In the Jubilee Year 2000, Pope John Paul II issued a motu proprio in which he announced a forthcoming Third Edition of the Missale Romanum. Once this became available in 2002, bishops all over the world began a rigorous and time-consuming process of translating it into the vernacular languages used in the liturgy. The task of translation into English was assigned to the International Committee on English in the Liturgy in coordination with the bishops’ conferences of the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and other English-speaking countries. Once ICEL completed a draft English translation of the Roman Missal, it was submitted to the bishops’ conferences for review and approval. On June 15, 2006, after lengthy discussion and debate, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) approved the draft ICEL text of the Roman Missal, while forwarding some minor suggested changes in this text to the Vox Clara Committee (which assists the Vatican with English liturgical translations) and the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. The Congregation and Vox Clara reviewed the bishops’ suggestions, made some slight changes to the new English text based on them, and then returned it to the bishops for their final approval. On November 20, 2009, the U.S. bishops approved the new English translation of the Missale Romanum, and their approval was confirmed by the Holy See on March 26, 2010. After undergoing a final review and edit by Vatican officials, the English translation of the Third Edition of the Roman Missal was officially sanctioned by the Holy See in July 2010. Now the new missals for use at Mass could be printed, and catechesis efforts could be launched to prepare English-speaking Catholics for implementation of the new Roman Missal the following year.
Translating the Liturgy
Since Vatican II, the Church has issued certain norms for the translation of liturgical texts from Latin into the vernacular. In 1969, the Council issued an Instruction titled Comme le Prevoit, which set guidelines for liturgical translators. This document established a guiding principle called “dynamic equivalence,” which involved the translation of basic thoughts rather than words. Translators working on this principle tried to convey the meaning of the original Latin text of the Roman Missal rather than the text itself. The result was a Mass translation into the English vernacular that sounded very modern and was easily understood, but at the price of significantly deviating from the original Latin text. In several subsequent Instructions issued by the Vatican, translation guidelines were adjusted somewhat but the central principle of dynamic equivalence was retained. The 1974 and 1985 English translations of the First and Second Editions of the Missale Romanum, respectively, followed this principle. Scriptural translations for use in the liturgy, such as the 1970 English translation of the New American Bible from Hebrew, were also based on the principle of dynamic equivalence.
In 2001, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments issued the Church’s fifth Instruction for liturgical translators since the Council. This document, entitled Liturgiam Authenticam, marked a paradigm shift in the translation of liturgical texts, as it replaced dynamic equivalence with a new guiding principle for translators called “formal equivalence.” Formal equivalence involves rendering the Latin text of the Roman Missal as faithfully as possible into the vernacular. Liturgiam Authenticam defines this principle as follows: “While it is permissible to arrange the wording, the syntax and the style in such a way as to prepare a flowing vernacular text suitable to the rhythm of popular prayer, the original text insofar as possible, must be translated integrally and in the most exact manner, without omissions or additions in terms of their content, and without paraphrases or glosses.” (LA, § 20) The result is an accurate and dignified translation of the Mass into English that allows the beauty and grandeur of the original Latin text to shine through. The new English translation of the Missale Romanum, Third Edition, follows this principle of formal equivalence. So do scriptural translations for use in the liturgy, such as the 1998 translation of the New Testament NAB from the traditional Latin Vulgate.
Why has the post-Vatican II Church shifted from one translation principle to another? To answer this question, we must clarify our understanding of the vision for authentic liturgical renewal set forth by the Second Vatican Council. The Third Edition of the Roman Missal, soon to be implemented in thousands of parishes, is more faithful than either of its predecessors to that vision for true renewal. It presents a golden opportunity for us English-speaking Catholics to review and reflect on the reality of what the Mass really is, as well as to deepen our appreciation for the rich liturgical heritage of the Catholic Church’s Latin Rite.
Worship and Liturgy
The Sacred Liturgy, which we call the Mass in the Latin Rite, is our formal public worship of God as Catholics. It’s “the great prayer of the Church” offered with Christ to God the Father in the Holy Spirit. In the Mass, Jesus offers Himself to the Father in atonement for our sins, and his Body and Blood become food for our souls. At the heart of the Sacred Liturgy is the Eucharist, which is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus physically present under the appearances of bread and wine. Thus the Mass is the celebration of the Eucharist and a re-presentation of Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross for our salvation two thousand years ago. The word “Eucharist” means “thanksgiving,” and in its Eucharistic worship, the Church is always giving thanks to God the Father for our deliverance from sin and our reconciliation to Him through the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ. The Eucharist is of paramount importance since it is the source, center and summit of the Church’s life according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Thus the matter of how the Mass should be celebrated, called “liturgy,” takes on great importance as well.
