The New Missal – Michael Commane OP

If you’ve been at Mass anytime in the last six weeks you will most likely have noticed changes in many of the prayers.

It’s often said that it is not a good idea to write down one’s thoughts in time of anger. And that indeed is a wise sentiment. But there are always exceptions to rules and I’m going to avail of that exception in this week’s column.

I’ve been using the new missal since its introduction on the first Sunday of Advent. And before I say another word I want to stress that since my priestly ordination in 1974, I’ve always celebrated the liturgy as prescribed.

Celebrating Mass on the first Sunday after Christmas, which was the feast of the Mother of God, I used the new missal.

Though it was not my first time to use it, it was my first time to use the first Eucharist Prayer.

Who is responsible for this change?

By trade I’m a teacher of English, German and religious knowledge. Also I write this column, and I am a contributor to a daily national newspaper. I spent six years working as a sub editor at a newspaper. At present I work as a press officer with Concern Worldwide. So I think it’s fair to say, I have a certain competence when it comes to the English language in both written and spoken form.

While I have no special expertise in liturgy, I do have a post-graduate degree in theology.

But I am at a loss to know what prevenient grace is. And I have to think twice before I understand what ‘oblation’ means

Many of the opening prayers are simply unintelligible. Reading this arcane language one gets lost and simply has no idea what it’s about. It is impossible to pray these words. Sometimes there are up to 50 words in a sentence.

The opening prayer, which they now call the ‘collect’, regularly contains unwieldy long sentences where it is almost impossible to spot the main verb.

The new missal breaks the rules of English. It seems to set up its own rule-book when it comes to the use of capital or upper-case letters. Why should, for instance the word ‘angel’ be uppercased when it is after all a common noun?

By the way, how many people attending Mass know what the word ‘Collect’ means?

Some of the responses that have been introduced are so insignificant, they are silly. Yet, it means people have to familiarise themselves with the changes. It looks like change for the sake of change.

Has it been spotted that the new missal has been printed in Italy. Wonderful. How much money has left Ireland so that this new book is forced down our throats?

But what worries me most of all is something far deeper and more far reaching..

As I have already said, I was ordained a priest in 1974, that’s not far off 40 years, not a short time in anyone’s calculations. And in that time I have been made aware of a ‘culture’, an ‘attitude’, ‘a way of thinking’ that causes me great concern.

I believe that there is something profoundly unhealthy about a ‘piousity’ that seems to give the impression that some people are ‘closer’ to God in the words they use and a particular lifestyle that one might perceive they are living. Sometimes a type of piousness seems to give people the idea that they have special privileges.

More needs to be written and discussed on this subject!

The missal is trying to create some sort of ‘exclusive show’, some sort of canonical snobbery. God love us.

For instance why not call her ‘Mary the Mother of God’ rather than ‘Holy Mary the Mother of God’, as the new missal does?

Harsh to say, but all this ‘holy stuff’ gives me the creeps. And that’s partly from my lived experience as a priest and the nonsense that I have seen. I’d prefer to use the word ‘unhealthy’. I’ll leave it at that for now.

I am flabbergasted that not a single Irish bishop has said a word about the poor quality of living English in the new missal.

Have any provincials or congregational leaders expressed opposition to the missal?

This new missal is making an attempt to introduce the ‘holy lore’. My prayer is that it will fail. Perhaps, more constructively said, I hope it will be re-visited and next time printed in Ireland.

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  1. Another Cassandra! Come now, don’t you admire the shapely majesty of that wooden horse?

  2. I agree with your comments. I have tried to go with the new missal but have now reverted mostly to the old one. While using the new one I have found myself changing alot of words and phrases. I have both missals out but find myself less and less using the new one.I find the old one alot more direct, simple and prayerful.

  3. Michael is 100% spot-on in all that he says about the New Missal.

    This New Missal is a very flawed production indeed. As Michael has pointed out, most of the prayers are impossible to read in such a way as to convey their meaning or their sense.

    I used to like to say Eucharistic Prayer One quite often throughout the year. With this new translation I doubt if I will ever say it again. The new version is a horror!

    And then, in the Preface, we meet all these Thrones and Dominions, and all these Powers of heaven etc. Where did they come out of?

    Another issue: There’s the terrible layout of the Missal itself. One often has to wade through pages of musical annotation before one finds the sentence or the prayer one’s looking for. Furthermore, there’s no differentiation between those texts said by the priests and those said by the people. In the last missal the words of the priests were highlighted in bold type.

    Finally, I fully endorse Michael’s comments about the silence of the bishops on this matter. I long for the day when some of our bishops might have the courage to stand up and admit that the New Missal is a very flawed production indeed.

  4. Association of Catholic Priests says:

    Thanks, Michael, for that article. It sums up my problems with the New Missal very well. A great many priests have spoken to me about how difficult they are finding the whole thing. I suspect there is a wide variety of implementation across the country, from those who are not using it at all to those who use a variety of the new and the old. The people’s responses are the least part of the problem. I find the prayers of the Mass the worst of all.
    I was surprised and somewhat shocked by the enthusiasm with which my colleagues in my community took to the New Missal last September, using the whole lot from the very start. But I see now that this enthusiasm has greatly waned. Very few of them, even of the most traditional, can manage to say “many”.
    I has undoubtedly effected my own ability to enter into the Eucharist. I hope that will pass with time.
    Tony Flannery

  5. But what can the unhappy folk DO? Reading about other people’s dismay (or worse) won’t sustain us much longer.

    Traditionalists will say, “Now you understand what we suffered 40+ years ago. ” But that translation was from LATIN into ENGLISH. This is a rendering into a verbiage that is NOT ENGLISH.

  6. On the whole, after many weeks of use, I have to say I am pretty pleased with the new translation. I like the new Gloria and the Confiteor. I love to acknowledge my own wretched sinfulness and then enjoy the fact that Christ is drawn to the misery of poor sinners and grants them forgiveness – how astonishing! What strikes me the most about the new texts is the Collect prayers and the prayers after communion. I find these helpful in my rather amateurish attempts at living the Christian life. In them there is solid and easily understandable guidance, which was not clearly elucidated in the old translation. Honestly, when I compare the two, my typical reaction is to roll my eyes. The new is a great improvement.

  7. Sean (Derry) says:

    Michael Commane’s article is well worth reflecting upon, but unfortunately, for all the wrong reasons.
    Here we have a priest, ordained in 1974, who has a post-graduate degree in theology and is a teacher of ‘religious knowledge’.
    So what could possibly confuse such a learned person?
    Some obscure ancient Greek or Hebrew text prehaps?
    No. Father Commane, either does not, can not or will not seek to understand some words in the New Translation. In particular the words, ‘prevenient grace’, ‘oblation’ and ‘Collect’.
    Well at least, it seems, that he does undersatand ‘consubstantial’, a word which seems to have confused so many of his colleagues.
    Oh, and also, this priest dosen’t understand why the word ‘Holy’ should be used when referring to Mary the Mother of God.
    But then I guess this is understandable as all this ‘holy stuff’ gives him the creeps.
    Will you tell him, or will I?

  8. Gerard Flynn says:

    Tony, I’m not so sure that the people’s responses are the least part of the problem. I have noticed that the congregations’ parts have become more muted. People are now silent when they should be acclaiming their parts.
    The new translation is doing symbolically what it has done in practice: it is confirming to lay people that they have no voice in the church. What else could be expected when the bishops of the English-speaking world have chosen not to have their voices heard either.

  9. Mary Burke says:

    It’s a pity, Sean (Derry) that you choose not to make your point without descending to argumenta ad hominem and to impugning the motives of another person. It would be more helpful if you had confined your criticism to the views expressed by Michael and to the the issues he raises. Secondly the sarcasm which your contribution contains is neither edifying nor pleasant to read. To stand over either or both of these criticisms without the cover of anonymity might encourage you to write more constructively and responsibly.

  10. Eddie Finnegan says:

    Of course the linguistic rot really set in when Pope St Victor I vernacularised the liturgy into bog or desert Latin about 190AD. We’ll have to excuse him as a Western Libyan with no time for the Greek of the Easterns beyond Benghazi. But we’ve never recovered from it since.

  11. The best yet!


    True story. Someplace “out East” (as we say in the Midwest).

    Second Sunday of Advent. Pastor began Mass by reporting that he received an angry letter from a parishioner. Seems the priest had changed all the words of the Mass last Sunday, even the consecration. “If you don’t stop this immediately, I’ll report you to the Pope.”

    (Anthony Ruff OSB on the praytell blog)

  12. Teresa Mee says:

    I presume you communication giants are preparing to organise a public protest.
    Meanwhile,kindly let us ‘lay’ victims know where we can find a priest willing to celebrate Mass in English with us. I’ll be happy to get a no-standing room congregation together.

  13. I do feel sorry for Fr. Michael and all the problems he has with the new translation, I’m also sorry that veritas couldn’t publish it more cheaply in Ireland, and I’m sorry that he has such problems with the meaning of ‘collect’, and ‘oblation’, though I haven’t had the same problem here that he has.

    As for ‘prevenient grace’ which is certainly more of a mouthful, I looked it up when I heard it and didn’t understand it, it didn’t take me long and looking it up helped me to gain a deeper understanding of what was being said.
    Now I don’t have a degree in Theology let alone a postgrad but surely said teacher of religious knowledge has books which contain religious knowledge, or failing that a quick Google helps to find sources to find out the meaning(certainly helped me).

    It seems to me that the author of this piece has something of a reductionist attitude to the Mass texts, less is enough,(i.e. why not call her ‘Mary the Mother of God’ rather than ‘Holy Mary the Mother of God’-in that case why not just call her ‘Mary’ or ‘her’?)this hardly a great way to look at things regardless of your walk of life.

  14. ‘Collect’ means ‘gather,’ doesn’t it? Seriously, thanks Michael for trying to shed some light on this topic, once again. I would be interested to hear your views, as a theologian, on the response, “And with your spirit.” To me, it rubbishes the Incarnation. If God saw fit to come among us in a human body, why are we excluding the body from a blessing and regressing to dualism? It saddens me to see the fruit of Michael’s reflections sneered at above. Surely the point of the Incarnation is that, by becoming one of us, God made everything HOLY (except the deliberate option for evil). What I hear Michael cautioning against is a kind of piousity that is elitist. For example,today, we hear that the seminarians in Maynooth are to be separated from the other students. In God’s name, why? While there is a need for them to have space and time to pray, that should be done as part of a formation programme apart from their student life. Shades of snobbery again?? We have strayed far away from the kind of Church that was founded by the humble Nazarene. We, the people of God, are failing to be prophetic if we do not speak out about this.

  15. Wendy Murphy says:

    Goodness Simmary, I’m so with you, Michael Commane and others and can only sympathise with the limitations of those who imagine we can’t grasp the meaning of words we’ve been perfectly familiar with and have perfectly understood for most of our lives. They seem to confuse grandiose linguistic religiosity with spirituality. What a mistake to imagine saying ‘Holy Mary’is in any possible sense preferable to addressing, simply, ‘Mary’. Each to his own, however. As you say, the current verbiage is not acceptable English and therefore an inexcusable imposition and, in my view, a pastoral disaster. During Mass I tend to just try to be still and, on the whole, silent. Greetings to you.

  16. I am delighted to hear that a community that embraced the new translations with enthusiasm are now feeling buyer’s remorse. The cult of irritating obtuseness by the Vatican and its theologians or pseudo-theologians meets its nemesis when they have to consume their own products.
    By the way, will someone kindly explain the exact meaning of “prevenient grace”? I vaguely remember hearing about it in connection with some 16-17th century controversy de gratia but offhand I am unable to give the expression a concrete meaning.

