Background of the new Roman Missal translation:
It is important to remember that the Church’s universal liturgical language is Latin. This means that, in order for the new Roman Missal translation to be implemented all over the world, it needs to comfortably and appropriately find a home in numerous languages. For English-speaking countries, this task began shortly after the 3rd edition of the Roman Missal was issued in 2000. The Roman Missal translation that we will be implementing in Advent 2011, however, has a very different flavor from the translation of the second edition that we’ve been using these last few decades. So, what’s different about this translation and, more specifically, why does it sound different? What will be happening to the words we use at Mass?
In the first years of the renewal of the liturgy after the Second Vatican Council, the art of translating the Latin liturgical texts was just developing. The very first formal guidelines for translating Latin texts, followed a principle of translation that is known as dynamic equivalence. The main characteristic of this principle is that, when translating from one language to another, what is emphasized is the meaning, or the message of the text. So, under this principle, the English would not necessarily be a literal, word-for-word translation of the Latin.
The art of translating liturgical texts, however, is an art that has developed since the 1960s. For example, at one time we crossed ourselves saying, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,” instead of “Holy Spirit.” Even more recently, some will recall when, at the end of the first or second reading, the lector said, “This is the Word of the Lord,” instead of the current phrase, “The Word of the Lord.”
The developing nature of the art of translating liturgical texts became evident in 2001 when the Vatican issued new guidelines (Liturgiam Authenticam, Instruction on the use of vernacular languages in the publication of the books of the Roman Liturgy) to guide the Roman Missal translation of the third edition, which Pope John Paul II had approved that same year. These guidelines follow a principle of translation known as formal equivalence. The main characteristic of this principle is that, when translating from one language to another, what is emphasized is literal fidelity, rendering a word-for-word translation of the original source text.
In practical terms, the English used in the new Roman Missal translation will sound different from the current translation mainly because the methods and principles of translation that are used have changed.
Why does it have to change?
In short, because words matter! For example, consider a draft of the Declaration of Independence, which reveals a mysterious smudge of ink that has long baffled historians. Apparently, Thomas Jefferson changed his mind about a word and erased it while the ink was still wet. Scientists recently discovered that the word he erased was “subjects,” which he replaced with “citizens.” This one word re-defined the people of the American colonies. Words have the power to change lives and even alter the course of history.
Words can have a profound impact –for better or for worse – on our significant relationships. In the same way, words play a very important part in our relationship with God. Catholics worship using both words and sacrament (sign, symbol, ritual). The words we use in worship—which will be affected by the new Missal changes—are chosen carefully so as to best express our understanding of and relationship with God.
Some of these words we Catholics use in worship date all the way back to the time of the Apostles. For example, the words of Jesus, at the Last Supper, have been part of our Eucharistic celebrations for 2000 years. Most of the other words that make up the prayers and texts of the Mass have been brought together over a period of many years, including texts that are relatively new – written in the 20th century. In all of this, one thing remains clear – these words have power!
They have the power to form us and to shape us as Catholics. These prayers tell us what we believe – about God, about Jesus Christ and about our relationship with God. These words tell us what we believe about ourselves, about what God wants for us and from us, and about how we are to live in the world. The words with which we pray have the power to change us and to transform us.
Think about it – we hear these words week after week, season after season, year after year. When you look at it, it is easy to see that these words have an effect on us! They have an effect on our faith! They have an effect on our lives! It is the old adage of the Church, as it is expressed in Latin: Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi. That is, our prayer shapes our belief! Thus, the words with which we pray are no small matter!
So what will be different anyway?
One of the first characteristics you’ll notice is a more formal, elevated style of language. For example, in Eucharistic Prayer 1 you’ll hear, “To you, therefore, most merciful Father, we make humble prayer and petition through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord.” Remember, when we pray the texts of the Mass, we are addressing God the Father—the almighty creator of the universe—and the style of the English translation reflects this characteristic of the Missal texts.
A second characteristic of the Roman Missal translation is that the biblical references, and in many instances the quotes from Scripture, that are found in the Latin texts are restored and made more obvious. A good example of this is the invitation to Holy Communion and the response on page 6 of your pew cards. The priest will say, “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.” The allusions are to the Gospel of St. John (1:29) and to Revelation (19:9). We will then respond to the invitation, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” This is almost a direct quote from the account of the Centurion in the Gospel of St. Luke (7:6-7).
Another characteristic of the new Roman Missal English translation is how closely it follows the poetry and literary style of the Latin. For example, in the Gloria on page 2 of your pew cards we will sing, “We praise you, we bless you, we adore you, we glorify you, we give you thanks for your great glory, Lord God, heavenly King, O God, almighty Father.” Notice the poetic quality and the repetitive rhythm of “We praise…we bless…we adore…we glorify…”
There’s one other characteristic you’ll notice. In many instances, the English translation of the Latin texts is more closely in line with the translations of other languages in the world. For example, in almost every other major language of the world, the response to “The Lord be with you” has always been “And with your Spirit.” This is how it is translated in Spanish, French, Italian, German, Polish . . . even in the African language of isiZulu. The translation of the Mass texts can serve as a beautiful reminder that, as the Scriptures tell us, we are all one in Christ Jesus.
Just as we pause to take in the beauty and complexity of a work of art, we also need to stand back and look carefully at the words of the new Roman Missal translation, allowing them to speak to us at a deeper level than do ordinary words and phrases. Over time, as we continue to ponder and reflect on these words and images, they will reveal to us ever-deeper levels of meaning that we may miss at first glance. In doing so, they draw us deeper and deeper into the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ.