An Open Letter
to the Church
my Service on I.C.E.L.
Father Stephen Somerville, STL.
Dear Fellow Catholics in the Roman Rite,
1 – I am a priest who for over ten years collaborated
in a work that became a notable harm to the Catholic Faith. I wish now
to apologize before God and the Church and to renounce decisively my personal
sharing in that damaging project. I am speaking of the official work of
translating the new post-Vatican II Latin liturgy into the English language,
when I was a member of the Advisory Board of the International Commission
on English Liturgy (I.C.E.L.).
2 – I am a priest of the Archdiocese of Toronto,
Canada, ordained in 1956. Fascinated by the Liturgy from early youth,
I was singled out in 1964 to represent Canada on the newly constituted
I.C.E.L. as a member of the Advisory Board. At 33 its youngest member,
and awkwardly aware of my shortcomings in liturgiology and related disciplines,
I soon felt perplexity before the bold mistranslations confidently proposed
and pressed by the everstrengthening radical/progressive element in our
group. I felt but could not articulate the wrongness of so many of our
3 – Let me illustrate briefly with a few examples.
To the frequent greeting by the priest, The Lord be with you, the
people traditionally answered, and with your (Thy) spirit: in Latin,
Et cum spiritu tuo. But I.C.E.L. rewrote the answer: And also
with you. This, besides having an overall trite sound, has added a
redundant word, also. Worse, it has suppressed the word spirit
which reminds us that we human beings have a spiritual soul. Furthermore,
it has stopped the echo of four (inspired) uses of with your spirit
in St. Paul’s letters.
4 – In the I confess of the penitential rite,
I.C.E.L. eliminated the threefold through my fault, through my fault,
through my most grievous fault, and substituted one feeble through
my own fault. This is another nail in the coffin of the sense of sin.
5 – Before Communion, we pray Lord I am not worthy
that thou shouldst (you should) enter under my roof. I.C.E.L. changed
this to ... not worthy to receive you. We loose the roof metaphor,
clear echo of the Gospel (Matth. 8:8), and a vivid, concrete image for
6 – I.C.E.L.’s changes amounted
to true devastation especially in the oration prayers of the Mass. The
Collect or Opening Prayer for Ordinary Sunday 21 will exemplify the damage.
The Latin prayer, strictly translated, runs thus: O God, who make the
minds of the faithful to be of one will, grant to your peoples (grace)
to love that which you command and to desire that which you promise, so
that, amidst worldly variety, our hearts may there be fixed where true
joys are found.
7 – Here is the I.C.E.L. version,
in use since 1973: Father, help us to seek the values that will bring
us lasting joy in this changing world. In our desire for what you promise,
make us one in mind and heart.
8 – Now a few comments: To call
God Father is not customary in the Liturgy, except Our Father
in the Lord’s prayer. Help us to seek implies that we could do
this alone (Pelagian heresy) but would like some aid from God. Jesus teaches,
without Me you can do nothing. The Latin prays grant (to us),
not just help us. I.C.E.L.’s values suggests that secular
buzzword, “values” that are currently popular, or politically correct,
or changing from person to person, place to place. Lasting joy in this
changing world, is impossible. In our desire presumes we already
have the desire, but the Latin humbly prays for this. What you promise
omits “what you (God) command”, thus weakening our sense of duty. Make
us one in mind (and heart) is a new sentence, and appears as the main
petition, yet not in coherence with what went before. The Latin rather
teaches that uniting our minds is a constant work of God, to be achieved
by our pondering his commandments and promises. Clearly, I.C.E.L. has
written a new prayer. Does all this criticism matter? Profoundly! The
Liturgy is our law of praying (lex orandi), and it forms our law
of believing (lex credendi). If I.C.E.L. has changed our liturgy,
it will change our faith. We see signs of this change and loss of faith
all around us.
9 – The foregoing instances of
weakening the Latin Catholic Liturgy prayers must suffice. There are certainly
THOUSANDS OF MISTRANSLATIONS in the accumulated work of I.C.E.L. As the
work progressed I became a more and more articulate critic. My term of
office on the Advisory Board ended voluntarily about 1973, and I was named
Member Emeritus and Consultant. As of this writing I renounce any lingering
reality of this status.
