The recently published (on the web) “Open Letter to the U.S. Catholic Bishops on the Forthcoming Missal,” by Fr. Anthony Ruff, OSB, on the America Magazine website, has and will likely continue to engender some debate and discussion. I think it’s important to note and I feel compelled to make a few comments given the significance of this public statement.

Ruff is a very well-respected and competent liturgical scholar, whose views should not be taken lightly (as some comments on the America website suggest they have been). Unlike those who, for some reason unknown to me, have attempted to psychoanalyze the monk and scholar — perhaps in an effort to disarm his honest and direct critique — I would suggest taking a step back, not shoot from the hip and listen to what he has said.

The letter strikes me as both a sign of protest, legitimately raised in light of a rather unclear (if not indeed secret) process, as well as his public expression — humbling in its presentation — of a difficult decision that he had to make with regard to several speaking engagements and workshops from which Ruff has withdrawn. Ruff says right at the beginning:

With a heavy heart, I have recently made a difficult decision concerning the new English missal. I have decided to withdraw from all my upcoming speaking engagements on the Roman Missal in dioceses across the United States. After talking with my confessor and much prayer, I have concluded that I cannot promote the new missal translation with integrity.

Seeing that the liturgy, both is praxiological and scholarly engagement, has been Ruff’s main ministry for much of his religious life, his admittance of the difficulty in making such a serious decision should remain front and center in the way people read his comments. Like Fr. Ruff, like so many others, I too have my reservations about several of the decisions made in the new translation, at least from those collects and other prayers I’ve examined so far.

Many of these texts are awkward, clunky and incomprehensible. As anyone who speaks more than one language knows firsthand, rarely are you able to translate something word-for-word and have it make sense or bear the necessary meaning in its new articulation.

Rigidity in this regard looses not only the artful flow that ritual and communal worship should bear, but it also distorts the authentic meaning of the original Latin text — a disservice to the text itself (the intentio textus ipsius), as well as both the authorial intent (the intentio auctoris) and the reception and interpretation of the faithful (the intentio legentis). Translation into the vernacular has much more meaning than simply denoting which “language” (english, spanish, italian) is used, but also the style and accessibility of the text itself.

It seems to me that the seemingly tangential remarks Ruff makes about the Church’s leadership and the autocratic dissemination of the new text is understandably connected to the monk’s wider experience of the liturgy as the community’s universal expression of the sacred mysteries and prayer. These sorts of decisions should not be the right of an oligarchical and limited body, but should come — at least in some way — from the whole Body of Christ.

All this said, I am also a realist. Like several who have commented on Ruff’s decision and letter, I too appreciate that this has become a nonnegotiable mandate. This upcoming Advent will witness the implementation of the new text, as imperfect as it may be. I think that this is the most critical time for liturgical catechesis the Church has seen since the 1960s. While Ruff is correct in his concern about whether he could instruct others in the new translation without offering legitimate critique, we also cannot let the very real disappointment and frustration overshadow the very desperate need the Body of Christ, which is the Church, has for education and explanation.

While I don’t have the answer, I respect and stand in solidarity with Fr. Ruff, yet cannot emphasize enough my conviction that we must nevertheless press onward and do our best, work our hardest and pray ever-more-fervently in our implementation of this new missal.

When Rome gives you lemons…



  1. I thought you were doing fine untill I reached the next to last sentence:”……yet cannot emphasize enough my conviction that we must nevertheless press onward and do our best, work our hardest and pray ever-more-fervently in our implementation of this new missal.” To endure may be stoic, but to refuse this mismash of new and nonsensical litgurgical words would be Christian. Perhaps I misunderstood you, at least I hope so.
    george bouchey
    evening division ’76

  2. George,

    Thanks for your comment! What I’m aiming at in that statement is the need we have to not let the new missal become a major source of division within the community. I think we should use this as an opportunity for education, continue to raise challenging questions about the text, but also stand united together in a spirit of reconciliation in the process. It’s not so much a matter of stoicism, as far as I can tell, as much as it is a matter of unity amid division.