How should we worship God? This fundamental human question has rung through the ages. When Adam and Eve sinned and disobeyed God at the beginning of human history, God promised to send a Savior to free human beings from sin and reconcile them to Himself. His grand plan of salvation began in the Old Testament when God chose a people for Himself—the Jewish people. He delivered them from slavery in Egypt; brought them into the Promised Land; and revealed to them how He wanted to be worshiped. He gave Moses careful, detailed instructions for the building and furnishing of the Temple, the vestments to be worn by the priests, the prayers to be recited, and the offering of various animal sacrifices for sin. This instruction manual for Jewish worship comprised a large portion of the latter four Books of Moses (Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy). The practice of Jewish liturgy according to the Mosaic Law not only gave due honor and glory to God, but it also united the Israelite community and formed the core of their identity as a people. The summit of the Jewish religion was the annual celebration of Passover, when the Israelites converged on Jerusalem to sacrifice and eat the Paschal lamb in joyful remembrance of their deliverance from slavery in Egypt.
God established the worship rituals of the Old Testament not as permanent and complete in themselves, but as a preparation for the perfect New Testament worship to be offered by His Son and our Savior, Jesus Christ. In the Old Testament, the Temple priests would offer animal sacrifices to God in atonement for sin, but these sacrifices were imperfect because they could not take away sin. Jesus, the mediator of the New Testament, is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world by His sacrifice on the Cross. His obedience repairs the damage done by Adam’s sin of disobedience. The summit of our Catholic religion is the celebration of Mass, which is the Paschal Mystery of Christ’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection. When we attend Mass, we participate in this perfect sacrifice of Christ. Thus our Catholic worship is a natural and logical descendant of Jewish worship.
The early Church spontaneously developed its own basic form of Eucharistic worship based on the Jewish Sabbath liturgy. Over the course of centuries, in the varied soils of the Middle East and Europe, this same liturgical seed grew into slightly different rites watered by theological reflection and increasing awareness of the riches contained in the mystery of the Eucharist. Today there are twenty-one approved rites for the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy within the universal Church, of which the Latin Rite (also called the Roman Rite because the Vatican uses it) is the largest. Although slightly different in their external rituals and ceremonies, all these rites share the same basic form of Eucharistic worship that has remained unchanged through the ages. Saint Justin’s description of the Eucharistic liturgy written in 155 A.D. is remarkably similar to our modern Latin Rite Mass.
In his classic work The Spirit of the Liturgy, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) makes the point that we’re supposed to worship God the way He wants to be worshiped, not the way we want to worship Him. This is because liturgy is not our work but our participation in God’s work of redemption. In the Old Testament, God promised the Israelites that if they obeyed the Ten Commandments, kept the Law of Moses and worshiped Him faithfully according to the divinely prescribed rubrics, He would remain with them and bless them and they would prosper. On the other hand, if they disobeyed the Commandments, disregarded the Law and substituted their own liturgical ideas for the divine ordinances, God would punish them. God kept His promises, and the Jewish people flourished as long as they remained obedient to God. But when they rebelled against God, they incurred His wrath and dreadful punishments.
These same principles apply to Catholics, who are the New Testament people of God. With authority given by Christ Himself, the Church teaches the truth, makes certain laws and sets the rules for New Testament worship. If we believe everything the Church teaches, obey her laws and participate faithfully in the proper celebration of the Eucharist, we will glorify God and be the holy people God is calling us to be. However, if we pick and choose which Church doctrines to believe, ignore Church laws and elevate our personal ideas for worship above the Church’s established liturgical rules, we insult God and risk His just punishment.
Evidently, humility and obedience are essential components of true worship. In fact, the interior dispositions of the heart are even more important than external liturgical practice. In the Old Testament, God made clear that the sacrifice of animals was meaningless without the sacrifice of obedience in the human heart: “More precious than sacrifice is obedience, submission better than the fat of rams!” (RSV, 1 Sam. 15:22) “Sacrifice or oblation you wished not, but ears open to obedience you gave me…Behold, I come to do your will, O God!” (NAB, Psalm 40:7, 9) Obedience, the humble sacrifice of our preferences to God’s Will, is the most perfect form of worship.
When it comes to Catholic worship today, there are those who think they know better than God and the Church. Their concept of liturgy has more in common with the feel-good pop psychology of the sixties than with ancient Jewish and Catholic worship traditions. “Authority” and “tradition” are bad words to them. They treat the Church’s regulations for worship as suggestions and reject its rich 2,000-year liturgical history out of hand in favor of their own innovative worship preferences. Such privately determined “worship” has no place in the Church. It is built on disobedience, the prideful exaltation of human ideas and preferences above God’s Will. In fact, it is the ultimate form of idolatry: the worship of ourselves.
The Language of Catholic Worship
But how did Latin come to be the official language of Catholic worship in the Roman Rite, and why does the Church give it so much importance? To answer these questions, let’s take a brief look at the development of this lingua franca within the Church.
