An Open Letter to the Church
Renouncing my Service on I.C.E.L.
By Father Stephen Somerville, STL.
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
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 committee's renderings.
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.
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 a child.
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 further novelties.
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 taste.
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 X.
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.
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