  17. PS, Trent uses the expression: “The Synod furthermore declares, that in adults, the beginning of the said Justification is to be derived from the PREVENIENT GRACE of God, through Jesus Christ, that is to say, from His vocation, whereby, without any merits existing on their parts, they are called; that so they, who by sins were alienated from God, may be disposed through His quickening and assisting grace, to convert themselves to their own justification, by freely assenting to and co-operating with that said grace.” Can we simply say that it means “Divine Grace given independently of our merits”?

  18. Sean (Derry) says:

    My understanding (as best as I understand the Catholic Church theology) of the term ‘PREVENIENT GRACE’ as used in the Prayer over the Offerings on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, … ‘Graciously accept the saving sacrifice which we offer you, O Lord, on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and grant that, as we profess her on account of your prevenient grace, to be untouched by any stain of sin, so, through her intercession, we may be delivered from all our faults.’
    This is a term applied only to Mary, to explain how She, unlike the rest of mankind, was born without original sin, ‘For you preserved the most Blessed Virgin Mary from all stain of original sin, so that in her, endowed with the rich fullness of your grace, you might prepare a worthy Mother for your Son and signify the beginning of the Church, his beautiful Bride without spot or wrinkle.’
    For the rest of us sinners, (as I understand it) ‘prevenient grace’ is “a predisposing grace of God through Jesus Christ” which we receive after we are born, which then allows us to avail of, if we so choose, subsequent graces. Therefore, in our case the term ‘prevenient grace’ could well be summed up, as Joseph O’Leary suggests, as a, “Divine Grace given independently of our merits.”

    PS, Mary Burke, my previous post was not an argumenta ad hominem re, Michael Commane, but rather a focusing of attention to his flippant ‘dismissal of the missal’ by highlighting the actual bones of his case. It is he who set out his own CV and qualifications for his expertise on the subject, yet he simply feels that because he cannot be bothered to try and reach any new or deeper understanding of the prayers or meaning of new words, they therefore have no merit and should be scorned at.

  19. Come on Eileen! I know a couple seminarians in Maynooth. I hear that in the hot summer months they see young couples and immodestly dressed girls relaxing on the expansive lawns. Now those areas have apparently been sealed off. I suppose some Swiss Guards might also be flown in to provide extra security during peak periods.

  20. Mary Burke says:

    Martin, are you based in the US? Anyone who knows anything about Irish seminarians knows that the issue of immodestly dressed girls is most likely to be the least of their concerns.

  21. Latin marks: Mary, A; Sean, C.

    So “prevenient” in the Dec 8 prayer is even more recondite that I’d guessed…

    And what kind of person talks like this: “grant that, as we profess her on account of your prevenient grace, to be untouched by any stain of sin”?

    Answer: a Google automatic translation.

  22. Wow, Joseph! You got it! That explains a lot!!! And Mary, your contributions are always sound. Thanks to everyone else too, for keeping the discussion going, even if we don’t agree with each other!

  23. Mary, all I do know is that I have a good friend who is a seminarian in Maynooth and he told me that yes, they do see canoodling couples during the sunny weather. Vocations can be lost you know, especially through sins of impurity. All seminarians are discerning their vocations, and if they see lovely girls, it could put them off. You wouldn’t want that, would you?

  24. Martin – any seminarian is going to have seen “canoodling couples” prior to attending Maynooth. Even single sex Grammar school teens can’t avoid the sight of their friends getting intimate after school. Or have you not been in a town bus station between 3.30 and 4.30 in the last decade? if the sight didn’t put them off their vocation when they were discerning whether they should attend Maynooth, it’s not going to put them off when they’ve made that decision – and if, on the smallest chance, it did, it simply illustrates that their vocation wasn’t correctly discerned after all. Also, is it your opinion that, once ordained, Priests have a form of “canoodling couple” blindness? Should seminarians not be accustomed to ALL that they will have to deal with in their ministry?
    But honestly, I’m still stuck on your concern that any seminarian who discerns he doesn’t have a vocation by viewing a lovely girl actually should be in the ministry. I’d rather know that my Priest has passed through these temptations and found himself not needing to give into them, rather than having never been tested. (because it would be far worse, if, once ordained, he saw a lovely girl for the first time, and suddenly realised “what he was missing”…)
    Just think of it as equivalent to the temptation of Christ. A seminarian with a true vocation will resist temptation, just as Christ did.

