Revision aims to renew worship in the Church

November 8, 2011

HOUSTON — Same Mass. Deeper meaning. 

That’s a four-word summary of the revisions to the Roman Missal, the book that contains the words and directs the actions by the assembly and the priest during Mass. For months, Catholic clergy and laity in the English-speaking world have been preparing for updates to spoken and sung parts of the Mass. 
The structure of the Mass is not changing, but the more formal language of the third edition of the Roman Missal is meant to renew worship in the Catholic Church – raising the bar for participants’ presence during the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the source and summit of Catholic Christian life. 

David Wood, Director of the Archdiocesan Office of Worship, and Father James Burkart, Chair of the Archdiocesan Liturgical Commission, spoke to the Texas Catholic Herald about the implementation of the revised Missal, which begins Nov. 27. Father Burkart and Wood answered a few frequently asked questions about the most significant change to the Mass in more than 40 years. 

What is the Roman Missal?

Father Burkart: Basically, the Roman Missal is the liturgical book that contains the text and [directions] for the celebration of the Mass in the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church.

Why did we need a revised translation? Was something wrong with the translation we already had?

Father Burkart: Nothing was wrong with the present translation. In 2000, the Vatican promulgated the third edition of the Roman Missal since the Second Vatican Council. The first [edition] was in 1969; the second in 1975. In 2001, the Vatican promulgated a document called “Liturgiam Authenticum.” This document changed the rules for translating the original Latin texts to the vernacular. The previous rule [for the translation] was called “dynamic equivalence,” [which] basically [means] translating the sense of a phrase rather than a more literal rendering. The new rule enforces a rule called “formal equivalence” … [which means] a literal translation from the Latin to the vernacular. 

David Wood: In addition to that change of approach to translations, the Church has added over 300 new saints since 1975. We’ve had a new Code of Canon law since 1983. We’ve also added new rites — the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults was not an official until 1985, the Rite of Christian Funerals was updated. The Roman Missal needed to be updated because the Church is a living entity. 

Father Burkart: Also, because Pope John Paul II was so widely traveled and multilingual, he celebrated and experienced the Liturgy of the Eucharist in so many countries and so many different languages. Part of what he experienced was a need to have a better translation in many places he visited, so that the Liturgy more accurately reflected the original Latin, even with the [previous] dynamic equivalence rule. Pope John Paul II wanted our Catholic people to have the most authentic celebration possible. 
What’s revised in the text? What will the person in the pew notice? 
Father Burkart: Many of the responses that the assembly gives have been changed. Most churches will have either pew cards or are buying new hymnals that will have the newly translated prayers. The majority of the new prayers, however, fall upon the priest presiders. 

Wood: I think for the laity, the changes will be ones they can adapt to in two to three months. A lot of the parishes have already been introducing the new music and getting used to singing the new acclamations. 

For most of the changes for the laity, it’s a matter of just changing a word here or there, or noting that a word that we’re used to [saying] is no longer part of the acclamation. It’s just going to require people to pay a little bit more attention until they get these changes down. 

For the priests, the same is true — it will take more attention and concentration. The difference is that almost everything in the third edition of the Roman Missal is a new translation for the priests. So while the laity will have to engage in the new acclamations … the priests have to be so much more engaged. 

To preside well at the Liturgy is hard work. Priests are not simply reading the texts; they’re praying the texts. It’s not coming from their heads — it’s coming from their hearts. For them to be engaged in the Liturgy takes a lot of energy and attention … On top of all of their work to spend time preparing the prayers and preparing the homily, we’re also giving them newly translated prayers that are going to require even more focus and attention … With some of these prayers, the priest really has to know what a particular phrase is modifying. It’s like the lectors who proclaim some of St. Paul’s writings. You have to give the proper inflection and pauses, so that it’s clear to the listener what a phrase is modifying. 

Father Burkart: There is a difference between praying the Mass and saying the Mass. You could fly through the words and of course God’s Holy Spirit provides, but there is a whole other energy level related to the priest really entering into the prayer and allowing that prayer to be something that is valuable and important spiritually for the people who are hearing it … On a Sunday, not only do priests have two, three, maybe four Masses, but we have to be fresh for every single person who comes to Mass. So even at the last Mass at the end of the day, when we’re greeting the people after that Mass, it’s got to be like it’s the first Mass. So I think for the first six months or so, it’s going to take time for priests to get into a new rhythm. Just like the laity have to get refocused a bit to concentrate on the responses, so are the priests. The language is more formal than it has been, which I do not think is a bad thing. I think it’s a good thing; it raises our bar for our presence and our worship with the Lord. 

Wood: For example, now we’re going to be using the word “consubstantial” [in the Creed]. This change gives us an opportunity to really think about what are we saying in that part of the prayer. Language is metaphorical, in a sense. The words help us get in touch with the bigger reality and do some reflection on the Mass and what it is we’re saying and participating in. In my experience, lay people are not getting hung up with the changes; they’ve appreciated the chance to have a deeper reflection on what we’re saying in the Mass. 

Is the Mass changing with the revised translation?

Father Burkart: The structure of the Mass is not changing. What is changing are many of the translations of the various prayers and responses of the Mass.

Who did the translation?

Father Burkart: The efforts of translation have taken many years. It is a long and labor-intensive process. It involves the International Committee on the English Language (ICEL), which is an international committee of bishops assisted by scholars that works with all of the English speaking conferences of bishops to assist in the translation from Latin to English. In the process of translation, ICEL made particular recommendations, [and] those recommendations were sent to the various conferences of bishops. Each bishop received a copy of the recommendations. He then had the opportunity to study it and consult with his own scholars. The recommendations were finally voted on within each conference of bishops and then sent back to ICEL. ICEL then continued the process, taking into consideration all of the feedback they have received. The Vatican also has a professional scholarly committee of translators for English called Vox Clara.