Five Minute Catechesis: Text and Commentary

Countering the Catechesis on the Roman Missal

A Critique of the “Five Minute Catechesis”

for use in parishes in the Archdiocese of Louisville

In 2010 the US Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a series of flyers for use by local dioceses to instruct Catholics about the upcoming changes in the eucharistic liturgy.

Some dioceses have used that information to create instructional materials to be used by local priests, liturgists and catechists. The Archdiocese of Louisville’s version of the materials is divided into eight segments, the first four of which are addressed here.

The first segment is titled “Introduction to the Roman Missal”

Section 1: What is the Roman Missal and why are we going to have a new one?

When Roman Catholics celebrate Mass, all the prayer texts, the readings from Scripture, and the directives that tell us how Mass is to be celebrated, may all be found in a collection of books called the Roman Missal. There are three primary books used at Mass each Sunday: 1) the Lectionary containing the Scripture readings selected for Mass; 2) the Book of the Gospels which has the Gospel reading for each Sunday and Holy Day within it, and 3) the book containing the prayer texts of the Mass, both the prayers the priest voices and the common prayers of the people with the dialogues that come before and after these prayers. Of these three books, this last one, the book of prayer texts, now to be called the Roman Missal, is the only one of these three books that will be new for us on the first Sunday of Advent.

All the books that make up the Roman Missal are written in Latin, the official language of the Roman Catholic Church. With the extraordinary work of the Second Vatican Council in 1963, new liturgical guidelines stressed the importance of “full, conscious, and active participation in the liturgy” by all the people. In order to accomplish this, permission was given to translate the entire Roman Missal into the vernacular or mother tongue of each country. Here in theUnited Stateswe received the first English translation of the complete Roman Missal in 1974 with a revision in 1985.

This section correctly describes the three liturgical books most commonly used in the Catholic Church. The third of these is the missal, which contains the prayer texts for the mass.

The claim that Latin is “the official language of the Roman Catholic Church” is an exaggeration. The official language of the Church in all English-speaking countries is English, and modern languages are the official languages of the Roman Catholic Church in other countries. During the past 50 years, documents issued byRomehave been written in other languages besides Latin. The 1994 Catechism of the Catholic Church was originally written in French. Even in theVatican, almost everyone speaks Italian. During the first four centuries of Christianity, the common language spoken inRomewas Greek.

It is true, however, that Canon Law is written in Latin and then translated into modern languages. It is also true that, when liturgical texts are revised for the Roman Catholic Church, they are first written in Latin and then translated into modern languages. This ensures a measure of uniformity in the mass and the sacraments throughout the Catholic world.

This segment correctly notes that the Second Vatican Council stressed the importance of “full, conscious, and active participation in the liturgy” by all the people. Slavish fidelity to the Latin text was not a priority. In fact, the ideal for 40 years was “dynamic equivalence” or putting into English (and other modern languages) the equivalent of what was being expressed in any Latin liturgical text. The intention was to faithfully translate ideas, not words.

The catechesis clearly implies that the documents of Vatican II are I in fact foundational for the Church today. This having been said, it will be shown that the new translation and its development seriously contradict the foundational principles laid down by the Council.

Section 2: Why do we need a new missal?

Over the centuries the Roman Missal has undergone many revisions. For example, there were six revisions of the Tridentine Missal, the missal used prior to the Second Vatican Council. In 2000, Pope John Paul II called for a revision of the Second Edition of the Roman Missal in response to the needs already stated. But what impacted this process profoundly was the fact that in 2001 new guidelines for translation were also issued by the Holy See. These new guidelines stressed the importance of a more formal or direct translation from the Latin. The two previous English translations did not use a word for word translation but tried to capture the meaning of the texts without using the exact wording. The new guidelines intend to recapture what has been lost in translation. Although some of our prayer texts, such as the Lord’s Prayer will remain exactly the same, other prayers will undergo significant revision.

This new English translation will not only be used by Roman Catholics in theUnited Statesbut also in eleven other English speaking countries:Australia,Canada,England,Wales,India,Ireland,New Zealand,Pakistan, thePhilippines,ScotlandandSouth Africa. For ease of translation the English version is used in some countries to translate into their mother tongue as well, making the necessity of an accurate, direct translation imperative.

There is something quite extraordinary about Catholics in all these countries praying the same prayer. We all express our faith together with one voice while still honoring our diversity and the plentiful gifts of each culture. Let us begin our preparation to receive this new missal with great joy.

The first paragraph in this section is correct in its generality, claiming that from time to time, revisions of liturgical books are needed. After that, the summary of recent developments is seriously distorted.