In the early centuries of Christianity, the dominant formative cultural influence on the Church was the Roman Empire, whose official language was Latin. Rome became both the center of the universal Church and the capital of the Western Church. Latin was the universal language of the known world at that time; this, combined with its stable and unchanging nature, led to its adoption as the common language of the Western Church by the fourth century and eventually to its official adoption as the language of the Roman Rite about the year 1030. Saint Jerome translated the ancient Hebrew and Greek Scriptures into Latin near the end of the fourth century, and the resulting “Latin Vulgate” edition became the official Bible of the Western Church for the next 1500 years. Latin became a common bond uniting Catholics across the European continent and a vital element in the development of Western Catholic learning and culture. As the Roman Empire fell apart and barbarians ravaged Europe during the Dark Ages, Saint Benedict founded a chain of monasteries where monks painstakingly hand copied the Latin Bible; preserved Gregorian Chant for the singing of the Mass; and translated great literary works from Latin into the various European languages. These monasteries were little oases of civilization where literature, art, architecture, music, gardening and scientific knowledge were quietly preserved during a hostile time.
When conditions improved, these seeds of culture sprouted, bursting into full flower during the Middle Ages. The Latin Mass was then the focal point of European society and the wellspring of its culture; the best art, architecture and music were produced for the glory of God to enhance Catholic worship. Latin Rite Catholicism was the driving force behind the towering cultural achievements of this era including magnificent Gothic cathedrals, polyphonic chant, Saint Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica, the medieval universities, the poetry of Dante, the invention of the printing press, and the discovery of America. Knowledge of Latin remained widespread even as the cultural influence of the Church gradually decreased during the Renaissance and Age of Enlightenment in the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries. The ancient language of the Roman Catholic liturgy has profoundly shaped our modern Western culture; from science and medicine to law and politics and even to our English language, not a single area of life remains untouched by it.
The Latin Mass is our religious inheritance as Latin Rite Catholics and our cultural inheritance as members of Western civilization. Unfortunately, this heritage has been forgotten in the last forty years, to the point where many Catholics are not even familiar with Latin. Moreover, the relationship between liturgy and culture has been reversed: whereas liturgy used to shape culture, now popular culture influences the liturgy. Modern Catholic worship is often adapted to “fit in” with the surrounding pop culture, a culture that has completely broken off from the Church and is often hostile to it. These developments are part of a serious liturgical and cultural crisis that has gripped the Church in the wake of the Second Vatican Council.
Vatican II and Modern Liturgical Reform
Ever since Vatican II, a popular misperception has spread among Catholics as to what the Council intended concerning the Sacred Liturgy and, in a broader sense, concerning the Church herself. The sweeping liturgical and other reforms of the Council were widely misinterpreted as implying a radical change in the nature of the Mass and of the Church. Celebration of the liturgy in Latin, strict adherence to the prescribed rubrics, the concept of the Mass as sacrifice, and the dignity of the priesthood (in the case of the liturgy)—the Church as the Bride of Christ with infallible teaching authority, preserving and handing on the deposit of faith (in the case of the Church)—all of these suddenly became old-fashioned, “pre-Vatican II” ideas and were replaced with an “anything goes” mentality in “the spirit of Vatican II.” The Mass was no longer seen as the Church’s worship offered to God but as a celebration of human togetherness subject to the whims of the local community. Similarly, it was now up to the individual Catholic to believe and live as he pleased regardless of official Church doctrine and laws. Vatican II transformed the Church from a monarchy into a democracy. This unfortunate heresy known as “the spirit of Vatican II” has done catastrophic damage to the faith of millions of Catholics. It has even spawned an opposite myth adhered to by some traditionalist Catholics that the entire Second Vatican Council was heretical and its reforms null and void.
Yet despite these grave misperceptions and their accompanying fallout, there was nothing wrong with the Second Vatican Council. It simply applied traditional Church doctrine to the modern world, introduced reforms into the Church’s liturgy and calendar, and changed certain Church laws, all to help Catholics better live their faith and to enable the Church to effectively evangelize the modern world. The chief problems for the Council’s liturgical reforms have been misinterpretation and incorrect application of its directives by the clergy, and a lack of proper education with resulting misunderstandings by the laity. After the Council, many bishops and priests rushed into the liturgical changes and did a poor job of explaining to the faithful the reasons for those changes. This left lay Catholics unsettled and confused and even led some to abandon the Church altogether because the Mass appeared no longer recognizable. Very few Catholics bothered to read the actual documents of Vatican II, including the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum concilium), although good English translations of these documents were widely available. Moreover, in addition to problems from within the Church, the prevailing spirit of rebellion against authority in 1960s society influenced many Catholics to interpret and embrace Vatican II as a rebellion against traditional Catholicism. Even today many lack a proper understanding of what the Second Vatican Council had in mind for the Church in general and the Eucharistic liturgy in particular.
