(Full Text) Fr. Anthony Ruff, O.S.B. — An Open Letter to the U.S. Catholic Bishops on the Forthcoming Missal

Roman Missal (editio tipica 1962)
Roman Missal (editio tipica 1962)


Your Eminences, Your Excellencies,

With a heavy heart, I have recently made a difficult decision concerning the new English missal. I have decided to withdraw from all my upcoming speaking engagements on the Roman Missal in dioceses across the United States. After talking with my confessor and much prayer, I have concluded that I cannot promote the new missal translation with integrity. I’m sure bishops want a speaker who can put the new missal in a positive light, and that would require me to say things I do not believe.

I love the Church, I love the sacred liturgy, I love chant in Latin and English, and I treasure being involved with all these as a monk and priest. It has been an honor to serve until recently as chairman of the music committee of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) that prepared all the chants for the new missal. But my involvement in that process, as well as my observation of the Holy See’s handling of scandal, has gradually opened my eyes to the deep problems in the structures of authority of our church.

The forthcoming missal is but a part of a larger pattern of top-down impositions by a central authority that does not consider itself accountable to the larger church. When I think of how secretive the translation process was, how little consultation was done with priests or laity, how the Holy See allowed a small group to hijack the translation at the final stage, how unsatisfactory the final text is, how this text was imposed on national conferences of bishops in violation of their legitimate episcopal authority, how much deception and mischief have marked this process—and then when I think of Our Lord’s teachings on service and love and unity…I weep.

I see a good deal of disillusionment with the Catholic Church among my friends and acquaintances. Some leave the Catholic Church out of conviction, some gradually drift away, some join other denominations, some remain Catholic with difficulty. My response is to stay in this church for life and do my best to serve her. This I hope to do by stating the truth as I see it, with charity and respect. I would be ready to participate in future liturgical projects under more favorable conditions.

I am sorry for the difficulties I am causing others by withdrawing, but I know this is the right thing to do. I will be praying for you and all leaders in our church.

Pax in Christo,

Fr. Anthony Ruff, O.S.B.

Anthony Ruff, O.S.B., is a Benedictine monk of Saint John’s Abbey and a professor of liturgy and Gregorian chant. He was on the committee which drafted the 2007 document “Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship” for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He is founder of the National Catholic Youth Choir and blogs at Pray Tell. His letter above to the U.S. bishops is printed in its entirety.



5 thoughts on “(Full Text) Fr. Anthony Ruff, O.S.B. — An Open Letter to the U.S. Catholic Bishops on the Forthcoming Missal”

  1. Dear Anthony,

    I am rector of the cathedral in Lexington ky. I read your letter with great disappointment! As I read a thought can to me which I humbly ask your to reflect prayerfully upon.

    As rector, my advisors must not be all like minded people to me. I must surround myself with people who think differently, react to things differently, to get the best advice. Perhaps you should listen to persons who are excited about the changes too?


    Mark Dreves

  2. Respectfully, people, religious or laity, should be hearing the Spirit of God speaking through Father Anthony Ruff. Jesus called all of us to spread The
    Good News, and He didn’t offer His Father’s message to mankind in ways and languages difficult to comprehend. Ancient ways of speaking and singing do have their place in academic studies and in the arts, but when we come to praise God church for all His blessings, millions worldwide are clearly inspired and empowered by knowing exactly what we are saying to the Almighty. The Church has taught for decades that God doesn’t want human thought-up “sacrafices” when praising him. Father Anthony Ruff speaks for all of us who are devoted to Christ who do NOT want man-imposed thinking and actions to be replace the basic common sense Jesus showcased when he lived and walked among us. Connecting with His Folk is our sacred duty.
    Again from Holy Scripture, man’s thinking is not God’s thinking. Clinging to a need to go back in time
    could further slow the growth of Christ’s church on earth.

  3. Hi Bob. Thanks for responding…

    A point of reference: eloi eloi lama sabachthani! [… is Aramaic for..] “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1, Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34).

    Not all of the people of biblical times would have understood Aramaic, and thus as you say, Our Lord’s offering the Father’s message of salvation through His Son… For that matter, many who did understand His words and the message of salvation He offered, rejected it… They did not recognize the time of His visitation, and again, ‘He came among His own, and His own rejected Him.’