The International Commission for English in the Liturgy (ICEL) worked on a modern translation of the missal from 1982 to 1998, when it was approved by all of the world’s English-speaking bishops.Vaticanofficials, however, refused to accept it.

In 2001, Pope John Paul II approved Liturgiam Authenticam (Authentic Liturgy), calling for an extremely literal translation instead of a “dynamic equivalent” of the Latin. Members of the ICEL who opposed this change were removed and a new body named Vox Clara (Clear Voice) was created to make a new translation of the Roman Missal that would follow the Latin text more closely.

In doing this, the Holy See violated the clear teaching of the Second Vatican Council that gave regional bodies of bishops, not officials inRome, responsibility for making translations of the liturgy for their people. TheUSbishops implicitly acknowledged this surrender of their responsibility when in 2010 they allowed the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to approve the new translation sent fromRome.

The catechesis correctly states that the 2001 guidelines “stressed the importance of a more formal or direct translation from the Latin,” but there is no basis for claiming that the new text will “recapture what has been lost in translation.” What evidence is there for saying this? What criteria are used when making this claim? None are given. Indeed, what is “lost” in the current Mass texts is clumsy literalness. Moreover, since the proposed translation uses unfamiliar words and lengthy sentences in order to stick closely to the Latin, what is lost in the new missal is clarity of meaning.

The final paragraph hints that the new literal translation will be a great benefit to all English speaking Catholics around the world, not only in theUnited Statesbut also inGreat Britain,Ireland,India,Pakistan,Australia,New Zealand, andSouth Africa. Anyone who has visited those countries knows that they all speak English differently! How will a Latin-bound text benefit the People of God in those countries? The only ones who will be happy are the traditionalists who yearn for the uniformity of the Latin mass before Vatican II.

The new Roman Missal will not “express our faith together with one voice while still honoring our diversity and the plentiful gifts of each culture.” The proposed translation speaks not with one voice but with one archaic vocabulary. Rejecting decades of work by the ICEL dishonored the plentiful gifts of scholars from around the world, and imposing this uniform text dishonors the diversity of English-speaking cultures.

The second segment is titled “What Will Change in the Roman Missal?”

Section 1: An increase in the references from Scripture

One of the most significant changes in the new missal will be the inclusion and expansion of direct references and quotes from Scripture. Rather than just making an allusion to an account from Scripture, this new missal will quote more directly from Scripture and expand the quotes that we will voice in prayer. These direct references will enhance our knowledge of the Scriptures and will make a direct connection between the Word of God and the Celebration of the Eucharist. For example, the new text of the Glory to God will give a more literal translation of Luke 2:14 quoting the angels song in the infancy narrative. The Invitation to Communion and the people’s response will quote the centurion’s words from Scripture, Luke 7:6-7, enhancing our understanding of this act of faith we make before receiving Holy Communion. The addition of these texts from Scripture is one of this missal’s greatest assets.

This sounds good, but it does not say anything. It appears to be a rationale added after the fact, rather than a principle that was followed when making the new translation.

Using direct quotes from the Bible is not obviously better than making allusions to Scripture passages. If people already know the passage being referenced, why is it better to quote it exactly instead of using words that can more easily be prayed? No reason given for this assumption, and it will not enhance anyone’s knowledge of the Scriptures.

Lifting quotations from the Bible will not “make a direct connection between the Word of God and the Celebration of the Eucharist.” Connections are made in people’s minds and hearts, not in liturgical texts. If the people at Mass do not know the connection ahead of time, they will not see any connection during the liturgy.

Moreover, the examples cited in the catechesis are doubtful at best. The angels’ song in Luke’s infancy narrative has nothing to do with the Last Supper or the institution of the Eucharist. Historically, the Gloria was a late addition to the liturgy and it is not an integral part of the introductory rites. At certain times of the year we don’t use it at all. Likewise, the quotation from the Roman centurion is taken out of its biblical context when inserted in the liturgy just before the distribution of Communion. What is “under my roof” supposed to mean when applied to the Eucharist? Does it refer to the roof of one’s mouth? How does it enhance our understanding of this act of faith?

Section 2: The vocabulary will be more varied and enriched

The vocabulary used in the new missal will be enlarged and enriched. For example, in the present translation the Latin words: pietas, consortio, amor, caritas, and dilectio were all translated into English with the same word “love.” In the new missal, these Latin words are translated each according to their specific meaning, more accurately translating the Latin text, “parental affection, sharing, love, charity, and delight.” This expansive vocabulary will enrich our prayer and our ability to express our faith. Many texts of the new missal will also be more poetic, making them more easily set to song.

