US bishops adjust liturgical translation following concern of CDW

Bishop Wall says Mass ad orientem at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Gallup Credit Peter Zelasko courtesy diocese Bishop James Wall of Gallup says Mass ad orientem at Sacred Heart Cathedral. / Peter Zelasko. Photo courtesy of the Diocese of Gallup.

The US bishops' conference last week decreed that in the translation of the conclusion of collects in the Roman Missal, "one" is to be omitted before "God". The conclusions will now read "God, for ever and ever".

The decision follows a letter sent in May 2020 to Anglophone episcopal conferences by Robert Cardinal Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, addressing a concern about the English translation.

A Feb. 4 note from the USCCB's Committee on Divine Worship said the correction will take effect in the dioceses of the US from Feb. 17, Ash Wednesday.

Until now, in the conclusions to collects the Latin words "Deus, per omnia sæcula sæculorum" had been rendered in English as "one God, for ever and ever".

The committee's note said that Cardinal Sarah had observed that "there is no mention of 'one' in the Latin, and 'Deus' in the Latin text refers to Christ … The Cardinal Prefect has pointed out the importance of affirming this Christological truth amid the religious pluralism of today's world."

The note added that English hand missals that preceded Vatican II "reflected the corrected translation … however, when the post-conciliar texts were published in English, the word 'one' was added."

The English-Latin Sacramentary, a missal published in 1966 during the period of transition from the Traditional Latin Mass to the Novus Ordo, omitted the word 'one' in the conclusion of collects. The English translation found in The English-Latin Sacramentary was copyrighted by P. J. Kennedy & Sons, and had been approved by the National Conference of Bishops Sept. 3, 1965.

The USCCB committee wrote in its Feb. 4 note that it "should be noted that when the translation of the Missal currently in use was in progress, ICEL pointed out the discrepancy to the Congregation in Rome, but was told to retain the use of 'one God' in the new translation."

The note said that the Latin rite bishops of the US have voted to amend the country's version of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal to reflect the change, and that it has been confirmed by the CDW.

The most common formula, used when a collect is addressed to the Father, will read: "Through our Lord Jesus Christ your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever."

The change is in harmony with the bishops' conferences of England and Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, as well other English-speaking territories.

The same change was effected by the English and Welsh bishops, beginning Nov. 29, 2020.

The decree of the English and Welsh bishops' conference said that "The addition of 'one' before 'God' in the conclusion of the Collects could be construed as mistaken and problematic. 'Deus' here refers to the earlier mention of 'the Son' and is a Christological, anti-Arian affirmation, and not directly Trinitarian in this context."

The addition of "one" before "God" "could serve to undermine the statement of the unique dignity of the Son within the Trinity", or "could be interpreted as saying that Jesus is 'one God,'" an explanatory note to the English and Welsh decree stated.

"Either or both of these interpretations is injurious to the faith of the Church."

Continuing, the note said that "one" "risks suggesting that Jesus became a god independent of the Blessed Trinity and is one god among many ... what we pray needs to express what the Church believes, requiring that, in liturgical formulae, we uphold the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity."

The Trinitarian doxology that concludes the collects "emphasises the divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, who as the Incarnate Son, intercedes on our behalf to the Father ... thus, the Son's role of priestly mediation is made clear."

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The explanatory note says the phrase was adopted in the fourth century "as a means to combat the Arian heresy," which held that Jesus Christ became God, rather than having been God eternally.

Moreover, the note adds, "one" is not used in the translations of the conclusion in French, German, Italian, Spanish, or Portuguese: "The English translation has, therefore, diverged from those of other major language groups."

The English and Welsh bishops' explanatory note said that "since the addition of the word 'one'" could obscure prayer and thus belief, the Congregation for Divine Worship "has ruled it should no longer be used in the translation of these texts into English."

The USCCB has been approving new translations of components of the Liturgy of the Hours, a new translation of the Roman Missal having been adopted in 2011.

At its 2019 fall general assembly, the conference voted overwhelmingly to approve the ICEL grey book translation of the hymns of the Liturgy of the Hours.

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