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A farewell to ad-lib liturgists?

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Apr 10, 2012

Have you noticed the blessing that has come along with the new translation of the Roman Missal? Priests aren’t ad-libbing their way through the Mass any more.

Over the years, many priests had grown so familiar with the old translation that they no longer really looked at the Missal. Confident that they knew what was written and what the words meant, they began to substitute their own phrases, their own interpolations, their own little tics and eccentricities. Eventually the Mass they celebrated became “their” liturgy—a bit different, in this way and that, from the liturgy as celebrated by other priests, and from the liturgy as guaranteed to the faithful.

No more. Now priests are reading the words from the Missal. The newly translated prayers are not just an improvement over the old translations; they are a huge improvement over the countless idiosyncratic prayers concocted by the free-lance liturgists.

Sure, priests still sometimes stumble over the new language, or accidentally slip back into the familiar patterns of the old translation. That’s not a serious problem. They’re human. We’re human. We all have lapses of concentration; we all make mistakes. The point is that when the priest reads what is written in back, and do what is indicated in the red lettering, he reminds us, and reminds himself, that the liturgy is not “his” prayer but “our” prayer, and more important that it is the prayer of the universal Church.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Leferink557202 - Apr. 15, 2012 5:34 PM ET USA

    Unfortunately I visited a parish today (Divine Mercy Sunday) where the priest ad-libbed the Penitential Act, made a bunch of extraneous comments, used old texts intentionally, etc. And the parish still used glass chalices, a processional non-crucifix, and that ridiculous paraphrase of the (old) Gloria translation -- the "clapping" one. So while many parishes have indeed cleaned things up to a greater or lesser degree, others still have a long way to go.

  • Posted by: Gil125 - Apr. 15, 2012 6:31 AM ET USA

    My experience is TreeRing's. Only one of our four priests makes any effort to stick with the new translation. One of them continuies to say, "for all" in the Consecration. I assume since he is (presumably) ordained and (I hope) intends to do what the Church does, it doesn't invalidate the Mass. That it's not invalid, only illicit.

  • Posted by: jtlebherz3705 - Apr. 11, 2012 4:37 PM ET USA

    So far, at my parish church, I'd give the priests an A minus and that's pretty good. I personally find the new Missal to be very poetic and sacred. There are some very beatiful words in there. Now, if we could just put an end to the outrageous intercessory prayers where we ask for God's blessings for things such as: passage of the Healthcare Act (not kidding); anything having to do with the environment; and other assorted "modern" requests. We are slowly getting back to "normal".

  • Posted by: John J Plick - Apr. 11, 2012 1:18 AM ET USA

    I don't think "humanity" is a "problem" with God (After all He became one 2000 yrs ago). What is a problem with God is defiance and rebellion running under the cover of "humanity." Oversight and reasonable discipline is sorely lacking. One of the side-benefits of the new liturgy is that even the priest must adhere to the new standard. Congruency is expected of all. But once this new form becomes familiar I fear pretensious excesses will once again appear.

  • Posted by: TreeRing - Apr. 10, 2012 9:36 PM ET USA

    Make that some priests. Of the three parishes I regularly frequent, one priest is stuck sort of halfway between current and former as well as ad libbing from memory. Recently in another community a visiting missionary priest made up a lot of his own prayers. But I have also been gratified and blessed by those priests who are conscientiously making the effort to adhere to the new translation and rubrics. That is lovely.

  • Posted by: AgnesDay - Apr. 10, 2012 6:06 PM ET USA

    Boy, we were caught flatfooted on the Holy Week Liturgy! Rubrics were there in abundance, and in great detail. It will be much easier next year, now that we made all the mistakes in advance.