We should not assume that the Latin text is divinely inspired or even that it uses the best Latin words. It is a human construct, as is the translation into English. Moreover, there is no basis for saying that a wider vocabulary enhances people’s ability to express their faith. Many forms of prayer use simple words, and contemplative prayer uses no words.

How does one decide if one phrase is more poetic than another? Is one poem more poetic than another because it uses unfamiliar words? Besides, the belief that poetry is always better than prose is an unproven assumption. Liturgical worship is more than a text. Unfamiliar language does not automatically enhance understanding and sincerity in people’s minds and hearts.

Only a non-musician would claim that poetry can be “more easily set to song.” Rhymes can be set to music easily, but there are no liturgical texts that rhyme. Prose can easily be set to plainsong or chant, so there is no logical or musical basis for this claim.

We are told that the Roman Missal will strongly encourage sung dialogue between the celebrant and the assembly, but is this really better? Not all priests are good singers, and the people in the pews range from toddlers to the elderly. This directive, like many others, is based on unproven assumptions.

Section 3: The language in the missal will be more formal and more respectful

The prayers in the new missal use a language that is more formal and respectful when addressing God. Instead of telling God what to do, as in “Strengthen in faith” or “Advance the peace and salvation of all the world,” the new missal will use phrases such as “we pray, O Lord,” or “be pleased to” or “listen graciously to,” where we are asking God and not giving God demands.

More formal and respectful than what? The current Mass texts are already formal, even though they are closer to spoken English. And how would using less familiar words make the texts more respectful? This claim is an excellent example of wishful thinking.

Latinisms such as “be pleased to” and “listen graciously to” are not signs of respect in today’s society. No one speaks to the president or even the pope that way. If the translators wanted to show such respect throughout the liturgy, the Our Father would have to say, “Graciously give us this day our daily bread” and “Be pleased to deliver us from evil.”  Jesus did not use such language when asked to teach his disciples to pray.

If such language were so important, all the other demands in the liturgy would have to be changed. For example, we could no longer pray, “Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy.”

Section 4: The word order in many prayers will emphasize the most important things

The word order in Latin places the most important point or focus of the sentence at the end. The new translation, honoring this word order, will be unfamiliar to our ears yet will draw attention to the most important things.

The catechesis correctly notes, “The word order in Latin places the most important point or focus of the sentence at the end.” This is not the case in English, so how will the assembly know that they should focus on the ends of sentences? Moreover, if word order were so important, verbs should be placed at the ends of sentences rather than in the middle, for that is what Latin does.

Perhaps the most important asset of the new missal will be the fact that with new texts we will all be more attentive to each prayer. Instead of letting the very familiar words pass over us unheard or reciting them without need for much thought, we will now hear them anew. Preparing these new texts also provides the opportunity for a much needed catechesis on the meaning of each part of the liturgy. Let these new texts enhance our prayer, deepen our faith and contribute to the “full, conscious, active participation called for by the very nature of the liturgy.”

Section 5: The new missal provides the opportunity for learning more about the prayer we pray in order to deepen our faith

This concluding section is saying, in effect, that since we will not understand the new prayers, we will have to be taught what they mean. Liturgy is a time for the expression of faith, not for instruction about it.

This section is a public admission that the Third Edition of the Roman Missal is in violation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, which directed that “both texts and rites should be drawn up so that they express more clearly the holy things which they signify. Christian people, as far as possible, should be able to understand them with ease” (21).

The third segment is titled “The Greetings at Mass”


Each Celebration of the Eucharist (Mass) begins with an opening song, hymn or entrance antiphon. The Sign of the Cross and Greeting follow. In the new missal there are three options for the text of the Greeting.

a. “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”

b. “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

c. “The Lord be with you.”

These new translations of Options A and B are only slightly altered from the previous texts. The phrase “fellowship of the Holy Spirit” has been replaced by “communion of the Holy Spirit.” This new translation expresses the meaning of this exchange far more adequately than “fellowship” which for many of us may only mean “coffee and doughnuts.” Communion with God and the Body of Christ is at the heart of the celebration of the liturgy.

For the faithful, our response to each of the greetings from the priest will be new. Instead of “And also with you” we will now respond “And with your spirit.”

The claim is made that the word “communion” is better than “fellowship” for expressing our oneness in the Holy Spirit because for many of us, fellowship means only coffee and doughnuts. Oh, really? What is the basis for this claim? Who was asked what they think about fellowship?

