The Catholic Thing
Of New Things Print E-mail
By Robert Royal   
Monday, 28 November 2011

Editor-in-chief’s note: in addition to the new things treated in today’s column, please read the announcement about our new site, Complete Catholicism, at the bottom of this page. – Robert Royal

Among the first idiomatic expressions beginning Latin students learn is the seemingly transparent res novae. It’s hard to imagine a simpler combination of words:  things + new = new things. But in reading Latin, it starts to morph into “novelties” and “innovations,” both – pace the American belief that all things new are good – suggesting distractions at best, worrisome experiments at worst. And the meaning keeps expanding until you get all the way over to revolution.

When Leo XIII wrote Rerum Novarum, the 1891 encyclical that inaugurated modern Catholic social teaching, some wondered – and still do – whether the title meant “Of New Things” or “Of Revolution.”

Of course, he may have been hinting at both, since his central argument is that if we don’t deal with new, modern things in the right way, we’re likely to get a very wrong, revolutionary way instead. A perpetually useful insight.

Such things were on my mind yesterday as we began Advent and had our first experience of a new thing:  the revised translation of the Mass.

The secular media, as you may have noticed, seem suddenly to have discovered a keen interest in keeping something in Catholicism the way it has been.

By contrast, some traditional Catholics hoped for a revolution that would restore the Church Militant.

In truth, the change is modest, as Benedict XVI desired, leaving us a little less mired in our everyday selves and a little more engaged with the divine mysteries.

The pope didn’t want another revolutionary change like the one that occurred right after Vatican II and led to such turmoil in the Church and the world. There will be turmoil enough anyway, since the Mass and the Church, all appearances to the contrary, still matter in ways even anti-Catholics find it hard to ignore.

The revision is good, but not nearly enough. And that’s doubly unfortunate because it’s likely there won’t be further reform of the liturgy for another half century. This one only introduces a few phrases that you wouldn’t hear in a Protestant church. Still, those changes matter.

We’ve often heard that the liturgical change Vatican II envisioned was meant to allow the people to “participate” more actively and fully in the Mass. It did that, after a fashion, but less attention was paid to bare participation than to what people were participating in.

If you read Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, you may be surprised to find that the Council Fathers actually recommend, among other things, a kind of education of the laity that would bring them up to a level to sing chant, understand theological concepts reflected in liturgical language, and more fully participate in the riches of the great Catholic tradition.

This might have happened in the 1960s, a time when many, including Catholics, were beginning to appreciate the advanced education that had become available in many fields. Instead, Catholics received less real education in the faith than previously.

It wouldn’t have taken much for things to have been different. My children went to a fairly traditional Catholic school in the 1980s. I was just starting out and it hurt to write those monthly tuition checks. But one day, it became clear why I did.

My oldest, then about seven, came into my office on a Saturday morning. “Dad,” she said, pointing to my two-volume Oxford English Dictionary, “if we looked up transubstantiation, would it be in there?” The OED came with a little magnifying glass and the kids used any excuse to get it out. But we looked it up – it was not a word only among Catholics – and still tell the story in the family.

That tuition was beyond question the best investment I made in my kids and the best thing I could have done not only for the Church, but for a world increasingly adrift for excessive attention to new things and lack of knowledge about permanent things.

“Consubstantial” in the new Mass and a few other terms may have a similar good effect on Catholics with genuine curiosity about the substance of the faith. Such things may now be “new,” but are not all that difficult to get a grip on. My bishop introduced the new translation yesterday with a note that the faithful may now more deeply and actively participate in the sacred mysteries – precisely what Vatican II hoped to achieve.

The negative reaction in certain Catholic quarters is quite puzzling in one way, all too obvious in another. Given the mildness of the reform, there’s something very nearly neurotic about the sharp recoil.

Already last year, a priest writing in the Jesuit magazine America reported on the scorn towards Roman imperialism at a conference on the new translation:  

One person ventured the opinion that with all that the church has on its plate today – global challenges with regard to justice, peace and the environment; nagging scandals; a severe priest shortage; the growing disenchantment of many women; seriously lagging church attendance – it seems almost ludicrous to push ahead with an agenda that will seem at best trivial and at worst hopelessly out-of-touch.

The writer had been at Vatican II and went into a tirade about the Vatican’s “reversal” of what the Council envisioned. Many voices since have taken up a similar line.

But the Council saw the Eucharist as the “source and summit” of Christian life, something even the progressives claim to believe. Isn’t it important to get the liturgy right, then, even if you’re more preoccupied with the usual litany of “issues”?

