Now that the Vatican has approved a new English-language translation of the Roman Missal, dioceses across the country are receiving training on how to say Mass in a whole new way — a way that, experts say, will deepen the mystery and the sense of awe in the liturgy.
Although the implementation date of the missal has yet to be determined, one day soon, before Communion, Catholics will no longer say, “Lord I am not worthy to receive you.” Instead, they will say, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof.”
And the priest praying the third eucharistic prayer will no longer say, “from east to west,” but, “from the rising of the sun to its setting.”
“I think older Catholics will find the new translation quite reassuring,” Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, Australia, told Australia’s Independent Catholic News on April 30, the day Vatican’s recognitio , or confirmation, of the missal was announced. “I hope that it will cause the young people to stop and ponder.”
Cardinal Pell is chairman of the Vox Clara Committee, an international group of bishops that advises the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments on English liturgical translations.
In the meantime, the U.S. bishops have gone all out preparing for the new Roman Missal, holding regional training sessions for bishops, priests and deacons. Connecticut’s instruction was in March. Orlando, Fla., has the last scheduled session in November.
Msgr. Anthony Sherman, director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Divine Worship, said “a full-scale implementation of catechesis for the new missal should be taking place in the parishes, so that when the time comes,” and the Vatican finishes its final edits and approves the missal for use, “everyone will be ready.”
Dominican Father Juan-Diego Brunetta, director of the Catholic Information Services at the Knights of Columbus, praised the “concerted and sustained effort by our bishops to prepare us for these changes in the liturgy.”
However, he told OSV: “The changes will take a period of adjustment, a period of acquaintanceship with the new language forms. The more one participates at the Mass, the faster this acquaintance will occur. In a couple years, it will become the new ‘what we know.’”
History of revision
This is the most significant and far-reaching revision of the Mass in English since Pope Paul VI promulgated the Roman Missal in 1970 as the official version of the Mass after the Second Vatican Council. That editio typica (typical edition) of the Mass was translated into many languages and published in English in the United States in 1973. The Holy See followed suit with an updated edition in 1975.
Over the years, the missal has often been updated in small ways, but never addressed as a whole. The International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) did the current overhaul in cooperation with 11 countries’ bishops conferences. The Vatican evaluated the texts through the Congregation for Divine Worship and Vox Clara.
In 2007, the Congregation for Divine Worship issued the “ Ratio Translationis for the English Language,” which said the new Mass language is meant to preserve the style of the Latin rite, including “a certain conciseness in addressing, praising and entreating God, as well as distinctive syntactical patterns, a noble tone, a variety of less complex rhetorical devices, concreteness of images, repetition, parallelism and rhythm as measured through the cursus, or ancient standards for stressing syllables of Latin words in prose or poetry” (No. 112).
Father Peter John Cameron, editor of the English-language edition of the Magnificat missal publication, called the new missal “awesome” in the way it fulfills that directive.
“Since the language is truer to the Latin, there is much more reference to the mystery of the faith, which is really awesome; literally awesome,” he told OSV. “There are some prayers that are so beautiful and profound in their expression that you can really meditate on them. The translation used now seems to be almost trite” by comparison.
The new translations will not just affect priests and people in the pews. Catholic publishers will have to adapt their texts to reflect the changes to the Mass. Missal publishers will likely have the hardest time with the new change — they will have to update all their booklets. Magnificat isn’t worried, though.
“Even though we work a few months in advance, we should have plenty of time ahead of us when the words will be ready,” publisher Romain Lizé told OSV.
Joshua Mercer, one of the directors of CatholicVote.org, said that while he’s no expert on liturgy, he expects the new missal will be “widely accepted” by Catholics like him.
“This might truly be the perfect timing for an education of the Mass and its liturgy. Five years ago, the world watched with appreciation the funeral of Pope John Paul II, and they also marveled at the process of electing a new pope,” he said, adding that Catholics want to know more.
Father Brunetta said in the interim period, when people are still getting used to the new language, “I am hopeful that the changes will be a bit of a wake-up — because they are different and new — and draw people into the Mass more deeply. At least, that is my hope.”
Return of the sacred
Father Cameron said the changes return to the liturgy a “sacred” language the current translation lacks.
“Whenever something momentous happens in our lives, we look for language that corresponds to the greatness of it,” he said. “Even in greeting cards, we look for elevated language, we look for poetry.”
The new translation, he said, will return a sense of “grandness” and “mystery” to the Mass.
Father Cameron said the fruits of the new Mass will emerge over time. “It’s like learning a language,” he said. “Soon you begin to think in that language, and it changes the way you think about everything. It gives you a new frame of reference.”
In the case of the new Mass: “There’s nothing secular, nothing colloquial about this translation. It speaks literally and figuratively that God is real and God is in our midst and God is acting.”
Tom Hoopes is writer in residence at Benedictine College.
Priority No. 1: The Eucharist (sidebar)
Promoting the Eucharist and proper celebration of the Mass has been a major proactive initiative on the Church’s part in the past decade. Here are some key events:
2001: In the apostolic letter Novo Millennio Ineunte (At the Beginning of the New Millennium), Pope John Paul II maps out the Church’s priorities, especially the liturgy.
2002: The Vatican first promulgates the “New General Instruction of the Roman Missal.”
2003: Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia (On the Church in its relation to the Eucharist) stresses the importance of Mass.
2004: Pope John Paul II opens the Church’s Year of the Eucharist.
2005: Bishops from all over the world attend the Synod on the Eucharist.
2006: The U.S. bishops complete “Happy Are Those Who Are Called to His Supper,” a guide to attending Mass.
2008: Pope Benedict XVI issues a “ motu proprio” allowing universal use of the 1962 missal.
2009: Pope Benedict XVI celebrates certain Masses ad orientem (facing the east).
2010:The Vatican approves the third edition of the Roman Missal liturgy