In defence of Fr Zuhlsdorf and WDTPRS

Cathnews has much to be thanked for, including the plugs they occasionally give to worthy blogsites. In particular, I am thinking of the recent plug it gave to Fr Z’s “What does the Prayer Really Say” blog – although it took them long enough to discover it and decide to highlight this very well read blogsite.

A comment has appeared attached to this article from one Gerard Moore, who, one supposes, is none other than the esteemed liturgiologist (ie. a student and teacher of matters liturgical – many people say “liturgist” but that refers to what one does when one wears vestments and says the mass) Fr Gerard Moore SM, Associate Professor and Director of Research at Sydney College of Divinity. This is what he says of Fr Z:

It is not my usual want to take up the offer to make comment, but I must say I am disappointed that the CathNews has featured this site. The politics aside, the adverting to such a site that purports to be about liturgical translation is a disservice.

The blogger is not a liturgical translator, rather a person who translates liturgical texts. There is little reference to the scholarship behind the prayers, nor an understanding of the transmission of liturgical texts through history, and especially into the current Latin missal.

As for the 1973 ICEL translations, liturgists of all stripes are well aware of their deficiencies, but these must be understood in context of the translation instructions at the time and the overwhelming sense of urgency. Many appreciate the vast effort involved, though the results are far from satisfactory.

As for liturgical translations proper, these require deep scholarship, rich latin, and the provision of texts that are to be prayed aloud. as well, the process involves submitting any translations to the scrutiny of editorial committees and conferences of bishops. This is much more than slavish translation of liturgical texts!

I am actually going to take issue with Fr Moore on this one – I am sure he will not be too offended.

Now, I know Fr Moore to be much better read in both Latin and Liturgy than I, but having been a reader of Fr Z’s blog and a listener to his podcasts for some time, and I believe I can say (as one who knows a little about the liturgy) that he knows what he is talking about. He is a very skilled latinist (again, that is from one who knows a little latin), as well as being well read in the writings of the church fathers.

I am not sure what Fr Moore means by the rather precious distinction between “a liturgical translator” and “a person who translates liturgical texts”, but I do think this is a distinction that only a certain kind of modern professional liturgiologist could make. I can simply say that Fr Z IS a liturgiologist in whose knowledge of the history of the Roman rite is encyclopedic.

As for his translations of the prayers, a comparison of his texts to the final version of the propers contained in the Grey Book recently approved by the ACBC (and rejected by the USCCB) will show a very close agreement – especially in style – with only slight differences in the choice of vocabulary.

Whatever Fr Moore’s attachment to the 1973 texts may be, we all know that their use by date is approaching fast.

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0 Responses to In defence of Fr Zuhlsdorf and WDTPRS

  1. Past Elder says:

    No doubt besides being a skilled latinist and well read in the church fathers, he has steeped himself in the great translators and translations in the Latin Rite — oh, that’s right, there weren’t any, the Latin Rite is, well, in Latin!

    What you need isn’t better translations, it’s better Latin originals. The only thing worse than the present translations of the novus ordo is better ones.

    The Latin is the problem, not the translation. What needs a use-by date is the bogus ordo.

  2. Christine says:

    Oh let’s give PE some more to grumble about. Father Zuhlsdorf is a former, ahem, Lutheran (born of parents of German extraction in Minnesota).

    Another Tiber Swimmer — yay !!

    *wink, *wink

  3. Past Elder says:

    Typical postconciliarism — anything against the great god Rome (where the spiritual ruins of the Roman Church decay faster than the physical ruins of the Roman Empire that spawned it) will be swept aside and it’s all about the man.

    FWIW, I’m a Tiber swimmer too. Out.

  4. Christine says:

    For those who may be interested in a little more background about the indomitable Father Z:

    The legendary Fr Z

    Fr Z walks through the bitterly cold Oxford night with the firm, fast steps of a man who has relentless energy, determination and strong convictions. With his black trilby tilted at a raffish angle and his black scarf firmly tucked into his black coat, he looks like a character out The Matrix. With three mobile devices on him he certainly carries enough electronic kit to warrant the simile. One can easily imagine him being as adept at programming complex computer codes as he is at celebrating a Mass in the extraordinary form.

    For those unfamiliar with the internet, the name Fr Z (the “Z” is pronounced “zee”) may mean little, but to thousands of wired-up Catholics across the globe, Fr John Zuhlsdorf’s well-informed opinions, translations and analyses of matters liturgical are a daily reading requirement. Rumoured to have direct sources in very high places, he is read by members of the Roman Curia, bishops, priests, seminarians and lay people around the world. His articles have made their way into Curial meetings and he says that several bishops have consulted him on documents relating to Summorum Pontificum, the Apostolic Letter with which the Pope Benedict XVI liberated the traditional Mass. Fr Z is a true phenomenon of the information age: a power blogger and a priest.

    A confessed tech-geek, Fr Zuhlsdorf started his adventures with the internet in its early days, back in the 1990s. He effectively hotwired a Vatican telephone in order to access cyberspace with an analogue connection back when analogue was the only option and Compuserve almost the only service provider. In the days before proper websites, when forums were the in thing, Fr Zuhlsdorf quickly became the moderator for the Catholic Online Forum, which he still does today. His “What Does The Prayer Really Say?” column in the American weekly newspaper The Wanderer dealt with the inadequacies of ICEL translations by providing new translations which he made. It became the inspiration for his blog.