And must such a tremendous reality be spoken of in any banal terms? One of the things that always alienated me about Protestant services, despite respect for many Protestants, is the way that they ignore the example of Scripture and speak of God as if he were merely someone, albeit someone rather powerful and important, down the street.

The new translation has already caused some unexpected explosions and more will be coming, because the Mass matters and will continue to do so, while there’s human life on earth.

Robert Royal is editor-in-chief of The Catholic Thing, and president of the Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C. His most recent book is The God That Did Not Fail: How Religion Built and Sustains the West, now available in paperback from Encounter Books.
© 2011 The Catholic Thing. All rights reserved. For reprint rights, write to: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.


Dear Friends:

We’re happy to announce this morning the launch of a new website:  Complete Catholicism (, affiliated with The Catholic Thing. A brief description appears below.

This is something we’ve been hoping to do for no little while and we will depend on your support to get it off the ground and keep it going. You’ll start to see it advertised shortly, but for now we’re giving readers of The Catholic Thing a private preview and we welcome your comments on what you would like to see included on the site.

But feel free to mention it to your family, friends, and anyone else who appreciates the centrality of the Faith in our time.  

Rest assured that this venture will not affect TCT, which will remain unchanged from its longstanding format.

And please be patient as we try to bring you some material in new formats, video, audio, and who knows what else?

Happy Reading!


About Complete Catholicism:

Catholicism is the richest religious and cultural tradition in the world. No one person, no group of people can truly claim to understand or give a full account of all its splendors. Complete Catholicism recognizes this fact. We do not aim at providing an exhaustive picture of contemporary Catholicism here. But we do aspire to be complete in the sense that readers will find on this page what we consider to be a full range of news, commentary, material from the tradition, and subjects related to the Faith necessary to anyone who wants to be an informed Catholic today.   

Complete Catholicism addresses members and friends of the Church who believe in the Father, and in the Son, and in the Holy Spirit; who believe the Church is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic; who look to the Holy Father and the Magisterium for guidance, especially in troubled times; who believe the Church has been the inspiration for much of the world’s greatest art, literature, music, and architecture; and who believe humor is no impediment to holiness.

To see more, please click here.


Rules for Commenting

The Catholic Thing welcomes comments, which should reflect a sense of brevity and a spirit of Christian civility, and which, as discretion indicates, we reserve the right to publish or not. And, please, do not include links to other websites; we simply haven't time to check them all.

Comments (6)Add Comment
written by Dave, November 28, 2011
It's surprising to read that "the changes are good, but not nearly enough," inasmuch as the new translation much more accurately captures and reflects the Latin text. I for one am greatly encouraged to see the transcendent aspect of Catholic worship much more present in this work, instead of the focus on "the community" and "the presider," as if the celebrant were merely primus inter pares. The language is much more majestic (despite the unfortunate "peace to people of good will," which falls flat on the ear even while accurately reflecting the difference between homo and vir); the differentiation of "my sacrifice and yours" accurately reflects both the Latin and the distinct ways in which priest and laity participate in the Eucharistic sacrifice. One sees much more readily throughout the liturgy the Biblical language from which the Roman Rite draws and upon which it rests. This is clearly an advance.

Perhaps what Dr. Royal points us to are aspects in the Novus Ordo itself that beg for amplification or clarification. Certainly readers of TCT are familiar and sometimes conversant with the arguments that the Novus Ordo represented a Protestantization of the Faith and the Liturgy -- though even from my Anglican days it was clear to me that the difference between Anglican and Catholic liturgy was of kind, not degree: despite the aesthetic poverty of the Novus Ordo, the difference between Catholic and Anglican liturgy was of kind, not degree, and it was clear to me then that something was happening in the Church's liturgy that wasn't happening in the Anglican communion services. One thinks for instance of the Confiteor in the traditional, now Extraordinary, Form of the Rite, in which the angels and saints were invoked as we begged God for forgiveness of our sins.

Can we really say that the Novus Ordo represents an advance in Catholic worship? I think the asnwer is both yes and no: yes, in that the lectionary of the Sacred Liturgy now does draw much more amply from the riches of the Word of God, presenting to those Catholics who assist daily a much fuller presentation of the message of Sacred Scripture. I've noted in those few Tridentine Masses at which I've assisted a certain awkwardness in standing twice for the Gospel, once in Latin, once in English, a certain sense of interruption when before the homily begins the announcements rare made, as a kind of break in the sacred action, and a certain discomfort at not knowing whether the rate at which I am reading the Missal corresponds to the rate at which the priest is celebrated sotto voce. But I have also noted a much deeper sense of recollection, piety, and reverence throughout the entire Mass than seems to be the case in the Novus Ordo: the same silence obtains at the Consecration in both forms, but the Tridentine Rite ushers in a deeper quiet from the very onset of the Entrance Antiphon than is the case even in celebrations in Latin of the Novus Ordo.