    Peace and good,

  3. Dan, I agree with you 100% As a church historian I am not in the postiion Fr Ruff finds himself in, but as a liturgist I certainly could not go around promoting this new missal. As a priest, though, I am in the position of helping the people (and myself) cope with the inevitable – the new books are being printed!! How to remain one community of faith in worship is the issue.

  4. When Rome gives you lemons…

    …swim the Thames, where the Vatican II liturgy continues almost identically in the Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer (1979)?

    Forgive me, Brother Dan. I was just hat-tipped to your blog via Fran (aka FranIAm!), and she knows I never miss an RC’s kvetching w/o extending the Episcopal-Church-Welcomes-You mat! 😉

    I was watching EWTN last night {insert your groans here}, on a program about the New Missal Translation (needless to say, it was positive). The most interesting point I thought was the exlplanation for the change of “And also with you” to “And with your spirit” (beyond a facile literalism!). The presenter explained that “And with your spirit” was ONLY addressed TO the priest, emphasizing “the spirit of his charism.” He then quoted Moses calling the Spirit over the seventy “to help him rule over the people”(!!!). :-0

    Most RCs I know (e.g., Fran) groan when I mention my EWTN vice . . . but they really do EXPLAIN things. Mainly, THANK GOD I’m an Episcopalian! 🙂

    Stay strong, Brother Dan (but if you’re interested in Episcopal Franciscans, I can hook ya up!)

  5. I was just at St. John’s University yesterday and while there I thanked God for all the leadership in liturgical reform that Collegeville has given us.

    Perhaps it would be great if the new text wasn’t a source of division within the community. However, that horse is out of the barn, because of the “pattern of top-down impositions by a central authority that does not consider itself accountable to the larger church.” Why is it wrong to be upset about this and are we supposed to prevent my division by pretending the accountability was really there? What will the hierarchy do to prevent this from becoming a source of division?

    Part of the problem is that local pastors and bishops require a speaker to be 100% on board with the “official message.” We are not allowed to say, “This is the official church teaching, but I have a problem with this _____________. Fr. Ruff stated, “I’m sure bishops want a speaker who can put the new missal in a positive light, and that would require me to say things I do not believe.” If pastors and bishops allowed a speaker to express his/her reservations about a topic, or to express something as a personal opinion, maybe Fr. Ruff would have been willing to make the presentations. But expressing a personal opinion, even whn labeling it as a personal opinion, can get a person fired.

  6. The Roman Missal issue is but the tip of an iceberg, which no one wants to mention and certainly not deal with. It has been more than a thirty year process and when the rock gets rolling, who can stop it. There are many who want to keep it rolling, for themselves, not really the Church, as Vatican II expressed it. It’s back to the pyramid model! Do you think it will succeed? I doubt it. The NY Archdiocese has plenty of commemorative copies of the Papal visit of 2008…nobody wants them…even for free! Of course, the Church will endure; it has suffered through worse.

  7. Over the years, there has been vote after vote by the USCCB on the new translation. When Rome accepts a translation put forth by the episcopal conferences of the English-speaking countries, it is a misrepresentation to speak of this as from the top down or monarchical.

  8. Unfortunately, it is a nonnegotiable mandate. The Missal is coming. The advice given in this article is “that we must nevertheless press onward and do our best, work our hardest and pray ever-more-fervently in our implementation of this new missal.” In short, “grit your teeth and just do it.”

    Well, it will get done, but I fear the new Missal will be more detrimental to my spirituality than edifying. The Mass will have less impact in my life, because, no matter how hard I try, it will be impossible not to tune out those parts that are “awkward, clunky and incomprehensible”. Oh well, at least I can pray my rosary during the liturgy. That will give the Vatican what it wants — a full return to pre-Vatican II practices.

    How sad.

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