The Mystery of the Leaked Missal

New Zealand has implemented the people’s parts and the Mass ordinary of the third edition of the English Roman Rite Missal, while the United States can look forward to the replacement of the current lame-duck Missal, which dates from the Age of Aquarius, with the corrected translation this time next year. Dignity, solemnity, and the true voice of the Roman Rite will make a grand return, and I’m among those who are shouting “Hosanna” for this dramatic shift.

You might be surprised to learn, however, that the full text of the final Missal is not yet officially available, even in digital form. In recent months, there have been some unusual bumps in the road, and they point to a serious management problem that we can only hope will be overcome in time.

The Internet abounds with rumors over a process gone wrong, and they point to a problem that transparency would have fixed. Consider the events of last month: On November 18, Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli of Paterson, New Jersey, the outgoing head of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Divine Worship, gave public reassurance that the third edition of the Roman Missal and its new English translation is on track.

He spoke to clarify some matters in light of a global swirl of confusion about the present status of the Missal. But even his statement did not clear up the current confusions; and for those who are following the story closely, it even introduced more puzzles. An ominous sign seems to have been buried in the following sentence of Bishop Serratelli’s statement: “The Congregation followed the principles of Liturgiam Authenticam faithfully but not slavishly.”

By way of background, the bishops of the English-speaking world, in consultation with the greatest Latinists and liturgists working today, had approved a stable version of the Missal in 2008, an edition that had been debated and approved by the conferences of all English-speaking countries and had been given further approval by the Vatican. That this finally came about, over minority opposition of the most petty sort, is something of a miracle and the best proof I’ve seen that times have changed. The Sixties are finally over for the Catholic Church.

The International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) prepared Web sites, and Catholic publishers were readying teaching materials and music. The committee called Vox Clara, formed for the purpose of overseeing the process and shepherding this Missal through conference deliberations, headed by Monsignor James Moroney, seemed to have worked magic. Its last known meeting took place on April 28 and 29. On August 20, Francis Cardinal George announced that the new Missal would be implemented on the first Sunday of Advent next year. Magnificently, he wrote, “From that date forward, no other edition of the Roman Missal may be used in the dioceses of the United States of America.”

This was a great day, and everything seemed to be on track. But there was one final step: Some minor issues had to be settled by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments before the final Missal text could be released. The issues were small, dealing with punctuation, typos, and a handful of special requests. There was no reason to think that anything had gone wrong.


Then a strange thing happened: many months of silence. There was no Missal, no text, nothing. Not even insiders knew what was going on. Publishers, bloggers, bishops, even the ICEL all waited — but there was nothing. The Latinists and musicians and language experts who had been deeply involved in the process were shut out. We had heard that the final edition was coming in the summer, then it was to be the fall.

Rumors that began on the blog Pray Tell began to swirl about some shadowy committee that had made some 10,000 changes to the final edition. It seemed like an impossible number. If true, it was almost like starting over with the whole ten-year process. Most of these changes did not affect any aspect of the ordinary of the Mass or the people’s dialogues with the priest. The areas that were alleged to have been put through the blender were the orations and the propers of the Mass — the material through which we come to understand the liturgy of the day and the direction and purpose of the liturgical year.

For my part, I didn’t believe the rumors, and distrusted the motivations of those who were spreading them. It seemed to me an attempt to create a cloud of confusion for the introduction of the new Missal. After all, some people (for reasons I can’t contemplate) prefer the comic-book rhetoric of the 1970s translation that, in many cases, is not a translation at all but a paraphrase based on the goofy theological fashions of the day. As we remember from the bishops’ debates here, this lame-duck translation actually has some aging fans. Surely they were the ones spreading the rumors as a last-ditch effort to stop the greatest single advance of the Faith in half a century.


In time, however, it turned out that there was more substance to the stories than I had supposed. A memo to the CDW, written by someone knowledgeable of the process, was leaked on the Internet. The title was “Areas of Difficulty in the Received Text of the Missal,” and its author was anonymous but is probably connected with ICEL in some consulting capacity. It was blistering and intellectually impressive, pointing out hundreds of problems with the final edition of the Missal being prepared by the CDW. This was not restricted to areas of dispute; arbitrary and wholly unnecessary changes had been made that rendered the language pointlessly convoluted. The propers of the Mass had been completely changed. In many cases, the changes departed from rules laid down by Liturgiam Authenticam, the 2001 document that governs new translations.

