The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops voted yesterday to accept proposed changes to the English translation of the Mass.
Although a survey released last November by the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy indicated that the bishops might be split on the changes, an overwhelming majority voted to accept the proposal, with some minor amendments. After much prayer and discussion during the months leading up to the meeting, the Bishops debated for only 20 minutes on Thursday on a variety of wording changes, then voted to accept the new translation.
The changes, widely reported by the Catholic and secular press, will alter the wording of 12 of the 19 texts spoken by Catholics during worship, including the Nicene Creed, the Gloria, the Penitential Rite, the Sanctus and Communion. While some fear that the changes will cause confusion in the parish, many bishops believe that the adjustments will be a smooth transition compared to the turmoil experienced by many parishes in the 1970’s, following the changes of Vatican II.
Fr. Christopher Layden, a scholar of Catholic liturgy who spent five years in Rome studying at the Pontifical Athenaeum Sant’Anselmo, said that Catholics should not be worried about the changes. “Thirty-some years ago we made the transition from Latin, a language which no one speaks, to English,” Fr. Layden said, “to think that the current changes will result in some kind of catastrophe at the parish level is to seriously underestimate the people of God.”
“I’ve heard the concern raised that the new translations are too distant from the way we speak ‘on the street’,” Layden continued, “in some ways, that is precisely the idea. While the saying of the Mass in English is meant to draw people in from their everyday lives, the whole purpose of the Mass is then to uplift us, to lift our eyes and ears to heaven. If anything, these changes will remind Catholics of what is really happening in the Mass.”
The long process of making changes to the English translation has taken the work of numerous linguistic, biblical, and liturgical scholars. Following the announcement of the document Liturgiam Authenticam in 2001 the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) was asked by the Vatican to propose a version of the English Mass which was more faithful to the original Latin. Liturgiam Authenticam - subtitled, On the use of Vernacular Languages in the Publication of the Books of the Roman Liturgy - aims at ensuring that the Roman Catholic Mass is celebrated using translations which are more uniform despite the diversity of nationalities and primary languages which exist among the faithful of Catholic Church. The English translation proposed by ICEL, which is led by 11 bishops from 11 English-speaking countries around the world, required the approval of the US Bishops before it can be finally approved by the Vatican.
A USCCB source has told CNA that although the bishops made slight adjustments to the proposed translation, the changes do not substantially affect the sprit of what the Vatican had encouraged through ICEL, and has no doubt that the amended final document will be approved.
Bishop Arthur Roche, Bishop of Leeds (England) and Chairman of ICEL, spoke to the American Bishops prior to the vote telling them that their vote was “a very important moment.” “If the bishops of the English-speaking countries can agree on a single version of the Mass,” Bishop Roche said, “what a sign of catholicity that will be.”
Bishop Roche told the bishops that following Vatican II there was, “an urgent feeling that the liturgy should be made available to the people as soon as possible, and the work was rushed.” Many theologians, he said, think that through the hurried translation currently in use, much of the richness of the Church’s Eucharistic theology has been “severely diminished.” This, he said can change with the new translation
Paraphrasing Pope Benedict, Roche closed by telling the bishops, “Of course, if you try to carry a cup of coffee across a room too quickly, much of the contents may spill. This time, we have tried to keep the coffee in the cup.”