    In the last two years, his blog, at, has had over 2.1 million visitors. By the standards of today’s blogosphere, which has well over 50 million blogs struggling to get noticed, this is not bad going at all. He receives over 500 e-mails a day and says he wishes that he could answer all of them. Traffic on his blog has been so heavy that it has caused the server to crash. More often than not, he has the first news on items concerning the Motu Proprio and whenever something new does develop relating to the extraordinary form, his blog is the rapidly becoming the first port of call.

    “I feel that I have an obligation to comment now that I’m one of the bigger ones and people are starting to turn to me quickly,” he says. “I’m one of the first blogs people go to when something happens and as long as I can have something useful to contribute I feel the responsibility to ante up.” But he tries to limit himself from spending too much time at the computer so that he can live “a regular priestly life”.

    As with many high-profile bloggers, Fr Zuhlsdorf’s neatly formulated thoughts are only a mouse-click away, but finding the man behind the blog is a little more difficult.

    It is apt that our interview in Oxford, where he has been taking part in a Newman Society colloquium on blogging, takes place in the Eagle and Child, the pub where the Inklings used to meet. He tells me that J R R Tolkien’s books played a prominent part in his early life and he says that a childhood correspondence with “the Professor” shortly before Tolkien’s death may have been one of things that made him more receptive to Catholicism later on in life. Music and Shakespeare were the two passions of his childhood, nurtured by his grandmother, a former school teacher.

    Perhaps his love for the extraordinary form, his conviction that lex orandi is indeed lex credendi and his admiration for the beauties of the liturgy, have their roots in his conversion story. As a young drama major at the University of Minnesota, he was introduced to Latin and loved it. Long-haired and mustachioed, the now clean-shaven Fr Zuhlsdorf worked as a cook in a restaurant to support himself through his studies.

    One Sunday, called in to work as the restaurant was short staffed, his car refused to start. So he borrowed his friend’s battered jalopy and drove through the freezing Minnesotan morning, fiddling with the dial of the old AM radio desperately trying to find something decent to listen to. Chancing on some Gregorian chants, he was mesmerised. When he realised that the music was being broadcast live from a church in St Paul, Minnesota, he resolved to go. He was fascinated by what he saw at St Agnes, which is built in Austrian Baroque style and intrigued by the congregation. “I kept asking myself: ‘Who are these people and what do they believe that they do this every Sunday?’ ” he says. “I wrote my name and phone number down on a piece of paper and handed it over to the guy on the other side of the Communion rail.”

    Mgr Richard Schuler, the parish priest, rang Zuhlsdorf up and invited him to come round and talk. After a year and a half of directly engaging with the liturgy in the church choir, which was complemented with a rigorous reading list, Zuhlsdorf found that he could answer his own objections to Catholicism and decided to convert. For a long time he resisted the vocation to the priesthood, but eventually came round to it and was ordained in May 1991 in Rome by Pope John Paul II. He was incardinated in the suburbicarian diocese of Velletri-Segni.

    His work at the Ecclesia Dei commission, the Vatican body which deals with matters pertaining to the older form of the Mass, put him into the corridors of power and it was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then the Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), who suggested the topic for Fr Zuhlsdorf’s licence thesis.

    “One day, not long after the document came out on the ecclesial vocation of theologians, I met Cardinal Ratzinger in the hall and I said: ‘Your Eminence, I read the new letter.’ He said very politely: ‘What did you think?’ It was an astonishing thing that the Prefect of the CDF was asking me what I thought of the letter and I said: ‘Well, Your Eminence, I didn’t really like it very well.’ And he was a little surprised and said: ‘Why?’ And I said: ‘Well, you spend so many pages on talking about theologians but you don’t say who a theologian is.’ He looked at me a little quizzically and said: ‘Why don’t you tell us?’ And I said ‘How do I do this?’ And he said: ‘You’re working in Patristics at the Augustinianum; why don’t you ask St Augustine who a theologian was?’ ” Fr Zuhlsdorf is now working on his doctorate in Patristics at the Augustinianum in Rome, but divides his time between the Eternal City and the United States, where he has a rural hideaway in the Midwest which he calls the Sabine Farm, after Horace. In the meantime, with things changing as much as they are, he is blogging up a storm.

    You go, Father Z!

  5. Past Elder says:

    What a monumental waste of great ability and effort. The Tolkien makes sense though — one can spend time in the fantasy and make believe of conciliar Catholicism, as related to the real thing as Tolkien’s world was to reality.

    In the real Roman Church, its rite does not need to be “liberated” therefrom, nor is there anything extraordinary, in the ecclesiastical sense, about it. It’s just what you do.

    Except now you don’t.

    Not your grandfather’s church indeed.

    Not Christ’s, either.

  6. Schütz says:

    Deary me, PE, you are the wet blanket to end all wet blankets. What ever are we to do with you?

