An Open Letter to the Church
Renouncing my Service on I.C.E.L.
By 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 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
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
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
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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