What did the Second Vatican Council intend—and not intend—with regard to the Church’s liturgy, specifically in the Latin Rite? To answer these questions, we can do nothing better than refer to the Council’s charter document for liturgical reform, Sacrosanctum concilium (in the Vatican’s official English translation). Glancing at the text, we notice immediately that one of the most frequently recurring words in this document is “tradition.” It’s obvious from the opening paragraphs that Vatican II never intended to radically change the Church or do away with liturgical tradition. Paragraph 23 of Sacrosanctum concilium, which sums up the Council’s guidelines for reform of the liturgy, dispels the myth that Vatican II fundamentally redefined the nature of the Mass:
That sound tradition may be retained, and yet the way remain open to legitimateIn other words, Vatican II did not erect a massive wall of separation between the pre-Vatican II and post-Vatican II Mass. Even after the Council, liturgical tradition was to be given preference to innovation; only necessary changes were to be made in the rubrics; and these innovations must have some connection to preexisting liturgical forms. The paragraph above encapsulates the true spirit of Vatican II: careful, measured reform within the context of sound tradition.
progress, careful investigation is always to be made into each part of the liturgy which is to be revised. This investigation should be theological, historical, and pastoral. Also the general laws governing the structure and meaning of the liturgy must be studied in conjunction with the experience derived from recent liturgical reforms and from the indults conceded to various places. Finally, there must be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them; and care must be taken that any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing.
Furthermore, the Council fathers never intended that Latin Rite Catholics lose all touch with their splendid liturgical heritage. Supposedly, Vatican II put the Latin Mass in the Church’s closet and gave official preference to Mass said in the vernacular. Not so. While acknowledging that increased use of the “mother tongue” (the vernacular) in the liturgy “frequently may be of great advantage to the people,” Sacrosanctum concilium stipulated that “the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites.” (SC, § 36, 1) The document also directed that “steps should be taken so that the faithful may be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them.” (SC, § 54) Whether any parts of the Mass at all were to be said in the vernacular, and if so which parts, was to be determined by “the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority mentioned in Art. 22, 2,” that is, by the local bishops’ conference. However, it’s important to clarify that Vatican II did not intend to impose on the Church through the bishops a stiff rigidity in this matter. During an interview with Raymond Arroyo on EWTN in 2003, Cardinal Francis Arinze, who was then Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, said that “there should be flexibility” in the use of the Latin and the vernacular in the liturgy.
Supposedly also, Vatican II did away with Gregorian chant in favor of new, privately composed arrangements of liturgical music in the vernacular. Here again, the Council did no such thing; in fact, it intended that Gregorian chant be retained in the Roman Rite liturgy and that Catholics remain familiar with it. Sacrosanctum concilium states: “The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services.” (SC, § 116) In April 1974, Pope Paul VI issued a booklet for Latin Rite Catholics called Jubilate Deo. This prayer book, which is still in print and includes simple and easy-to-sing chants for the Ordinary parts of the Mass (such as the Kyrie, Gloria and Sanctus), was issued with the stated purpose of promoting “a minimum repertoire of plain chant” among the Catholic faithful.
The intention of Vatican II regarding the liturgy was to encourage “fully conscious and active participation” (SC, § 14) in the Mass for the greater spiritual benefit of the faithful worldwide. To this end, a revised Order of Mass (Novus Ordo) was compiled in Latin that simplified the text and rubrics of the Latin Rite Mass. Moreover, permission was given for the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy in the vernacular languages of the world; for the use of various musical instruments in addition to the traditional pipe organ; for priests to celebrate Mass facing the people if they wished; and for the reception of Holy Communion in the hand. Such extensive advantage has been taken of these permissions that Catholics have come to think of each as being the norm. However, all of these permissions are actually temporary indults, or special privileges granted in exception to permanent Church laws governing the Roman Rite. None of them are mandated or required by Vatican II, and the Church has the authority to extend these indults indefinitely or to revoke any of them at any time.
The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy clearly indicates that the purpose of the Second Vatican Council’s liturgical reforms was not to jettison liturgical tradition or destroy the sacred character of the Mass but to preserve and hand on the Church’s greatest treasure to the Catholics of the modern world.