  25. Eddie Finnegan says:

    Martin, I’d go a little further than DHG and ask whether a mature would-be Maynooth seminarian who cannot provide some evidence of a spot of what you quaintly term “canoodling” in his past should really be allowed through the front gates, let along pace the cloisters or those expansive lawns. I speak from several years of experience of both Maynooth and “canoodling”. In the past 47 years I have never considered that my discernment of a vocation outside the priesthood had anything to do with my own experience of “canoodling” or my chance observation of anyone else’s. Maybe, Martin, you should get out more.

  26. Martin, some of us also believe that optional celibacy — or should that be optional marriage- is the only sensible way forward.
    Or should that be most of us.

  27. Well now, I should get out more Eddie, but the trouble is (well, one problem as I see it), there are precious few girls who are a. lovely, and b. Catholics who actually believe what the Church teaches (esp. about sex) and strive to live it. I think our bishops, priests, teachers, and parents bear the responsibility for that.

  28. If there were published lists of churches where priests were still using the previous missal to say Mass, those churches would be overflowing.

  29. I don’t think so David, any more than the churches where they say my beloved 1962 missal are overflowing. I don’t think people care very much about the 1973 missal. I certainly don’t think the old Collins hardback book is worth risking schism over!

  30. Sean (Derry) says:

    David, so why were the Churches not overflowing prior to the recent changes in the missal?

  31. Paul Burns says:

    “Canoodling couples”, “lovely girls”?? This discussion sounds like the script from an episode of Father Ted. Thanks for the light hearted input everyone in these troubled times.

  32. The churches were not overflowing with the 1973 missal but it’s a pretty sure prediction that they will be even less so with the soulless and styleless new translation. I used the new Eucharistic Prayer I yesterday — what a horrid mess!

    Yes, if people could find a few churches with the 1973 text unchanged they would flock to them, providing a long-forgotten spectacle of overflowing churches.

  33. I think not Fr Joseph. Most people couldn’t care less. It’s just us extremists on either side who get worked up about these matters! [I’m just kidding.]

  34. Michael Commane says:

    In the ‘General Instruction of the Missal’ paragraph 135 ‘reader’ is spelled with a lower case ‘r’ but ‘priest’ is spelled with an upper case ‘p’. Why?

    ‘Homily’ is with upper case ‘h’ but ‘cantor’ with lower case ‘c’.

    And ‘faithful’ with lower case ‘f’

    It reminds one of the Cork joke about the woman walking along the Lee, who shouts out; “help, help, my son the engineer is drowning”.

    As silly as that.

    There is a story behind everything

  35. Elizabeth Cleary says:

    Hi Fr Michael
    Two months have passed since the last comment on the New Missal, that’s four months some of us are still struggling, still stumbling, still distracted by the unfamiliar words, still torn between wanting the Mass to be prayerful, and wanting to be a ‘good girl and do what I am told’.
    My compromise with myself is as follows:
    Each time I stumble, am distracted, etc, I remind myself to forgive and pray for those ‘who know not what they do’, and I ask to be forgiven myself for my anger which now borders on rage at being powerless to do anything about this issue, other than vote with my feet, and deprive myself of the community.
    There has to be a gift here in this, as in all situations. Maybe it is the gift of a place like this blog where we can express our ideas freely.

  36. Joe O'Leary says:

    “most people couldn’t care less”

    “the hungry sheep look up, and are not fed”

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