The Second Vatican Council was one of the singular gifts of God’s grace in the 20th century. In a century of unprecedented bloodshed, genocide, war and ethical upheavals, the Catholic Church boldly proclaimed in the texts of the council truths ever ancient, ever new: the singularity of Jesus Christ and his church; the universal call to holiness; the profound importance of Sacred Scripture in Christian discipleship; and the truth that the liturgy is the source and summit of the Christian life.
Certainly one of the most obvious outcomes of this great ecumenical council was the reform of the liturgy, that is, the public prayer of the church.
As enunciated in the first published document of the council, “Sacrosanctum Concilium,” an explicit goal of these reforms was the “full, active, and conscious participation” of the people of God in this public prayer, especially in the holy Mass.
To aid in this kind of participation, which is at its root a union of mind and heart with the mysteries being celebrated, the council paved the way for a greater use of the vernacular in the liturgy. Very quickly after the council’s conclusion, the revised rituals and liturgical texts of the Latin church were translated from the original Latin, which remains the official language of the Latin church, into the many vernacular languages of the world.
And so the “Novus Ordo” or, “New Order of Mass” was soon available the world over in the language of the country in which the Mass was being offered. In 1974, an official English translation was released in the United States. We have been praying with it ever since.
After the Council, the process of translating these revised texts from the Latin source into the many vernacular languages of the world was guided by an important document entitled, “Comme Le Prevoit.” This document, composed and approved by the church in 1969, gave the translators of liturgical texts certain principles to follow when trying to communicate the ideas found within the original Latin texts. One such principle was “dynamic equivalence,” which encouraged translators to utilize their skills to best convey the basic meaning of the texts, even when it involved simplifying or modifying the words of the original.
A different approach
We have had nearly 40 years to pray the Mass utilizing the 1974 translation. Many have been nourished and sustained by the words within it. Many Catholics in the United States have prayed the Mass in English using these words all of their life. It is all they have known. It is all I have known.
But as Blessed John XXIII, the great pope who convened the Second Vatican Council reminded us, the church is both our mother and our teacher, and as a mother and a teacher she has the duty to constantly lead and form her children in the ways of prayer and worship, even when that duty leads her to change cherished texts.
Desiring to continue to harvest the rich fields of the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council, the church released in 2001 a pivotal document entitled “Liturgiam Authenticam,” which established new principles upon which the translation of liturgical texts was to be based from this point forward.
As opposed to the dynamic equivalence of “Comme Le Prevoit,” this new document called for “formal equivalence,” a way of translating that demands a more exacting translation, without paraphrases or glosses.
The root behind these new principles was nothing other than the experience of the church, gained since the council. It must be admitted that the current translation in use was completed after only a few years following the Second Vatican Council’s conclusion, and there needed to be time to process and digest the new language of public prayer.
“Liturgiam Authenticam” sought to affirm what had worked well since the Second Vatican Council in the translation of liturgical texts, but also to correct what needed refinement. Our new translation of the “Novus Ordo,” to be used later this year, is an attempt to follow the new principles of translation outlined by the church in “Liturgiam Authenticam.”
A look back
Closely connected to the release of “Liturgiam Authenticam” was the decision of Blessed John Paul II to announce in the Jubilee Year of 2000 the publication of a new “Roman Missal,” that is, a new book of prayers for the Mass.
The final Latin text of this missal was not completed until 2002. This would be the third such “typical edition” missal since the Second Vatican Council, the first being released in 1969, the second in 1975.
The missals of 1975 and 2002 were mostly simple reprints of the original 1969 Latin text, but they did add new prayers and new saints, and offer clarifications on the celebration of the Mass. For example, the 2002 missal includes new prayers for Masses offered in honor of St. Josephine Bakhita, an African nun from Darfur.
When the third edition of the Roman Missal was released in 2002 in Latin, the episcopal conferences around the world were given the historic and monumental task of translating this new text into the vernacular, utilizing the principles found in “Liturgiam Authenticam.”
And so, for the past decade, this has been the constant project of liturgists, theologians and bishops’ committees. It has been a laborious process, but one that has involved much more consultation, conversation and debate than the 1974 English text.
After these many years of consultation, debate, votes and thorough analysis, the English translation of the third edition of the Roman Missal is now ready for use in the United States. We will begin to use it on Nov. 27.
While these new words will be challenging to us all for a whole host of different reasons, this moment in our church’s life is nevertheless a privileged chance to once again truly listen to what we are saying when we participate in the Holy Mass.
In this time of learning and new beginnings, priests and laity alike will need to slow down and truly pay attention to what we are saying and hearing at the Mass, so as to learn again — better yet, so as to remember again the meaning of this foundational prayer. If we do this, not only will we be better able to proclaim new words at Mass, we ourselves will be made new.
Father John Paul Erickson is director of the archdiocesan Office of Worship.
Category: New Roman Missal