“Lost in Translation: the English language and the Catholic Mass”: Gerald O’Collins, SJ, with John Wilkins

Lost in Translation: the English language and the Catholic Mass

Lost in Translation: the English language and the Catholic Mass is the most recent addition to sources that seek to inform people about how the ‘New Missal’, resulting from the 2001 Vatican instruction Liturgiam Authenticam, ever saw the light of day.

The author of this book is a very well known Jesuit commentator, Gerry O’Collins.

The title — Lost in Translation: the English language and the Catholic Mass — speaks for itself. Several recent initiatives by Pope Francis have made this book acutely relevant.

Most English-speaking Catholics have felt stuck with the clunky word-for-word translation of the Mass in use at present, resulting from the 2001 Vatican instruction Liturgiam Authenticam. There has appeared to be no way out.

Suddenly, we have seen Pope Francis change all that. First, he set up a commission to review Liturgiam Authenticam, which had taken control over the texts away from the bishops. Then, last month, he issued a letter that puts the bishops back in charge, and he has subsequently confirmed that this is his intention. The field is now wide open for change.

This book urges the bishops to take down the infinitely superior meaning-for-meaning English translation they approved in 1998 from the shelf in Rome where it is mouldering away. Substitute it. Inform the Vatican congregation of this decision, taken in accordance with Pope Francis’s wishes, so that they can confirm it.

Impossible? But who would have thought a year ago that Pope Francis would have put us where we are now?

But will our bishops have the courage to act, to grasp their authority to make decisions regarding liturgical texts? In the end, a push from the lay people will have an essential part to play.

This book would be an ideal means to help people inform themselves about the issue. Gerry O’Collins takes a systematic look at the 2010 English translation of the Roman Missal and the ways it fails to achieve what the Second Vatican Council mandated: the full participation of priest and people. Critiquing the unsatisfactory principles prescribed by the Vatican instruction Liturgiam Authenticam (2001), this book, which includes a chapter by John Wilkins:

  • tells the story of the maneuverings that sidelined the 1998 translation approved by eleven conferences of English-speaking bishops,
  • criticizes the 2010 translation, and
  • illustrates the clear superiority of the 1998 translation, the “Missal that never was”.

Customers who want the book can apply to the UK distributors, Norwich Books at 13A Hellesdon Park Road, Norwich, Norfolk NR6 5DR (email: orders@norwichbooksandmusic.co.uk).


John F. Baldovin, SJ
 Professor of Historical and Liturgical Theology Boston College School of Theology & Ministry wrote of this book;

“At last we have a comprehensive treatment of the sad history of the Vatican’s dismantling of ICEL’s efforts at providing us with translations that are both elegant and communicative. My favorite line: ‘Before I die, I would be delighted to celebrate once again the Eucharist in my native language.’ This book provides trenchant criticism of the current translation of the Roman Missal and wonderful observations on the 1998 ‘Missal that wasn’t.’ As in so many areas of contemporary theology, we are once again in O’Collins’s debt.”


Maxwell E. Johnson, University of Notre Dame, commented ;

“Here is a required book for any class in contemporary Roman Catholic eucharistic liturgy today. O’Collins narrates the rise and fall of the 1998 ICEL translation of the Roman Missal and its replacement by the 2010 ‘translation.’ Together with ample references to the best in contemporary liturgical scholarship and of cial documents—including Comme le prévoit and Liturgiam authenticam—O’Collins calls for the end of the 2010 text with its impossible syntax and forced ‘sacral language’ in favor of an of cial recognition of the 1998 text. With serious ecumenical implications as well (especially with regard to what were common texts of the Kyrie, Gloria, Creed, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei), this book needs to be read by all in light of Pope Francis’s call for a reevaluation of Liturgiam authenticam. May O’Collins’s hope be realized and may the 2010 text become but a footnote in the history of the Roman Rite.”

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