Could it be that “fellowship” is suspect because it is used by Protestants who have fellowship nights and fellowship halls? But those Protestants regard fellowship as togetherness, not as coffee and donuts. And we Catholics have been hearing the word “fellowship” at Mass for almost forty years. Does it mean coffee and doughnuts every time we hear it?

The introduction then notes that the people’s response, “And also with you,” will be changed to “And with your spirit.” The segment then gives the reasons for this change.

Section 1: The new response will translate the Latin more accurately.

In Latin the response is “Et cum spiritu tuo.” The word for word translation from the Latin is et = and; cum = with; spiritu = spirit; tuo = your. The new translation will reflect the new guidelines for translation by giving us a direct word for word translation, unifying our response with all the countries around the world.

Wrong! The new response translates the Latin more clumsily, not more accurately.

A first-year Latin student might translate “Et cum spiritu tuo” as “And with your spirit,” but the Latin teacher would quickly suggest, “How would you say that in English?”

Anyone who knows more than one language is aware that translating means more than replacing one string of words with a parallel string of words. A good translation takes an idea expressed in one language and expresses that same idea in another language, and this is often not a word for word substitution. This is especially true of colloquial expressions such as greetings. The French “Comment allez vous?” is not translated as “How go you?” but as “How are you?”

It is also wrong to say that a word for word translation will unify our response with all the countries around the world. If one is referring to the meaning of the words, the response is already the same for all Catholics. But the only way to have a truly unified response would be for  Catholics around the world to pray in the same language. (Did I hear someone suggest Latin?)

Section 2: The new texts are more closely related to the Scripture.

This accurate Latin translation has the added benefit of expressing the theological meaning of this dialogue and refers more directly to the Scriptural accounts where it originates.

Oh, really? Just where are the many Scripture accounts from which the greeting originates? “Cum spiritu tuo” is found in the Latin New Testament only as the closing of a letter, not as something that people say when they greet one another. There are many other words of greeting in the Bible.

And if saying “your spirit” is so theologically proper, why are only the people supposed to say it? Why doesn’t the priest say, “The Lord be with your spirit”? Doesn’t everybody have a spirit? In Galatians 6:18, Paul addresses the spirit of everyone in the community, “cum spiritu vestro.”

Section 3: The new text now acknowledges the presence of the spirit.

The new text now mentions the spirit in the people’s response. There is a recognition that we cannot expect to celebrate these awesome mysteries without the presence of God’s spirit. The dialogue, “The Lord be with you” and people’s response, “And with your spirit.” is repeated at three other important times during the Mass, before the proclamation of the Gospel, at the beginning of the great Eucharistic Prayer and finally before we are sent out to live the Gospel.

Now, wait a minute! This section seems to be begging the question, which is another way of saying that it assumes what it is supposed to be proving. It assumes that it is good to say, “And with your spirit” at the beginning of the Mass, and so it is good to say it at other places as well.

It is also a circular argument. Everyone’s personal spirit or soul is not the same as God’s spirit, or the Holy Spirit. When the people say “And with your spirit,” they are referring to the priest’s soul, not to the Holy Spirit, and so it is not a reference to the spirit that is needed “to celebrate these awesome mysteries.” You can’t use the presence of the Holy Spirit during worship to prove that “And with your spirit” refers to the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Section 4: There is a connection to the Rite of Ordination.

This dialogue between the priest and the people also recalls the ordination rite where the bishop voices the prayer of the entire church asking God to send the Holy Spirit on this man in order that he may be Christ in our midst and lead us in the celebration of these awesome mysteries. At these crucial moments in the liturgy this dialogue is a reminder of this relationship between Christ and his Church.

This is a stretch, to say the least. If they say “And with your spirit,” how many people will think they are referring to the priest’s soul, which was given special powers at his ordination?

In the above section, we are led to believe that “And with your spirit” refers to the Holy Spirit. In this section, we are supposed to believe that it refers to the celebrant’s priestly powers. You can’t have it both ways.

Or maybe the bishops are suggesting that, since the priest is ordained, he is the only one with the Holy Spirit. Could this be the spirit that is needed “to celebrate these awesome mysteries,” and not the Holy Spirit in the People of God?

Section 5: There is an emphasis on singing the dialogues of the Mass.

In the bishops’ document on music in the liturgy, there is a renewed emphasis on singing the texts of the Mass, especially the dialogues. Singing these dialogues with the new wording can help to unite us as one body and will have the additional advantage of breaking our pattern of response with the old text.

What does this have to do with saying, “And with your spirit”?

This section also begs the question because it assumes that the new wording will have advantages which the old wording did not. This is unproven. It may be even unprovable.

In their 2007 document on music in the liturgy, “Sing to the Lord,” theU.S.bishops indeed talk about singing the texts of the Mass, but they do not say that it is always better to sing the dialogues. In fact, the document says that the dialogues should be sung “when appropriate,” “when beneficial,” and “if possible.”

It is therefore wrong to suggest that “Sing to the Lord” instructs celebrants always to sing the dialogues. Besides that, whether the response is “And also with you” or “And with your spirit” is irrelevant. Both responses can be sung equally well.

The fourth segment is titled “The Act of Penitence”

In the Introductory portion of the Mass, after the greeting, there is normally an Act of Penitence. The new missal gives only one introduction to this rite which expresses the purpose of the rite:

The priest says, “Brothers and sisters, let us acknowledge our sins, and so prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries.”

There are three forms for this Act of Penitence in the new missal:

Form A) the Confiteor, which begins “I confess to almighty God . . .” and is recited by all the assembly together

Form B) which is a short dialogue between the priest and the people

Form C) a threefold litany form in which the priest, deacon or cantor says or sings the invocations and the people respond to each invocation in English or Greek, Lord have mercy (Kyrie Eleison), Christ have mercy (Christe eleison), Lord have mercy (Kyrie eleison).

There are slight variations in the texts of Forms B and C in the new missal, primarily to include a more direct reference to the particular citations from Scripture. The text of the Confiteor in the new missal has the most significant changes for the faithful.

The focus here is on the penitential rite at the beginning of theMass.As with the current missal, the celebrant can choose one of three options.

The second and third options are not much different from the ones currently available. The first option is the penitential prayer known in Latin as the Confiteor, which is the first word in the Latin version. The proposed missal follows the Latin text more closely because theVatican wanted a translation that is word for word, as far as possible.

“I confess to almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned . . .”

The opening phrase of the Confiteor in the new missal, “I confess to almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned,” has not been changed to indicate the need to confess more serious sin in this day and time, but is giving the direct Scripture quote from 1 Chronicles 21:8 on which this prayer text is based.

The word “greatly” has been added because the word “nimis” is in the Latin text of the prayer. Catholics who are old enough to remember when the Mass was in Latin may recognize that the word “greatly” or “exceedingly” was in the parallel English translation.

The rationale for adding this word is far fetched. It cites 1 Chronicles 21:8, where King David acknowledges that he has offended God by taking a census ofIsrael. (David was supposed to trust God to win his battles, and not count on the number of soldiers he had.) In verse 8, David says “I have greatly sinned,” but later in verse 17, he says simply, “I have sinned.”

Of all the verses in the Bible that talk about sin and repentance, why pick this one? Moreover, saying that the verse in Chronicles is the basis of this prayer text is patently silly to anyone who takes the time to look up that Scripture passage.

“ . . . in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.”

The next part of the Confiteor, “in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do,” will now add at the end of this phrase a threefold ancient pattern for prayer, “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.” Although no direct reference is made to it, this threefold expression calls to mind the three times Peter denied Christ. The directives in the missal also indicate that we are to strike our breast at this point in the prayer, a gesture that further demonstrates our confession of sinfulness.

The catechesis calls this “a three-fold ancient pattern for prayer,” but actually it just goes back to the Latin Mass that was in use before Vatican II. It is true that ancient tales and children’s stories use repetition and sometimes favor the number three (for example, The Three Little Pigs), but there is no liturgical reason for a three-fold repetition here. The reason is simply that the Latin text uses it, and theVaticanwants the English text to be a literal translation of the Latin.

The catechesis claims that “this threefold expression calls to mind the three times Peter denied Christ.” Oh, really? Just whose mind did the bishops have in mind when they made this up?

The missal directs that we “strike our breast at this point in the prayer,” claiming that this is a demonstration that enhances our confession of sinfulness. Is this really so? Who does this in our society? Why should it mean that today?

Actually, striking one’s breast is a Middle Eastern gesture that is mentioned occasionally in the Bible (for example, the parable of the Pharisee and the publican in Luke 18),  and that was also familiar in medievalEurope. The Catholic Encyclopedia says that the breast is struck because “it is the seat of evil thoughts,” according toSt. Jerome. In other words, the gesture is one of inflicting punishment on an evil-doer. Is this good liturgy?

“I ask blessed Mary ever-Virgin, all the Angels and Saints, and you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God.”

The segment ends by noting that the priest’s conclusion to each of these acts of penitence is not changed in the Third Edition of the Roman Missal.

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