Why the changes? Office of Worship explains, answers the question

November 8, 2011

Editor’s note
In April 2010, the Vatican approved the third translation of the Roman Missal — the book containing prayers for the Roman Catholic Mass — prompting changes to familiar prayers and responses said in Catholic parishes around the English-speaking world. 

Starting Nov. 27, 2011, priests and the faithful will use these revised phrases and prayers during Mass. These revisions will be the most significant change to the Mass in more than 40 years.

For several months, the
 Texas Catholic Herald featured a column about the Roman Missal by David Wood, Director of the Archdiocesan Office of Worship. Here are Woods’ first two columns on the Missal. 

FROM DEC. 7, 2010

It has been more than 40 years since the Second Vatican Council called for a revision of the Liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church. This revision included a restoration of the classical shape of the Liturgy, the increase in the sacred scriptures proclaimed during the Liturgy and, of course, the translation of the texts of the Liturgy from Latin to the languages of the people — including English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Igbo, French, Italian, Polish, Korean and Chinese, some of the languages in which the Liturgy is regularly celebrated within the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. 

Beginning with the First Sunday of Advent in 2011, the English-speaking faithful throughout the world will begin celebrating the Mass with a common, newly-translated, third edition of the Roman Missal, the book containing the prayers and chants for the celebration of the Mass. We are currently using the second edition promulgated in 1975 and published in the United States in 1985. 

The shape and structure of the Mass is not changing as it did following Vatican II. However, the new translation of the Roman Missal will require the faithful to learn some revised phrases in our responses, acclamations and prayers. The tone of the prayers and acclamations will be richer and more solemn but the words of the Scriptures proclaimed during the Liturgy of the Word will not change.

The goal of this new translation remains the same as the revision of the Liturgy following Vatican II, which is the full, conscious, active participation of the faithful in the Liturgy. One cannot overstate the importance of this participation. We are gifted with sharing in the divine life of the Holy Trinity through actual participation in the Liturgy. We are united to Christ and made sons and daughters of the Father through the Holy Spirit in Baptism. By the liturgical reception of Baptism and Confirmation we become temples of the Holy Spirit. Through the celebration of the Eucharist we are nourished, strengthened and sustained to lives of holiness to be icons of the presence of God.

God created us as social beings that interact and learn through our senses. Liturgy and the sacraments are words combined with signs and actions. By means of these signs perceptible to the senses, human sanctification is brought about in ways proper to each of the signs. The Liturgy of the Church is not simply a mental exercise. The goal is our entire being, mind and body, engaged in the Liturgy as we offer our praise and worship to God in union with Christ’s eternal sacrifice of praise. The Liturgy is a living expression of God’s love and the Church’s faith... †

FROM DEC. 21, 2010

The most common questions asked regarding the new translation of the Roman Missal are “Why do we need a new translation?” and “What is wrong with what we have?” 

Translation is an art and science. Open a dictionary and see the many meanings of a single word. Translation is not simply entering a word and receiving its exact equivalent in another language. Language is rooted in culture and experience. Consequently, the context in which a word is expressed informs its meaning. 

For centuries leading up to the Second Vatican Council, the Liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church was printed and prayed only in Latin. The Council called for a vernacular translation as expediently as possible to allow the faithful to enter more fully and fruitfully into the mystery of God’s love and grace made present and offered through the Liturgy.

The Church employed a “dynamic equivalence” which attempts to convey the meaning of the Latin without following a word-for-word approach. Occasionally, ideas not in the original Latin were added to the English. The translators also felt simplicity would be more comprehensible so many of the superlatives, adjectives and repetitions were eliminated. The Latin of the Roman Missal is poetic, lyrical, melodic, rich in theological meaning and rooted in history which the translation failed to capture. This resulted in a translation that has served the English-speaking world well but is often more of a paraphrase. 

In hindsight, the Church found this approach has been unable to capture the power and beauty of the original text. Nonetheless, because of the prominence of English throughout the world, many regions looked to the English translation when making their own translation. A translation of a paraphrase has posed additional concerns.

In the year 2000, Pope John Paul II issued the third edition of the Roman Missal which included Mass prayers for the new Saints canonized in the previous decades, including; St. Benedicta of the Cross; St. Elizabeth Ann Seton; St. Pio of Pietrelcina (Padre Pio); Sts. Andrew Dũng-Lac, among others. Other updates included needs based on other rites. For example, the current Missal does not account for the rites of the RCIA completely.

Armed with the experience of several decades of translation experience and greater awareness of the liturgical and Scriptural roots of the Missal texts and facing the need to make a new translation of the 2000 Roman Missal, a new instruction on liturgical translation was issued in 2001 (“Liturgiam Authenticam”) which called for a different approach termed “formal equivalence.” While not being slavishly literal, each word and phrase in the original Latin is to be accounted for. 

The result is a translation that brings out more clearly the Scriptural and Patristic allusions... The new translation builds upon, corrects and improves the existing texts thus handing on more fruitfully the faith of the Church expressed in the Liturgy. What we are currently using is good but we have learned that it can be better. We always strive to offer God our best in the Liturgy. †

David Wood is the Archdiocesan Director of the Office of Worship.