A Smooth Operator

Father Anthony Ruff and the new Mass translation

What’s the best way for an influential liturgist to help with the implementation of the new translation of the Roman Missal? Why, by criticizing it, of course!

Do you follow that logic? Neither do I. But then, I’m not a liturgist.

“I hope the transition to the new missal goes smoothly,” writes Father Anthony Ruff, OSB, on his PrayTell blog. “That’s right—I hope it goes smoothly.”

In case anyone missed the message, he’s back at it a couple of paragraphs later: “And so, I will implement the new missal as best I can. I will work so that the transition goes ‘smoothly,’ as CNS puts it.”

Can you guess the next word in Father Ruff’s post? The next word is “But.”


Reporting on the introduction of the new Missal in Britain, Father Ruff alternates between quotes from Church officials, who say that the translation is being well-received, and priests and lay people who hate it. It doesn’t take a particularly discerning reader to see that his sympathies are with the priest who finds the text “clumsy and off-putting.” Perhaps he does not agree with the woman who states: “I do not feel I can worship at a church that uses these words.” But he does not show any indication that he disapproves of her sentiment, either.

Father Ruff himself adds that some prayers in the new Missal are “especially clumsy, poorly constructed, and—despite the claims—shockingly inaccurate in places.” He does not shrink from charging that one collect, for Trinity Sunday, contains “heresy.” (Imagine the uproar if a conservative commentator announced that a liturgical text approved by both the Vatican and the US bishops’ conference contained outright heresy!)

Still, Father Ruff wants the introduction of the new Missal translation to go smoothly, remember? He said so himself—four times, in close succession. He promises to work toward that end. Insofar as he is directly involved in planning and celebrating the liturgy, he will support the new translation:

Come Advent, I’ll be laboring mightily for the best possible use of the new missal at the abbey. The sacred liturgy isn’t the place for protests or divisions. It’s the place for celebrating our new life in the death and resurrection of Christ.


“But I will make my opinion known,” Father Ruff announces. He promises to criticize the translation, and to encourage others to do the same. Somehow I believe him; don’t you?

So if Father Ruff is successful in his work, informed Catholics will come to Mass every Sunday acutely aware of the deficiencies in the new translation, yet prepared to set aside their dissatisfaction in order to join in enthusiastic participation in the Eucharistic sacrifice. Is that a realistic scenario? If it is, then Father Ruff’s position is plausible.


It seems to me far more likely that Father Ruff’s arguments, insofar as they meet with public acceptance, will encourage efforts to resist implementation of the new Missal, and perhaps even drive more people to announce that they do not want to “worship at a church that uses these words.”

As a practical matter, the complaints cannot stop the mandate for the new translation; that decision has already been made, after a long process of review, revision, and official scrutiny. If they are unsatisfied with the result, Father Ruff and his allies can only hope that there will be yet another translation approved for use in the future. And it will not be the near future; keep in mind that this new translation has been in the works for more than a decade.

Now to be honest there are many Catholics—I count myself among them—who have complained for decades about the awkward translations that are currently in use. For years we said that change was needed, and now at last the change has come. Now, thanks to Father Ruff, we are forewarned: the effort to roll back that change has already begun.

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About Philip F. Lawler 15 Articles
Philip F. Lawler is the editor of Catholic World News and author of the Lost Shepherd: How Pope Francis is Misleading His Flock, available now for pre-order.