Liturgical translations: What the U.S. bishops will be voting on this week

Archbishop Blair Archbishop Leonard Paul Blair of Hartford, chair of the USCCB Committee on Divine Worship | Daniel Ibanez/CNA

This week, the U.S. bishops will vote on proposed translations for prayers in the Liturgy of the Hours, a new book for the Order of Penance, and readings and prayers for the new feast of Mary, Mother of the Church.

“The fact that the bishops have these action items is a sign that we’re trying to continue to move forward, and continue to encourage a good celebration of the sacred liturgy,” said Fr. Andrew Menke, executive director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Divine Worship, in an interview with CNA on Tuesday.

“Sometimes it’s not as glamorous as certain things,” he said of the ongoing process of updating liturgical texts in the vernacular, “but it’s part of the Church’s prayer, and the bishops have the desire to continue to improve that and continue to encourage people to understand it better and participate better, and to make it part of their lives and their spiritual lives.”

At their annual spring general assembly this week, the U.S. bishops will meet virtually, deliberating and voting on various action items including approving liturgical translations, approving of two causes of canonization, and approving a pastoral statement on marriage ministry. The bishops will also vote to authorize the drafting of a statement on Native American ministry and a teaching document on the Eucharist, and to authorize the development of a pastoral framework for youth and young adult ministry.

Regarding liturgical texts, the bishops will vote on three action items: readings and prayers for a Mass honoring Mary, Mother of the Church, intercessions and concluding prayers for the breviary, and an updated translation for the Order of Penance.

Archbishop Leonard Blair of Hartford, chair of the U.S. bishops’ committee on divine worship, will present the proposed changes on Wednesday, and the bishops will vote to approve the texts on Thursday.

Pope St. Paul VI proclaimed Mary “Mother of the Church” during the Second Vatican Council. In 2018, Pope Francis announced that the Church would celebrate the feast of Mary, Mother of the Church on the first Monday after Pentecost. The new texts for the feast could potentially be available online next year, following approval.

The breviary translations that the bishops will consider this week feature updated prayers and intercessions. They are part of a much larger process of translating liturgical texts, one which has been ongoing for 10 years and which could result in a new breviary by the year 2024.

When the breviary was translated into the vernacular following the Second Vatican Council, “those translations were done fairly quickly,” and the translators were given “flexibility,” Fr. Menke explained. “And that means that you find a lot of paraphrases, or somewhat loose translations.”

“There’s been a sentiment for many years that the translations that were made right after the [Second Vatican] Council needed to be revisited, and there has been a lot of discussion about the nature of those translations, whether they should be more literal or a more dynamic equivalency,” Archbishop Blair stated.

Following the year 2000, the Holy See, in the instruction Liturgiam Authenticam and the motu proprio Magnum Principium, “instructed the bishops’ conferences of the world that their liturgical translations needed to be more precise and follow the Latin more closely,” Fr. Menke said.

The long translation process in the United States “has been a very successful effort. And we’re nearing the end of it with all the translations, especially as we bring the Divine Office to a conclusion,” Archbishop Blair said.  

The bishops this week will also consider a revised translation for the Order of Penance.

“Sometimes priests are surprised that there’s a liturgical book for penance,” Fr. Menke said.

“The book is mostly useful when a parish wants to have a penance service,” he explained, such as hosting advertised evenings of confession during the penitential seasons of Advent or Lent. Such a parish ceremony could feature readings that are provided in the book, along with a short homily and announcements to penitents, he said.

The book also includes a chapter on the need for general absolution – “which ought to be quite rare, I would think,” Fr. Menke said.

A slight adjustment will be made to the prayer of absolution for every confession, but it will be a “change of just a word or two,” Archbishop Blair said.

More in US

Our mission is the truth. Join us!

Your monthly donation will help our team continue reporting the truth, with fairness, integrity, and fidelity to Jesus Christ and his Church.