Dr. Royal is probably right that there will not be another revision of the liturgy for another fifty years. On the other hand, who knows what fruit the New Evangelization may present? It could well be that as Catholics re-emerse themselves outside of Mass in the treasures of the Faith, a groundswell for a deeper liturgical presentation of the Faith may arise and be accommodated.

For the time being, however, I am very happy with these changes and urge all of us to support them fully.
written by Manfred, November 28, 2011
Thank you for a very pleasant and well presented article, Dr. Royal. The changes experienced in the Novus Ordo Mass yesterday in the English speaking portion of the Church are in the 1962 Missal which we in the FSSP use. It does make life interesting. The fact that your daughter could find the word TRANSUBSTANTIATION in the OED is remarkable considering the fact that the word does not appear in any of the 16 documents of the Second Vatican Council. I am not writing this to carp, but rather to hold out the hope that this return to the English translations of the Latin portends a return to orthodoxy and piety and the fifty year "night" is ending. TCT's Complete Catholicism seems a step in the right direction and I congratulate and thank you and the TCT staff for it. Ad Multos Annos!
written by Jim Thunder, November 28, 2011
Why are words referring to God (He, His, Him, You, Your) not capitalized -- in my missalette anyway?
written by Louise, November 28, 2011
If we are discussing grammar, why wasn't the Future Imperative Tense used in the Creed?

"He SHALL come again . . ."

"He will come again . . ." The Simple Future carries no indication of certainty, suggesting that it's going to happen, but then again, it may not. You never can tell.

I still (very quietly) use Thou, Thee, and Thine, and, (re: Jim (above), I always capitalize the pronouns that refer to our Lord or any Person of the Trinity.

Heaven help us, though. One day we received a mailing from some archdiocesan office that referred to the Holy Spirit as "it." As Mother Teresa once said, "All you can do is sigh."

I was surprised at how little had been changed. Our pastor has been gradually introducing the new text of the congregational responses and participation for a couple of months. The hardest part is to remember "And with thy (pardon me, your) spirit." People are halfway through the older form before anyone remembers. I was actually hoping for a reincarnation of Shakespeare or Cranmer. I won't be around to see the next version.
written by L A Stich, November 28, 2011
With all due respect, Professor, I think you understate the changes within the new Missal.

Assuming (heh) that the celebrant/priests actually do what is strongly suggested--that is, to SING more of their parts--and that church musicians actually do what is strongly suggested--that is, the Propers chants, not hymnody--this Missal will be a very significant change from what went before.

And that's before we get to the actual language, which is noticeably more magisterial, or 'sacred,' as many have suggested.
written by Denverite, December 02, 2011
"The revision is good, but not nearly enough. And that’s doubly unfortunate..." What would be "enough?"...

I would argue that what we experience as "not enough" is the laity proceeding status quo. What is needed is a renaissance of mystagogy - we need to learn to love and live the sacred mysteries, and thus enter into the celebration of the Eternal Liturgy far more intentionally - which is to say more reverently, more piously, and with and ever deeper interior 'participatio.'

The noble vision of SC, the instruction of the GIRM, the rubrics and recommendations put forth from the Magisterium of HMC, the great gift of the new translation of the Missal, the recovery of more chant and sacred polypony, all conspire to make more beautiful (that is to say, more good and more true in its manifestation) the 'ars celebrandi' of the Mass.

And yet! What worth would it all be if we, ourselves, the lay faithful attend in such an impoverished manner to the worship properly due to the Father through the Son in the Spirit. Liturgical Catechesis - along the lines of the Holy Father's incomparable work The Spirit of the Liturgy for example - is what is so desperately needed, at all stages of Catholic formation.

The forms are the forms - extraordinary and ordinary. The reality is the reality - that kenosis that defines the very life of the Holy Trinity occuring through the hands of our ministerial priests.

But the temporal newness that is part of every liturgical celebration need not be manufactured through new language or new music - rather it is most profoundly manifest in the broken hearts that we bring again and again before the Lord as we strive to make worthy offerings of our own lives through our own Baptismal priesthood.

Which is why the most important paragraph in the article is,
"If you read Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, you may be surprised to find that the Council Fathers actually recommend, among other things, a kind of education of the laity that would bring them up to a level to sing chant, understand theological concepts reflected in liturgical language, and more fully participate in the riches of the great Catholic tradition."

Would that it be so!

Write comment
smaller | bigger

security code
Write the displayed characters