    To delete or not delete your comments is my eternal dilema. And, unusually Christ-like for me, I always err on the side of mercy.

    I just wish you would make a little more SENSE and be a little more GRACIOUS. Remember St Paul: “I become all things to all people in order that I might by all means win some”.

    Winsome, PE. That’s a lovely word. Honestly that is what Fr Z is. You could learn a thing or two.

  7. Hardman Window says:

    Dear Mr Schutz, dealing with bitter dissaffected comments like those from “Past Elder”, and worse, was one of the irksome chores which led me to withdraw from regular blogging on “Coo-ees from the Cloister”. I admire your resilience.

  8. Past Elder says:

    More of the same. Since the Brave New Church is God Himself, anything said in opposition has no content to examine, there being nothing which can oppose it other than what springs from bitterness and disaffection.

    Hell, the blogosphere ain’t nuttin compared to the lives and careers and vocations destroyed in the pogroms that secured the forty some year old religion you call Catholicism.

    Dealing with which, and worse, was one of the irksome chores which led me to withdraw participation, regular or otherwise, from the “Roman Catholic Church”.

    Remember St Paul indeed — some things about delivering messages other than the one delivered, false teachers, etc.

    So re the topic, again:

    In the real Roman Church, its rite does not need to be “liberated” therefrom, nor is there anything extraordinary, in the ecclesiastical sense, about it. It’s just what you do.

  9. Fraser Pearce says:

    Any idea what the ‘overwhelming sense of urgency’ was with the translations?

  10. Mike says:

    It seems to me that in his haste to denounce the “other side” of liturgical debates, Fr Moore misses the point here somewhat.

    His point being: ” This is much more than slavish translation of liturgical texts!”

    Although critical of ICEL, Fr Z hasn’t written an alternative Missal. He shows the ICEL translation and the Latin, and meticulously pulls out the different levels of *meaning* behind each of the prayers so that people can pray them with a better understan A Liturgiologolgist or whatever should be in favour of this! The translations he gives are a reaction against the approximations in the ICEL, showing the contrast, and what you might be missing out on.

    He doesn’t suggest that language should actually be “slavish” in liturgical use. And I get the feeling that he describes his own translations as “slavish” as a deliberate hook and bait to people like Fr Moore, who aren’t going to like what he’s doing anyway.

  11. Schütz says:

    Indeed, Fr Z appears to be firmly of the opinion that the prayers are best SPOKEN/CHANTED IN LATIN, and that the people in the pews are educated in WHAT THE PRAYERS REALLY SAY by means of an accurate translation in their pew bulletin.

    And here I am sure that for once our favourite interlocutor, Past Elder, will agree with me, I think he is right. The old “bilingual” latin/vernacular missals were a really neat thing, and it is a pity that they are so rare (or so rarely useful) today.

  12. Anonymous says:

    The old “bilingual” latin/vernacular missals were a really neat thing, and it is a pity that they are so rare (or so rarely useful) today.

    Perhaps that will be rectified in the future. In the meantime, Baronius Press has released The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin in a Latin/English text. Because I have studied Romance languages Latin is very agreeable to me and I think over the Advent/Christmas cycle this year I will pray some of the Office in its Latin form.

    Interestingly, there is a website

    There’s even a website that has audio helps for folks who would like to learn the Latin prayers:

    Boston Catholic Journal

  13. Christine says:

    That was me in the prior post.

  14. Christine says:

    And it would help if I organized my text better before posting!

    Forgot to delete “Interestingly, there is a website”

    Mea culpa!

  15. Anonymous says:

    I agree with your responses to the comment made on CathNews.
    However, I must say, that I find Fr. Z. to be too clever by half. He is a priest, but there is never mention of his pastoral work, apart from the odd mass. He seems to live a rather charmed life in a rather nice location. Yet there are many priests outside his bubble who are working hard. I say this in all charity, because I have seen this on a smaller scale before, and the priest in question, who offered many true opinions, came quite full of himself and fell, leaving the faith and all.

  16. Schütz says:

    Well, yes, the three great mysteries about Fr Z is “Does he actually do anything other than blog?” and “Does he have an independant income?” and “Who is his boss?”

    His life does seem a bit odd – “charmed” as you say. I mean: converting to Catholicism and being ordained a priest by Pope John Paul II? Living in Rome or holidaying at the “Sabine Farm”?

    Yes, a charmed life indeed…

  17. Anonymous says:

    Well, let’s explore a little further –


  18. Christine says:

    That was me. For some reason the link won’t open but more info on Father Z can be found at:

    Of course, Father Richard John Neuhaus also has a “media ministry” through “First Things” but he regularly serves the wider Catholic community in that he is often called upon to comment on the news or at Papal events.

    Father Z, with his extensive academic background may be set apart for other things in the universal church than regular parish work, since he is not incardinated in any U.S. diocese.

  19. Christine says:

    Nor should I forget to add that Father Neuhaus celebrates Mass regularly in New York.

  20. Anonymous says:

    One thing which some may notice about Fr. Z of late is that he hasn’t been in Rome for quite some time. I wonder just why this might be and I imagine there is more to it than simply a long holiday…

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