The time has nearly arrived. Six weeks from this Sunday, on Nov. 27, the First Sunday of Advent, the Catholic Church in the United States will begin praying a new English translation of the Mass. After 10 years of study and consultation with thousands of experts in the field of linguistics, liturgy and Scripture scholarship; after 17 separate drafts which were carefully reviewed and scrutinized by 11 English-speaking national episcopal conferences throughout the world, and finally approved by the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in Rome, we are now ready to begin using a new English version of the “Missale Romanum,” the Roman Missal. This is a time for great rejoicing and liturgical renewal.
The official version of the Roman Missal is called the Latin Typical Edition. In 2002 the Holy See approved the Third Typical Edition of the Roman Missal, a new revision of the Latin text from which all other languages must base their translations. For the past 40 years, ever since the new rite of the Mass, the Novus Ordo, was introduced after the Second Vatican Council with the First Latin Typical Edition of the Roman Missal, we have used the same English translation of the Latin, which was officially implemented in 1973. Prior to the Second Vatican Council the Mass throughout the world was prayed only in Latin.
Some may recall the first time they prayed the Mass in English. Others may have never known prayers other than the English version. Some may even be wondering, “Why do we need a change now?” You may ask, “What’s wrong with the current English translation of the Mass?”
Msgr. Andrew Wadsworth, a priest of the Archdiocese of Westminster, England, and executive director of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL)—which prepared the forthcoming translation—says it was high time for a revision.
“When our current translation of the Roman Missal—the first English version—was implemented in 1973, it was recognized that it would need revision in time. Many people thought it would be only five years before it was revised,” he said. “That was over 40 years ago, so such a revision is long overdue.”
Perhaps the most important aspect of the new translation of the Roman Missal is the fact that it was translated under a different set of rules from the current translation. In 1969, a document titled “Comme le Prevoit” authorized a form of translation for liturgical texts known as “dynamic equivalency.” The idea was to convey the meaning but not to translate literally. This is sometimes referred to as “free translation.”
In 2001, an instruction called “Liturgiam Authenticam” was issued by the Holy See, which stipulated a more literal form of translating known as “formal equivalency.” This form of translation, unlike the previous, frowns upon paraphrases and glosses. The new English translation of the Roman Missal was prepared under the guidelines set for in “Liturgiam Authenticam” and therefore provides a more literal rendering of the original Latin texts.
According to Msgr. Wadsworth and others, this more literal translation restores certain theological concepts that were obscured in the former translation. He suggests that the current translation is “a bit flat.” He readily admits that the new translation is more formal and the language will seem foreign to our ears at first. By the use of more formal English words, we are able to better reflect the quality and the characteristics of the original Latin text, and it also avoids regional differences that are more often found in colloquial phrasings.
It is good to recall that the prayers of the Roman Missal are ancient in origin and have been handed down to us over the centuries by the Catholic Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. More than 80 percent of the sacred texts of the Roman Missal date back before the ninth century! The prayers of the Roman Missal are our faith heritage, and they comprise a tremendous treasury of belief. This is why it is so important that the translation of these words be accurate and authentic. The new translation restores words that convey truths of the faith more properly, reconnecting these texts more clearly to their biblical roots.
As one priest recently wrote: “While the learning of the new versions will take time and practice, this learning process invites us to open our minds and hearts to being renewed in the Catholic faith that we have received and truly love, encouraging us to grow in knowledge of the faith itself, deepening our love for God.”
As we begin this new adventure together, this time of liturgical renewal, let us ask the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Word Incarnate, to help us embrace these renewed words and sacred texts with joy and deep faith.