This memo, which shows mastery of the translation process and mechanics, documented changes of meaning from the Latin original, mistranslations of the Latin, an arbitrary limiting of the vocabulary, arbitrary additions of an element not found in the Latin, weakening of Scriptural allusion, a loss of the intensity of the original, introduction of theological problems, poor English grammar or usage, inconsistency in translation sources, and other strange errors — none of which was present in the 2008 version approved by all bishops of English-speaking conferences.

I wondered if somehow this document was not what it seemed. The site that leaked it, Pray Tell, is edited by Rev. Anthony Ruff. Father Ruff is a Gregorian chant scholar but, surprisingly, usually stands with the “progressive” branch of American Catholicism. We are friends, though we disagree on many issues. I admit that I wondered at the time if he might be pointlessly stirring up trouble in order to discredit the forthcoming Missal. I regret the judgment.

In the digital age, there are no secrets that stay that way for long. It was only ten days later that the full Missal was leaked, too. This was the document that the entire English-speaking world had so long awaited. It was not released by the Vatican at a press conference or by the USCCB, but by a Web site that specializes in leaking documents related to war and the national security state. This is what secrecy has reduced us to. Following that, the stable and beloved Gray Book Proper of Seasons and Proper of Saints and even a compendium of propers were all leaked, so that anyone can compare the before and after.


Immediately, every Catholic and Latinist interested in liturgical events in the English-speaking world was poring over these strange documents, particularly this complete Missal that had clearly been prepared for publication by the CDW itself. The problem was even worse than the memo had said, and it was also more obvious. It didn’t take a Latin expert to see them. Anyone can observe the decline in hundreds of examples.

Here is just one taken at random, from the text for the Preface IV for the Dead. The 2008 text (the Gray Book) reads as follows:

And by your command that we are freed from the law of sin
as we lie in the earth from which we were taken.
And we, who have been redeemed by the Death of your Son,
are raised up at your bidding to the glory of his Resurrection.

The leaked Missal of 2010 substitutes the following, which is strangely convoluted:

And at your command that we return on account of sin,
to that earth from which we came.
And when you give the sign, we who have been redeemed by the Death of your Son,
shall be raised up to the glory of his Resurrection.

This kind of thing is pervasive throughout the Missal. The clarity and beauty of the first, which is a dramatic improvement over the existing Missal, has become cloudy and peculiar in the second, with its strange syntax , inverted phrasing, and tin-ear vocabulary (“on account of”?) that mixes high and low expressions from the vernacular. It has all the earmarks of a revision done by a committee of people for whom English is a second language. It is even hard to know why such changes were made, unless the whole point was to somehow show who is boss.

Another good example comes from the collect of the first Sunday of Advent. The current rendering has that characteristic reductionist kid-talk voicing:

All-powerful God,
increase our strength of will for doing good
that Christ may find an eager welcome at his coming
and call us to his side in the kingdom of heaven,
where he lives and reigns . . . .

The Bishops and ICEL fixed it in the 2008 Missal, a text with clarity and strength of conviction:

Grant, we pray, almighty God,
that your faithful may resolve to run forth with righteous deeds,
to meet your Christ who is coming,
so that gathered at his right hand
they may be worthy to possess the heavenly kingdom.
Through our Lord.

And now we have the mystery Missal. What emerges from the leaked Missal is this puzzling version in which it becomes strangely unclear who (or what) is resolving, gathering, or being made worthy:

Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God,
the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ
with righteous deeds at his coming,
so that, gathered at his right hand,
they may be worthy to possess the heavenly kingdom.
Through our Lord.

The anonymous critique wrote of this change:

The object of the request is removed too far from the verb, separated by the intercessory element, “we pray,” and further by the vocative, “almighty God.” Surely it has to be “to run forth with righteous deeds” and “to meet your Christ at his coming” as in 2008. Modifying phrases and clauses are stretched and awkwardly arranged. Who are “gathered at his right hand”? Who are “they” whom we are praying “may be worthy to possess”? One wants it to be “your faithful,” of course, but the way the sentence is constructed, the antecedent seems to be the “righteous deeds” who are gathered and who possess the kingdom!