The aim of the Second Vatican Council’s liturgical reforms was to promote a period of careful and strictly regulated liturgical experimentation to determine what would best help Catholics in the pews participate with their whole being in the Sacred Liturgy. The goal of the Novus Ordo and of the indults was not to diminish the sacred character of the Mass, to eliminate the use of Latin from it, or to make it plainer and more acceptable to contemporary social tastes. Unfortunately, these unintended consequences of Vatican II have become commonplace in the decades since the Council. As a result, millions of Catholics are now accustomed to an informal, casual style of worship exclusively in the vernacular that diminishes the sacredness of the Mass and makes them feel more comfortable. Some don’t like the upcoming changes in the Roman Missal, which they see as amounting to a repudiation of Vatican II and as discouraging active lay participation in the liturgy. Such misperceptions arise from a lack of proper education and understanding of what the new Roman Missal is all about, and more fundamentally, of what Vatican II was all about. Unfortunately, the somewhat inferior English Mass translation that has been in use for the last forty years has only reinforced these misperceptions.
Prior to Vatican II, the average Catholic never thought of complaining about the way Mass was celebrated; he simply accepted it the way it was in obedience to the Church. Now, however, many Catholics claim the right to have a say in how Mass is said. This stems from one of the biggest myths about Vatican II: that the Council authorized lay Catholic liturgists to manipulate the liturgy according to their own private whims and fancies. But Vatican II never gave laypeople authority to decide how the Mass is celebrated. It’s up to the Church—specifically, to the Pope and the bishops united with him—to set the rules for Catholic worship: “…no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority.” (SC, § 22, 3)
The only significant liturgical change mandated by Vatican II was the replacement of the 1962 Order of Mass (commonly known as the “Tridentine” Mass) with the Novus Ordo as the Ordinary Form of the liturgy in the Roman Rite. However, this was not a radical liturgical revolution as it is often perceived. The traditional Latin Mass and the Latin Novus Ordo are much closer akin than many people realize. Much of the Latin text of the Tridentine Mass was retained verbatim in the Novus Ordo. Furthermore, contrary to popular belief, Vatican II did not scrap the traditional Latin Mass altogether. Acknowledging its important place in the Latin Rite liturgical tradition, the Council retained the Latin Mass of 1962 as the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite liturgy, giving bishops the authority to allow its occasional celebration in their dioceses. Unfortunately, very few bishops have granted permission for this since the Council.
Roman Missal 3.0
When many of us first heard that a new English translation of the liturgy was being prepared, the news brought some angst. We’re used to the way Mass has been said in the Latin Rite our whole lives, and we’d like it to stay that way. Change is unwelcome. Fortunately, our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI understands the challenge as well as the opportunity that the new Mass text poses for English-speaking Catholics. “Many will find it hard to adjust to unfamiliar texts after nearly forty years of continuous use of the previous translation,” His Holiness remarked to members of Vox Clara in April 2010. Because of this, he added, “The change will need to be introduced with due sensitivity.”
But, some Catholics object, why can’t the Church retain the familiar English Mass translation it has been using since Vatican II? This objection indicates a narrow and distorted vision of the Church’s liturgy based on a mere few decades of experiencing the Latin Rite Mass exclusively in English. The answer to it is that the translation we’re used to was intended by the Church to be part of the period of careful experimentation following the Council. The Council’s Instruction Comme le Prevoit stated: “Above all, after sufficient experimentation and passage of time, all translations will need review.” The Instruction did not say that some translations might need review, but that all translations would. This clearly indicates that the new liturgical translations following Vatican II were not meant to be carved in stone, but to be eventually reviewed and revised.
The foundational text for the Novus Ordo Mass in the Latin Rite from which all vernacular liturgical texts are translated is the Missale Romanum (Roman Missal) issued in Latin by the Holy See. This contains both the Ordinary of the Mass (the unchangeable parts of the liturgy) and Propers for Mass (parts of the liturgy such as Scripture readings and certain prayers that change from day to day and season to season). Three editions of the Missale Romanum have been promulgated since Vatican II—one in 1969, one in 1975 and one in 2000. There have been very few changes to the Latin text of the Ordinary of the Mass through these three editions. Their main features have been additions to the Ordinary and the Propers and changes in some of the Proper prayers, with most of the additions and changes to the Propers resulting from revisions in the liturgical calendar. In this tradition, the Third Edition of the Roman Missal adds several new Prefaces for Eucharistic Prayers to the Ordinary, as well as new Votive Masses and prayers for the feasts of new saints to the Propers. Most of the differences we’ll be noticing in the English words of the Ordinary of the Mass on November 27, 2011 will stem from changes in translation based on the new principle of formal equivalence, not from changes in the Latin text of the Missale Romanum.
Many Latin Rite Catholics today lack familiarity with the original Latin words of the Mass. As a result, they are comparing, analyzing, and judging the old and new English Mass translations based solely on their perceived merits and demerits in the vernacular. This is unfortunate, because being cut off from the mother language of the liturgy presents a barrier to the proper understanding of any vernacular Mass text that comes from it. The true standard by which a vernacular Mass translation may be judged is its fidelity to the Latin text of the Missale Romanum. That text deserves considerable respect because it contains the accumulated riches of 2,000 years of Catholic liturgical tradition.
