Last month, the Laredo Morning Times published two letters that I wrote to introduce my fellow Laredo Catholics to the revised translations. The timing was important because on September 16, 2010, the English-speaking world got to hear for the first time, the revised translation in a new musical setting called the Mass of Blessed John Henry Newman. Here is the first letter that was published on that day:
When Pope Benedict XVI travels to the United Kingdom to beatify the Venerable John Cardinal Newman this weekend, he will not only be raising a new blessed to the altars of the Church, but he will also partially roll out a change that will affect English-speaking Catholics the world over: a revised translation of the prayers of the Mass. The revised parts are the Gloria, the Sanctus and the Memorial Acclamation, presented in a musical setting, the Mass of Blessed John Henry Newman. Locally, Laredoans can catch the broadcasts on EWTN.
The revision process began in 2001 when the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (the department that oversees the Liturgy for the entire Church) published a document called Liturgiam Authenticam (Authentic Liturgy), which sets the guidelines for new translations in the various languages of the faithful. In our case, these revised translations were made by the International Commission on the English Language (ICEL), composed of bishops from the various English-speaking countries. Another commission established by the CDWDS, Vox Clara, headed by Australia’s George Cardinal Pell, also provided guidance on the translation.
In this first of a two-part series, we will look at the history behind these revisions. In part two, we will look at some of the changes themselves so as to better acquaint the faithful with the revised prayers. Up until about 1964, the Church celebrated the Mass in Latin. While the homily was preached in the vernacular, that is to say, the language of the people, all of the prayers were in the Church’s official language, Latin. But, as early as 1964, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (which eventually merged into the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) published a Roman Missal in English and Latin.
After the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI ordered a new Roman Missal (the official Mass prayer book) to be published both in Latin and in the vernacular. This new missal debuted in Advent 1969. However, while the different language groups retained much of the original Latin version, the original ICEL used a French document that employed “dynamic equivalence”, meaning that translators would attempt to keep the essence of the Latin original, but, not use a literal translation. For example, in Spanish, the celebrant greets the faithful with these words: “El Señor este con vostros.” The faithful respond, “Y con tu espíritu.” In the current English translation, the celebrant says “The Lord be with you”. The faithful respond, “And also with you.”
Later on, Rome revised the Roman Missal twice. When ICEL translated the second typical edition of the book in 2001, it was submitted to the CDWDS for the necessary recognitio, (approval). However, the CDWDS denied the recognitio, restructured ICEL and ordered the creation of the Vox Clara committee. Also during the same time period, Venerable Pope John Paul II promulgated the third typical edition of the Roman Missal and ordered the CDWS to implement Liturgiam Authenticam. “Dynamic equivalence” gave way to a revised, formal translation of the Roman Missal for English-speaking Catholics.
The key word in all of this is “revised”. The format of the Mass does not change. The Liturgy of the Word, including the scriptural readings, and the Liturgy of the Eucharist remain the same. However, the big shift comes in the style of language the celebrant and the faithful use to pray the Mass. The revised translations take on a more elevated tone. For Catholics, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the prayer par excellence of the Church. According ot the Second Vatican Council, it is the "source and summit" of the Church's life. The faithful enter into the very presence of God and the Paschal Mystery of the passion, death and resurrection of Christ. Thus, the language used for the Church's highest prayer needs to take on a dimension of the sacred. It needs to be language that goes beyond the ordinary because the mysteries that unfold at every Mass are, the Church holds, extraordinary.