There are even alarming theological errors introduced into the text, as is the case with the collect for the Chrism Mass of Holy Thursday. The approved 2008 text says: “O God, who anointed your Only Begotten Son with the Holy Spirit and established him as Christ and Lord.” The peculiar leaked Missal that emerged from the CDW and/or Vox Clara implies that He was not God’s Son before His Baptism: “O God, who anointed your Only Begotten Son with the Holy Spirit and made him Christ and Lord.”

You can read more about such changes and detailed critiques of them in the anonymous memo titled, “A funny thing happened on the way to the 2010 Received Text.”


Fortunately, the revisions are largely (but not entirely) restricted to parts that do not affect the text of the order of the Mass. The people’s parts are stable and much more beautiful than they have been for 40 years. Even the leaked Missal text is better than the current lame-duck translation. But the changes and delays in the propers and orations are still a serious problem. Why accept an inferior, botched, and even bowdlerized version when the bishops submitted a perfectly wonderful version?

As an example of what this switch means, consider that musicians have been working to prepare materials to permit the propers to be sung by the schola. They must be composed, typeset, and printed in time for the release of the Missal. Many were already in place, using the stable text approved two years ago. Now these are all changed, and even the sourcing of the text has change from vulgate to neo-vulgate (contrary to the instructions in the Liturgium). The implications here are rather ominous: Will this be the first edition of the Roman Rite not to use St. Jerome’s own translation of the Psalms? Looking through the propers of the Mass (the antiphons for entrance and communion), I find very few that are the same.

If this leaked version becomes the final, what is the cost? There is no way that materials that allow for the singing of the Missal propers can be prepared in time. People who are working on this say that it will be a year or even two before they can rewrite the work that they have already done. And that supposes that they will even bother to do so. There are so many problems with the leaked Missal that it suggests this will be more of a beta release subject to revision again only a few years from now.

(I’ve worked on a project to commission new sung propers, but we are prudently using the propers from the Graduale Romanum, and for two reasons: 1) They are the sung propers of the Mass, and 2) they are not part of this process and therefore cannot be delayed or made defunct.)

Let’s say a word for collegiality here, too. It’s not possible to even fathom the implications of foisting a new Missal on the entire English-speaking world that not only obliterates the work of nearly ten years by the conferences and their experts around the world but makes a mess of a very solid translation. Countless thousands of hours will have been completely wasted. There will be a lingering bitterness at the very time when we need enthusiasm and joy. Celebrants will find themselves stumbling over words and raising eyebrows at strange syntax. It could create a demand to return to the previous English edition, which, for all its terrible problems, is at least a known quantity.

Anyone looking at this process will have a strange sense of deja vu that takes the mind back to 1969 and 1970, when a tiny committee working in secret suddenly sprung on the world a new Mass in a new translation that made an incredible mess of the language, the calendar, the rubrics, and much more. The final 1974 Missal, which is surely one of the most catastrophic renderings of the Roman Rite in human history, would never have seen the light of day had it been prepared in the light of day, with real experts to watch what was going on. The costs of this change were incalculably huge, as people fled their parishes, religious orders collapsed, and sheer chaos was introduced into the liturgical life that had been stable for some 500 years.

When this process began, all interested parties were determined not to repeat that experience. Catholics have lost their taste for change, and understandably so. This is why ICEL, Vox Clara, the bishops, and everyone else was preparing educational materials to make sure that the process was smooth, open, dignified, and collegial. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, the old ways struck. The secrecy was back. The anonymous committees and shadowy power players returned. The skeletons came out of the closets and somehow got hold of the Missal just before its final release and introduced that old familiar chaos.

The whole thing remains a mystery today. We do not know who at the CDW or Vox Clara made these revisions, though surely the head of Vox Clara knows something. We do not know if the changes will last. We do not know who knew what and when. When the pope only last month praised the English bishops for their work on the Missal, was he even aware that much of what they did was being undone? We are not even sure if the members of Vox Clara were aware of what happened to the Missal between January and August. Members of ICEL are in the dark. The bishops do not know. The publishers do not know. And no one has a clue when the final version will be released.