The new English translation of the Roman Missal includes a Mass text that is much more faithful to the original Latin than the 1974 and 1985 English Mass texts. For example, the first sentence of the Gloria in the Missale Romanum reads, “Gloria in excelsis Deo et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis.” The new English translation of this passage reads: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will.” This is a precise, word-for-word rendering of the Latin text. By contrast, the previous translations read: “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth.” This rendering deleted the words “bonae voluntatis,” “good will,” and replaced “people of good will” with the more ambiguous term “his people,” thus losing some of the meaning of the original text. Another example is the first word of the Creed in the Missale Romanum, “Credo,” which literally means “I believe” and is rendered this way in the new translation. The outgoing translation reads “We believe,” diluting the significance of the Creed as a solemn statement of faith pronounced by each individual believer. Another part of the Creed that in the Missale Romanum reads “consubstantialem Patris” is accurately rendered “consubstantial with the Father” in the new translation. The same text appears in the outgoing version as “one in being with the Father,” which is similar in meaning but not as accurate a translation of the original Latin. The new Mass text also includes a literal translation of the traditional Latin response, “Et cum spiritu tuo”—“And with your spirit.” The previous translation, “And also with you,” is a paraphrase that has no precedent in our liturgical tradition. A fifth example of the fidelity of the new Mass text to the Missale Romanum is the prayer of priest and people before Communion, which reads in Latin: “Domine, non sum dignus ut inters sub tectum meum: sed tantum dic verbo, et sanabitur anima mea.” The new translation is a faithful rendering of that text: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” The 1985 translation, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed,” changes some of the literal Scriptural text of this passage and dilutes some of its meaning.
Besides fidelity to the Latin, the new English Mass text has many other positive qualities that reflect its linguistic origin. One of these is a more formal and reverent tone that is better suited to divine worship. This is evident in a passage from the first Eucharistic Prayer, which in the outgoing translation reads: “Look with favor on these offerings and accept them as once you accepted the gifts of your servant Abel, the sacrifice of Abraham, our father in faith, and the bread and wine offered by your priest Melchizedech.” Here is the same passage in the new translation: “Be pleased to look upon these offerings with a serene and kindly countenance, and to accept them, as you were pleased to accept the gifts of your servant Abel the just, the sacrifice of Abraham, our father in faith, and the offering of your high priest Melchizedech, a holy sacrifice, a spotless victim.” This example also makes clear that intelligibility, good taste and beauty have not been sacrificed to accuracy in the new translation. Although traditional and dignified, there is nothing archaic or arcane about it. It is not a turning back of the liturgical clock to before Vatican II as some contend. There is no “Holy Ghost” or “thee” or “thou” to be found in it. The words of the new English liturgical text are simple and modern, yet they join together to form a beautiful, poetic rhythm reflecting the rhythm of the Latin and suited to the great prayer of the Church.
And even if we cannot fully grasp the reason for the wording of any part of the new Mass text, we ought to trust our Holy Mother the Church regarding it and accept it in a spirit of humble obedience to her. The new English translation of Mass is not the hasty work of one bishop or one translator, but the product of many thousands of hours of intense labor by all the English-speaking bishops of the world working together in careful collaboration under the direction of the Holy See. These prelates deserve recognition and hearty gratitude for providing English-speaking Catholics of the Latin Rite with a new and sound translation of the Sacred Liturgy that grows organically from their liturgical tradition while also fulfilling the aims of the Second Vatican Council.
Naturally, it will take some time for priests and laity alike to adjust to the words and phrases of the new Mass translation. The burden of adjustment will fall on our priests, since there are many more changes in the words of the priest than in the words of the people. In fact, a majority of the changes in the English Mass text occur in the four Eucharistic Prayers, where nearly every sentence has been reworded to better match the original Latin. Yet through all the changes in words of priest and people, the familiar prayers of the Novus Ordo Mass are still recognizable, and the basic form of the liturgy remains unchanged.
Catechesis, Catechesis, Catechesis
Widespread failure to correctly understand and implement the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council has produced a decades-long liturgical crisis in the Catholic Church, leaving the true aims of the Council fathers largely unrealized to date. However, during this dark and turbulent period for the Church, scattered glimmers of light have reflected the Council’s true vision for liturgical renewal. Two of these have been the Adoremus Society and Ignatius Press, both founded by Father Joseph Fessio, a Jesuit priest who studied for the priesthood under Cardinal Ratzinger in the 1970s. A close friend of our current pontiff, Father Fessio is deeply familiar with his traditional Catholic vision of the liturgy, and has conveyed that vision for many years in publications such as the Adoremus Bulletin, the Adoremus Hymnal and numerous books by Ratzinger, especially The Spirit of the Liturgy. These materials have helped familiarize American Catholics with the true spirit of Vatican II regarding the liturgy.
