New Missal Translation Fraught with Danger?

This Sunday, the First Sunday of Advent, Catholic Churches in English-speaking countries will begin to use the New Roman Missal.  This impending change in the translation of the prayers at Mass has received much attention and  the efforts to prepare the faithful have been fairly comprehensive. Websites, articles, books and trainings have been numerous and easily available to priests, lay leaders, and the laity.

Last spring I attended one such training session outside of my diocese.  It was, overall, fairly informative and hope-filled…. until one speaker offered some concern about the new words that would be recited by the faithful.  The presenter opined that phrases like “through my fault, through my fault, through my own grievous fault” and the words “incarnation” and “consubstantial” were, and I quote, “fraught with danger.”

I am certain that this individual was well-intentioned and concerned that all those who are responsible for teaching the faith consider the importance of catechizing our children properly about the changes, but I still found the choice of words to be inconsistent with what should be seen as a blessed opportunity to teach or re-teach about the Mass and the Eucharist. In fact this is a hope-filled opportunity to move into a new era of teaching about the beauty of the Mass and the Eucharist — “the source and summit of the Christian life.”

In many ways our children and youth will be models of embracing these changes and appreciating the beauty of the words that will be heard, recited and sung.  At a recent retreat my office facilitated, the nearly 300 youth and young adults who were gathered gave a standing ovation after two of our diocesan priests chanted the “Gloria.” Rather than feeling worried about the “danger” that is supposedly lurking behind the “new” words, we should focus on simply getting our children and young people to Mass so that they can experience the richness of our faith and be nourished by the Word of God and Jesus’ Body and Blood.

It is my hope that parishes (and parents) will embrace this opportunity with passion and conviction. It is my hope that they offer ample opportunities in the months and years ahead, for all age groups, to help them grow in their knowledge and experience of the Mass. It is my hope that through these efforts a new generation of saints will fall in love with the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

Because in the end not teaching about the Mass and Eucharist is what is truly “fraught with danger.”

Michael Lavigne


Michael Lavigne currently serves as the Director of the Office for Lifelong Faith Formation and Parish Support in the Archdiocese of Boston. Previously he served as the director for the Diocese of Portland Office of Lifelong Faith Formation. For the past twenty-one years he has served in the Catholic Church as a retreat coordinator, coordinator of youth ministry and religious education, diocesan leadership team moderator, coach, high school theology teacher and department chair and confirmation coordinator. Michael has earned Bachelor of Arts degrees in psychology and communications from Rhode Island College, as well as a Master of Arts degree in theology from Providence College. Michael is married to Lori and they are the blessed parents of Michael Jr., Mariana, John Paul, Therese, Julia and Chiara. The Lavigne’s reside in Taunton, MA. Michael and Lori write regularly at their blog:

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  • waynergf

    Well, perhaps not “fraught with danger,” but I *am* confused. The use of the word “consubstantial” is very close to consubstantiation, which we as Catholics do not believe – but rather “transubstantiation.”

    Help me understand…

  • Hi waynergf. You don’t seem confused at all, actually. You clearly recognize the difference between ‘consubstantiation’ and ‘transubstantiation,’ and you seem well aware that these terms have virtually nothing to do with ‘consubstantial’, which describes the Son’s relationship to the Father. My advice is to simply give your fellow Catholics credit for being able to recognize the same distinctions. That ability, along with all the great efforts by local pastors to prepare people, reduces the chances for confusion (let alone ‘danger’) nearly to zero. Mr. Lavigne is right: the new translation is a ‘blessed opportunity.’

  • krby34

    @waynergf: You understand the heresy issue very well but one must remember two things. The heresy is in reference to Jesus’ relationship to the host – that the substance of Jesus is WITH the substance of the bread or the wine. That is not a true teaching Jesus is the only substance present in the host, there is not bread! That is what you reference.

    However when using consubstantial in relationship to the substance of Jesus WITH the substance of the Father it is not a heresy but is truth! The use of a word everywhere does not make it the same in every particular situation. That is what we as catechists (all of us are catechists in one degree or another) need to make sure to point out.

    We use the word consubstantial in the Credo because of the document “Liturgiam Authenticam” released by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in 2001 with the approval of then pope John Paul II. This document specifically calls for the use of words most closely related to the original latin text. As we have an english word that is from the root of the same word used to describe the relationship of the Son to the Father (consubstantial to consubstantialem) we should use it per these instructions.

    Hope this helps. The key difference is who or what Jesus is referred to being in substance with.

  • waynergf

    Thanks, danlord and krby34, for taking the time to clarify for me. Actually, danlord, I *was* confused – until I googled the two forms of the word just after posting. 🙂

    But, danlord, I wonder how many of our fellow Catholics *do* understand the difference…my experience is that too many are too ignorant of their faith…

  • plowshare

    Back in the 4th and 5th centuries the word “consubstantial” was fraught with danger because it (or the Greek original, “homoousion”) marked the big dividing line between Christians and Arians. St.Athanasius suffered greatly on account of his insistence on it.

  • steveo

    The nature of the exchange happening here is exactly why this translation is such a gift! It is an opportunity, when embraced, to more fully explore what we believe as Catholics and why we believe it. “One in being with the Father”, for example, is not as clear as “consubstantial” which clearly illustrates that God the Father and God the Son are of the same substance, or nature. The opportunity to catechize on that topic and the many others brought to the fore by the new translation are many and should be embraced.

    Am I cynical in thinking that those who are vehemently critical of this new translation aren’t concerned about people’s inability to comprehend the words, but more about what true comprehension will mean to certain agendas that have been able to fester in a climate of weak catechesis and understanding of the precepts of the faith? Neither the anti-hierarchical strain that seeks to blur the lines between the role of the priest and the role of the laity and to diminish the teaching authority of the episcopate, nor the subordination of the Sacrificial nature of the Mass to social and emotional affirmation are enhanced by this new translation.

  • wgsullivan

    We teach a high school god teen class and were doing a little prep for the changes with the kids and I noticed part of our group acting like this was no big deal at all. We have many Hispanic students and an active Spanish ministry within our parish. Many families are fresh from Mexico or are less than one generation immigrants. This is not new to them at all. It’s no big deal. They were already beating their breasts with the, through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.
    It’s really only a change, not something new.
    It’s odd and I’m not sure I can express this adequately but at one point in the Mass I found myself feeling as if I had been away on sabbatical but as I spoke the more accurate words, all of a sudden, I felt like I had arrived home.

  • dancingcrane

    I came into the Church in 1980, from an Anglican background, and the more deeply I learned my Faith, and studied Scripture and Liturgy, the more puzzled I became. I am not being rhetorical, I sincerely would love answers to this. My prayers are with you all.

    If English was wanted in the Liturgy, why did the Church not simply move to the English side of the Tridentine Missal? It was right there, everyone knew it, and it’s more beautiful and theologically rich even than the New Translation. which seems to me to be just patching some Tridentine phrasing onto the 1969 Pauline Mass. Why didn’t we just go all the way back?

  • markymark

    One danger I see is that applause is given during the Sacred Liturgy. The Gloria is sung to give Gloria to Almighty God not for entertainment or for our own glory. Worship needs to return to the vertical.