In the blame game, there has been a disproportionate emphasis on finding and punishing the leakers, which is exactly what happens when secrecy replaces openness. Instead of focusing on the real problem of the process itself, the long knives come out to slice and dice those who are drawing attention to the problems of the process. This is a grave error. Anyone who takes the time to read the critiques I’ve linked above will see that these are not being posted by bad people, but rather the opposite: They are people who are thinking with the mind of the Church and are hoping to prevent a great Missal from being subverted by some unnamed members of a Vatican bureaucracy.

In the long history of Catholicism, the leakers have played an important role in fixing the problems inherent in secretive management. At Vatican I, Pope Pius IX had ambitions for the council that exceeded the mandate, and it took the leaks of Lord Acton and his friends to provide a much-needed corrective. At Vatican II, the secrecy of the concilium in the early days led to global suspicion and then revolt, which ended up undoing the good they had planned and replacing it with a revolutionary impulse that only grew stronger throughout the 1960s and 1970s. And even in our own time, we’ve seen the catastrophic results that have been produced by secret deals and deliberations concerning sexual abuse, a penchant for hiding and cover-ups that has bankrupted many dioceses.

This approach must come to an end. A Web site with the full Missal with wiki-like editing functionality would have permitted the experts to engage each other on talk pages, and we could have access to complete records of who is saying what to whom, and know the arguments and issues that go into the translation process. This would elicit contributions from the greatest liturgists, Latinists, and proofreaders on the planet. This would enhance respect for those who have dedicated their careers to this task. The suspicion would be replaced by trust, and power struggles by genuine dialogue and exchange of ideas.

This openness should have been implemented some five to ten years ago. By now, we would have the best possible edition, in the same way that many Wikipedia entries are now so developed and sophisticated as to be the highest quality and comprehensive work on the subject.

Yes, this is an endorsement of transparency of the most extreme sort. Catholicism and its liturgical texts can withstand and benefit from this approach, so as to make sure that every bit of available wisdom can go into producing the final edition. And yet, the demand for transparency is somehow associated with the “progressive” or leftist elements in the Church. I see no reason for this, as everyone has an interest in ending secrecy and increasing openness. Transparency reduces suspicion, increases quality, elicits ascent, discourages acrimony, and cultivates a sense of trust and therefore loyalty. It is also the style and approach of Pope Benedict XVI, whose own thought and theological reflections have been wholly transparent for decades, appearing in volume after volume of free-wheeling interviews.

There is a view that transparency would amount to a kind of democratic chaos and result in a race to the bottom. This is completely false, as the history of Wikipedia suggests. Most said that it wouldn’t work. But it has worked to create one of the wonders of the information world. Particularly in areas of high specialization, the iron law of oligarchy has led to the production of entries that beat everything else in the field in competence, completeness, and expertise. Just as the rules of Wikipedia govern researcher disputes, the reigning document of rules for a wiki-like Missal would be Liturgiam Authenticam and related texts. Such a process would force translators to enter into a process in which their contribution is judged by its erudition and wisdom and not just the position and influence of the players.


The only real way out now is for the CDW and Vox Clara to stick to their stated mandate of accepting the stable edition from 2008 and reconcile minor differences. The result will be a Missal that will last and truly express the meaning and purpose of the Roman Rite (and in good English without theological and stylistic oddities). This can be done now, before it is too late. The process should be open; those who have used their power to place their personal stamps on the liturgy of the Church must come out in the open and have their views aired in the light of day.

The introduction of a new Missal translation is the greatest event in the liturgical life of Catholics in this generation. We are finally getting closer to the ideal imagined by the Second Vatican Council. This can be an amazing opportunity for evangelization.

It would be deeply regrettable — even tragic — to see the impulse toward secrecy compromise this moment. We cannot afford another round of bowdlerization to the Roman Rite. There is still time to make it right. But in order to do so, those involved need to follow the way of Pope Benedict: truthfulness, openness, liberality, and steadfast adherence to liturgical ideals. Transparency is not the enemy of truth; it might even be its precondition.

Updated at 10:15 a.m.


Jeffrey Tucker is managing editor of Sacred Music and publications editor of the Church Music Association of America. He writes a bi-weekly column on sacred music and liturgy for Crisis Magazine and also runs the Chant Cafe Blog. [email protected]

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