Another bright glimmer of light in the darkness of the post-Vatican II era has been the daily celebration of Mass in the tiny chapel of Our Lady of the Angels Monastery founded by Mother Angelica in Irondale, Alabama. Here, as in few other places in America, the celebration of the Novus Ordo liturgy has consistently followed the terms of Sacrosanctum concilium: certain parts of the Mass are always said or sung in Latin; Gregorian chant is a mainstay of the liturgical music; and missals are available to help people follow along with the Latin parts of the Ordinary. Different priests vary in their use of Latin and English in the liturgy, offering a good example of the flexibility that Cardinal Arinze referred to. Like the Benedictine monasteries of the European Dark Ages, Our Lady of the Angels has helped preserve the rich liturgical tradition of the Latin Rite and the true spirit of Vatican II through difficult times for the Church in the United States. Not only has it done that, but through daily broadcast of the Mass on the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), it has communicated that tradition and that spirit to millions of Catholics across the United States, providing invaluable catechesis and promoting liturgical renewal in fidelity to the Second Vatican Council.
The implementation of the Missale Romanum, Third Edition, presents an excellent opportunity to correct the widespread misperceptions regarding the liturgical reforms of Vatican II. However, this educational opportunity must be seized and taken proper advantage of, not allowed to slide by. Pope Benedict underlined the importance of this in his April 2010 address to members of Vox Clara when he stated that “the opportunity for catechesis that it [the new Roman Missal] presents will need to be firmly grasped.”
Education is the key to understanding. Without proper catechesis, English-speaking Catholics of the Latin Rite will not correctly understand the reasons for the changes or appreciate the new translation. This catechesis should currently be going on in parishes across the United States to prepare parish staff and musicians for the new Roman Missal. However, the author is concerned that not enough is being done at the parish level to prepare the average Catholic in the pew for the changes in the Mass text. The extent of catechesis he has seen in his parish so far has been a brief mention in the bulletin of an invitation to a meeting being held at a neighboring parish to discuss the upcoming changes in the Roman Missal. This approach is simply not going to cut it for the millions of American Catholic laypeople who make up the lion’s share of the Church in the United States. These people shouldn’t have to go out of their way to learn about the new Roman Missal that will soon be taking effect. The catechesis should be brought to them on a platter when they come to church on Sunday. It should be served by the priest from the pulpit, on color inserts in the bulletin, in flyers in the pews, in the parish newsletter, and in pamphlets in the back of the church that people can take home with them. Catechesis about the new Mass translation must take the form of an all-out informational campaign based on the premise that all Catholics must be informed and prepared; otherwise, it will be ineffective, and the vast majority of Catholics in the United States will be unprepared for November 27, 2011.
All the same, there are many things that lay Catholics can and should do to educate themselves about the liturgical changes. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has a special section of its website devoted to the new Roman Missal at usccb.org/romanmissal that gives basic information and includes, under “Sample Texts,” the full new text of the Order of Mass as well as side-by-side comparisons of the old and new Mass text for the people and the priests. Every Catholic with access to the Internet should take advantage of these resources and print them out for closer study and review in preparation for implementation. In addition, Catholics who lack knowledge of Latin should start getting familiar with it. Two excellent resources for this purpose are the Adoremus Hymnal, which includes the Order of Mass in Latin and English side by side, and Jubilate Deo, both available from Ignatius Press and through the EWTN Religious Catalogue. Every Catholic of the Latin Rite should at least know the Gloria, the Credo, the Sanctus, the Pater Noster, and the Agnus Dei in Latin. For a better understanding of what the Mass is, Pope Benedict XVI’s little book The Spirit of the Liturgy offers a brilliant presentation of the theology of Catholic worship and the 2,000-year history of the Church’s liturgy. And finally, Catholics who have not yet done so should pore over Sacrosanctum concilium to soak up the true spirit of Vatican II and clarify their understanding of the Council’s liturgical reforms.
Yet even with proper catechesis, some Catholics will still object that changing the words of the liturgy now after forty years is a recipe for pastoral disaster, as it will cause people to leave the Church. This objection stems from all the misperceptions of the Second Vatican Council recounted in this article. Ironically, it is being made by those who are themselves predisposed to leave the Church because they disapprove of the changes. If some Catholics can’t live with the changes, that is their problem. For its own good, the Church must remain faithful to the true spirit of Vatican II, even if that means alienating some people. When the Vatican approved the new Roman Missal translation in July 2010, Cardinal Francis George, then president of the USCCB, admitted that some people will not like it but that in the end, “it will be the text the Church uses for prayer.” The implementation of the new Roman Missal will be a litmus test of fidelity to the Church. It will separate the wheat from the chaff—true, faithful members of Christ’s Mystical Body from parasites who hitch onto it for their own comfort and convenience. This pruning process will render the Church slightly leaner but stronger and healthier, in line with Pope Benedict XVI’s vision for the “new springtime” of the Church originally predicted by John Paul II.