    On the missal:

    Recall Pentecost, Peter and the Apostle’s (The Church) speaking to men in their own tongue (Acts 2:8), as the Church continues to do still today. There was a reason for the Holy Spirit to give this gift to the Church—So as to make comprehension accessible… I believe you’re a bit confused as to the purpose of the new missal in regards to liturgical worship… The new missal is meant to recover and provide a more accurate representation of the original Latin text…

    I’m providing the following question/answers guide to understanding the Latin Mass from Una Voce Los Angeles. I think it will go a long way to helping you understand both forms of the one rite as well as direct you further concerning the One Pure Oblation offered the Father continually throughout the earth according to the will of Jesus Christ…

    God bless, and keep you… JME

    Question: Why use Latin in the Liturgy? Why shouldn’t the Church use the national language of each country so everyone can understand what is going on? Latin is a strange tongue to the vast majority of worshippers.

    Answer: The Catholic Church is not a national church; it is a Church for all nations under the sun. Universality is one of the marks by which it is distinguished from all other churches bearing the name Christian. Hence a universal language is necessary in its public worship. One hundred years ago, before English became a common language in international business life, the lack of a universal language was much deplored, and various attempts had been made to invent one. For the Catholic Church, in which the necessity of such a language is more urgent, a universal language has been providentially supplied. The possession of a common language is essential, not to the existence of the Church, but to its well-being.

    In the epistle to the Hebrews, V., I., you will find these words, “Every Priest is ordained for men in the things that pertain to God, that he may offer up gifts and sacrifices for sins.” A Priest has two chief duties: to offer sacrifice to God, and to sanctify men by his teaching and instruction. At a traditional Mass, when a priest is speaking, not to men, but to God in the name of men, he speaks in the language of the Church – in Latin – a language God certainly understands. When on the other hand he speaks to the people he speaks in their own language; sermons are never given in Latin.

    Remember, the Catholic religion does not consist merely in preaching and the singing of hymns. She has an official liturgical worship, of which the chief element is the Sacrifice of the Mass which is offered to God, and not to the people. And for this official worship she uses her official liturgical language – Latin, which being a dead language, is not subject to the constant changes of meaning which we find in all living languages. For this reason the Jews today still use Hebrew in their Synagogues as in the old Jewish law, where the high priest retired to the Holy of Holies to offer sacrifice, and the people assisted in spirit, each praying his own prayers.

    What does this mean in the actual life of the Church? In the first place, the words of the Mass are fixed, stereotyped, and in the more essential parts of the Mass are as ancient as the Church itself. They remain unchanged because they are so intimately connected with the unchangeable sacrifice. Now the greater the tendency to multiply vernacular versions the greater the danger of departing from the meaning of the original, and the Church, for the best of reasons, has always been jealous of any changes in her consecrated formulae.

    Secondly, the use of one language in the Mass is a matter of convenience amounting to almost a necessity. There is scarcely a single passage in the text of the Mass that is not a subject of rubrical legislation. The decisions of Roman congregations and the writings of rubricists on the language of the Mass are volumnious. In dealing not with one language but hundreds, difficulties would multiply indefinitely. Another advantage of a universal liturgical language is that a Catholic traveling in any part of the world would feel right at home going to a Mass said in Latin. As one priest wrote before Vatican II, “If an Anglican minister celebrated his English service in a remote Japanese village, because he knew no Japanese, the villagers would be sadly puzzled. If I went there, the moment I began the Latin Mass, every Japanese Catholic would feel quite at home, for I would offer Mass as every Japanese Catholic priest offers Mass.”

    The stock objection against the use of Latin is that it is not understood by the congregation. This objection was never made by any one who who was familiar with Catholic life and devotion. Did the objector ever see a Catholic congregation hearing Mass? Did he ever see the people approaching the altar-rail to receive holy communion? If he did he must have been convinced that language was an insignificant thing compared with the great Action that was being performed. Our separated brethren have lost their grasp of the idea of sacrifice as connected with religion. They know nothing of the great Action by which the sacrifice of the cross is perpetuated in an un-bloody form. To them language is everything, and consequently the linguistic objection appeals to them with double force.


    Didn’t Vatican II do away with Latin in the Liturgy?

    With the noticeable absence of Latin in the typical parish one must conclude that this is the case. However, what Vatican II said was: “Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites.” Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Par. 36

    Do worshippers understand all that the priest says in the Latin Mass?

    Not all Catholics understand Latin, by any means. But they are all quite at home when assisting at Mass. They know what is being done, even though they cannot understand all that is being said. However every Catholic can know what the Priest is saying by simply following along in a prayer book called a missal, which has the English and Latin words side by side in columns.

  4. I commend Fr. Ruff for the writing of his letter to the Vatican and support him wholeheartedly in what he has said. There has been a great disillustionment with the Catholic Church which is unfortunate. I, too, have experienced some of this but like Fr. Ruff will remain as part of the Church but also need to stay true to myself and what I truly believe.

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