10 – The I.C.E.L. labours were
far from being all negative. I remember with appreciation the rich brotherly
sharing, the growing fund of church knowledge, the Catholic presence in
Rome and London and elswhere, the assisting at a day-session of Vatican
II Council, the encounters with distinguished Christian personalities,
and more besides. I gratefully acknowledge two fellow members of I.C.E.L.
who saw then, so much more clearly than I, the right translating way to
follow: the late Professor Herbert Finberg, and Fr. James Quinn S.J. of
Edinburgh. Not for these positive features and persons do I renounce my
I.C.E.L. past, but for the corrosion of Catholic Faith and of reverence
to which I.C.E.L.’s work has contributed. And for this corrosion, however
slight my personal part in it, I humbly and sincerely apologize to God
and to Holy Church.
11 – Having just mentioned in passing
the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), I now come to identify my other
reason for renouncing my translating work on I.C.E.L. It is an even more
serious and delicate matter. In the past year (from mid 2001), I have
come to know with respect and admiration many traditional Catholics. These,
being persons who have decided to return to pre-Vatican II Catholic Mass
and Liturgy, and being distinct from “conservative” Catholics (those trying
to retouch and improve the Novus Ordo Mass and Sacraments of post-Vatican
II), these Traditionals, I say, have taught me a grave lesson. They brought
to me a large number of published books and essays. These demonstrated
cumulatively, in both scholarly and popular fashion, that the Second Vatican
Council was early commandeered and manipulated and infected by modernist,
liberalist, and protestantizing persons and ideas. These writings show
further that the new liturgy produced by the Vatican “Concilium” group,
under the late Archbishop A. Bugnini, was similarly infected. Especially
the New Mass is problematic. It waters down the doctrine that the Eucharist
is a true Sacrifice, not just a memorial. It weakens the truth of the
Real Presence of Christ’s victim Body and Blood by demoting the Tabernacle
to a corner, by reduced signs of reverence around the Consecration, by
giving Communion in the hand, often of women, by cheapering the sacred
vessels, by having used six Protestant experts (who disbelieve the Real
Presence) in the preparation of the new rite, by encouraging the use of
sacro-pop music with guitars, instead of Gregorian chant, and by still
12 – Such a litany of defects suggests
that many modern Masses are sacrilegious, and some could well be invalid.
They certainly are less Catholic, and less apt to sustain Catholic Faith.
13 – Who are the authors of these
published critiques of the Conciliar Church? Of the many names, let a
few be noted as articulate, sober evaluators of the Council: Atila Sinka
Guimaeres (In the Murky Waters of Vatican II), Romano Amerio (Iota
Unum: A Study of the Changes in the Catholic Church in the 20th
Century), Michael Davies (various books and booklets, TAN Books),
and Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, one the Council Fathers, who worked on
the preparatory schemas for discussions, and has written many readable
essays on Council and Mass (cf Angelus Press).
14 – Among traditional Catholics,
the late Archbishop Lefebvre stands out because he founded the Society
of St Pius X (SSPX), a strong society of priests (including six seminaries
to date) for the celebration of the traditional Catholic liturgy. Many
Catholics who are aware of this may share the opinion that he was excommunicated
and that his followers are in schism. There are however solid authorities
(including Cardinal Ratzinger, the top theologian in the Vatican) who
hold that this is not so. SSPX declares itself fully Roman Catholic, recognizing
Pope John Paul II while respectfully maintaining certain serious reservations.
15 – I thank the kindly reader
for persevering with me thus far. Let it be clear that it is FOR THE FAITH
that I am renouncing my association with I.C.E.L. and the changes in the
Liturgy. It is FOR THE FAITH that one must recover Catholic liturgical
tradition. It is not a matter of mere nostalgia or recoiling before bad
16 – Dear non-traditional Catholic
Reader, do not lightly put aside this letter. It is addressed to you,
who must know that only the true Faith can save you, that eternal salvation
depends on holy and grace-filled sacraments as preserved under Christ
by His faithful Church. Pursue these grave questions with prayer and by
serious reading, especially in the publications of the Society of St Pius
17 – Peace be with you. May Jesus
and Mary grant to us all a Blessed Return and a Faithful Perseverance
in our true Catholic home.
Rev Father Stephen F. Somerville, STL.