that Traut- is not 'trout', but surely John and Mary Catholic - whom we must presume illiterate - will hear 'trout', and will think of that one variety of fish alone, to the shameless exclusion of all others. So, to avoid offending the common man - oops, person - let's keep things as generally fishy as possible, as befits the prelate cuius nomen omen est.

  22. (Of course the actual meaning of Trautman is "he whom one trusts"...)

    Having read the Guéranger passage in the original helpfully supplied by New Catholic, I now have adequate answers to my questions above (which apparently no-one else was asking, sorry to bother you...)

    In summary, it is not failure-to-understand that is valuable in itself, but numerous consolations of the heart and gifts of faith which are available to the faithful praying in traditional language despite failure to understand.

  23. That seems to be correct, Andrew. Thank you for your insight.

  24. Thank you, Alsaticus. You refer to the following (as I had said in my comment to Ad Orientem -- "despite your assertion"), a decision by the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece which all of us who care about Traditional liturgies of East and West remember well -- as reported at the time by Kathimerini, Zenit, and Pravoslavie:


    Rejects Bishop's Initiative to Do Away with "Koine"
    Athens (Greece), September 20, 2002

    The Greek Orthodox Church has rejected a proposal to introduce modern Greek in the Liturgy.

    The great majority of the Holy Synod opted to keep Koine Greek as it was spoken 2,000 years ago and used in New Testament texts. Koine has contributed to the "mystery" of the Liturgy, the Orthodox bishops emphasized.

    Bishop Apostolos of Kilkision sparked the debate after he had translated liturgical texts into modern Greek and celebrated the Liturgy in that language.

    The bishop was called to account by the Holy Synod. He said he does not see anything wrong with his decision, which seeks "to make the Liturgy accessible to the people." "The majority of people do not understand the language of the Liturgy. They don't understand one word," the newspaper Kathimerini reported the bishop as saying. "It is one of the reasons why many people, particularly youth, do not go to church," Bishop Apostolos added.

    With the exception of two bishops, all members of the Holy Synod opposed the proposal, and Bishop Apostolos promised not to use modern Greek to celebrate the Liturgy.

    Archbishop Christodoulos, head of the Orthodox Church in Greece, wrote Bishop Apostolos saying that, "if he believed changes should be made, he should send his proposals in writing to be examined" by a special commission of the Holy Synod.

    Defenders of Koine do not think that the usage of modern Greek will attract more people to church. With "its beauty, strength and splendor," the traditional Liturgy of the Orthodox does much more for the faith than what punctilious understanding and explanation of each and every word might do, ecclesiastical sources explained.
    Pravoslavie.Ru /


    The Church of Greece was right to act thus, naturally: it could not have been a more Traditional decision, one Dom Guéranger would have applauded.


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