Vox Cantoris: The Somerville Letter

Originally blogged by Vox Cantoris, but worth reproducing.

Father Stephen Somerville is well known in Canada. A priest of Toronto, many will sing his New Good Shepherd Mass and his Responsorial Psalms in Canada and other places using Catholic Book of Worship II or III. Father Somerville was active for many years at St. Michael’s Choir School in Toronto before moving into parish ministry. In his later years he was “suspended” from active ministry by the then Cardinal Archbishop Aloysius Ambrozic. Father Somerville had celebrated the Usus Antiquior (1962 Missal) without an “indult” which we now know was never necessary and unfortunately, he did so in the Toronto chapel of the Society of St. Pius X. He is now long retired and living in New York State.

<Snip – click on link below for full version>

With the corrected translation of the Roman Missal coming this November, it is worth reading the repentance of one who assisted in giving us such a wretched forty years of liturgical banality and theological weakness.

The letter below is presented as a reference and as a historical curiosity; the recommendations made are those of its author–Vox

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 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. 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 status.

<Snip – Click on link below for full version.>

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.

This is important reading for Catholics of good faith. If learning from the past helps us move forward, go to the link to read the entire letter (and introductory remarks by the blogger).

Thanks to Vox Cantoris for reproducing this letter in it’s entirety.

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