The Dawn of Real Liturgical Renewal
A major priority of both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI has been correct implementation of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, especially the reform of the Sacred Liturgy. The Third Edition of the Missale Romanum and the Instruction for its translation, Liturgiam Authenticam, were both issued during John Paul’s pontificate. Liturgiam Authenticam marked the close of a four-decade period of experimentation with liturgical translations authorized by the Second Vatican Council, while the Third Edition of the Roman Missal represents a consolidation and integration of the Council’s liturgical reforms into the Church’s Latin Rite tradition. This project of correct implementation of Vatican II has been carried on with vigor by Pope Benedict XVI, who sees the proper understanding and faithful celebration of Catholic worship and liturgy as the key to renewal of the Church and effective evangelization.
In 2007, Pope Benedict took the bold step of issuing a universal indult that allowed the occasional celebration of Mass in the Extraordinary Form in any diocese of the Latin Rite without the necessity of obtaining the local bishop’s permission. This move may have been somewhat controversial at the time, but it was a stroke of genius. Pope Benedict recognized that lack of Catholic exposure to the traditional Latin Mass was impeding the authentic liturgical renewal envisioned by the Second Vatican Council. The pre-Vatican II Latin Mass and the Novus Ordo of Vatican II are not strangers to each other, nor was one ever intended to be radically different from the other. By giving modern Latin Rite Catholics the opportunity to experience the traditional Latin Mass, it allows them to reconnect with their liturgical (as well as religious and cultural) tradition and can help them better understand how the Novus Ordo Mass fits into that tradition.
Furthermore, a major theme running through the pontificates of John Paul and Benedict has been the prediction of a “new springtime” for the Church in the third millennium, particularly based on a revival of interest in Catholicism among young people. Both Popes have understood that there’s an important connection between the implementation of Vatican II and this theme of a new springtime for the Church: Renewal of the liturgy will lead to renewal of the Church from within. But what will the new springtime look like?
In an interview with Raymond Arroyo on EWTN in 2003, then-Cardinal Ratzinger opined that the new springtime would not be characterized by mass conversions to Catholicism all over the world. Rather, he said, it would consist of small, “convinced communities” of believers, especially young people, who would celebrate the liturgy together and witness the joy of their Christian faith to the modern society around them. That joyful witness of faith would be the primary method of evangelization, attracting other people to the Church and leading to a renewal of society as well.
This hope-filled yet realistic vision of the new springtime for the Church resembles not so much a flood of sunlight as an ever-growing number of lighted candles in the darkness. It has a particularly Benedictine flavor, and is part of the reason why our current Holy Father took the name Benedict. He did this to honor Saint Benedict, whose little monasteries scattered throughout Europe preserved Catholic faith and culture during the Dark Ages. The Church today confronts a certain kind of “dark ages,” as it is surrounded by the manifold evils of modern Western society and culture. In the Eucharistic liturgy, the heart of the Church’s life, the burning light of Christ can set each small, faithful, “convinced community” of believers ablaze, empowering them to spread the light of Christ to others.
A tantalizing glimpse of Pope Benedict’s vision for the new springtime can be seen in the hunger for liturgical tradition among Catholic young people. In dozens of places across the United States where Mass is now occasionally celebrated in Latin in the Extraordinary Form, the churches are packed with Catholics in their twenties and thirties. These small, “convinced communities” of young believers, with their devotion to truth, enthusiasm for Catholic tradition, respect for authority and commitment to fidelity to the Church, are already helping to make the Second Vatican Council’s vision for liturgical renewal a reality.
As the inauguration of the English translation of the Missale Romanum, Third Edition approaches, we are standing on the threshold of an exciting and historic moment for the Roman Catholic Church. The dark and difficult period of the post-Vatican II era is vanishing, and the dawn of real liturgical renewal as envisioned by Vatican II is upon us. In April 2010, Pope Benedict XVI expressed to Vox Clara his hope that the new Roman Missal will serve “as a springboard for a renewal and a deepening of Eucharistic devotion all over the English-speaking world.” With the realization of this hope, the new Mass translation will play a vital role in the new springtime for the Church. Its theological riches will help priests and people alike enter more deeply into the mystery of the Eucharist, the source, center and summit of the Church’s life. Its prayers will elevate Catholic worship and inspire and enrich our personal prayer lives. Along with a rediscovery of our rich liturgical and cultural heritage in the Latin Rite tradition, this renewal of the Sacred Liturgy will stimulate a new flowering of Catholic culture and enable the light of Christ to more brightly illuminate the world of the twenty-first century.
Copyright © 2011 Justin D. Soutar. All rights reserved.