Australian archbishops report progress with new English Mass translations

Australian archbishops report progress with new English Mass translations

Michael Gilchrist

Steady progress continues towards completed revisions to the English language Mass translations in line with Pope John Paul II's guidelines in Liturgiam Authenticam, which called for greater accuracy and sense of the sacred in the texts.

Progress over the past few years has been inevitably slow, since agreement needs to be reached by all of the world's English-speaking bishops' conferences and the results of their deliberations then have to be approved by the Holy See.

But since English is now the world's most widely used language, it is vital that the final published results be of truly lasting value - unlike the hasty 1970s vernacular translations following Vatican II that now seem so banal and uninspiring.


Two Australian archbishops are closely involved in revisions to translations of the Missal and Lectionary (Scripture readings).

Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne represents the Australian bishops on the International Commission of English in Liturgy (ICEL), which has representatives of all the world's English language bishops' conferences.

Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Canberra-Goulburn chairs the International Commission for the Preparation of an English-language Lectionary.

I approached both recently for comments on the current state of progress. Their outlines provide some idea of the size of the tasks being undertaken.

Archbishop Hart said that with its schedule of twice-yearly meetings, ICEL was 'moving forward' in the presentation of the translation of the Roman Missal.

He said that after the meeting held in Newry in July 2007 all remaining sections of the Missal in the Green Book Translation (for comment by the bishops) have been sent to bishops of the English-speaking world and to the Congregation for Divine Worship which seeks the advice of its Vox Clara Committee chaired by Cardinal George Pell.

The Green Book for the Proper of Saints (July-December), Votive Masses and Masses for the Dead was sent to the bishops with comments due by 31 January 2008, and the introductory material and General Instruction of the Missal were also sent with comments due by 23 March 2008.

This means, says Archbishop Hart, that the whole Missal has been completed in provisional translation, and that in addition to the Order of Mass completed earlier, the Proper of Seasons in Grey Book (final translation) has been sent to the bishops. Work on the final translation for the Order of Mass (Prefaces, Solemn Blessings, etc) will be sent to the bishops before the end of the year.

During 2007 and 2008 the Congregation's Committee, Vox Clara, will continue to review these translations so that the final ICEL translations of the whole Missal will be available at the end of 2008 in sections after the meetings scheduled for January and September.

Despite the huge amount of work, Archbishop Hart concludes, 'it is anticipated that subject to the approval of the Congregation, the final translation will be completed and available in publication by the end of 2009.

'This painstaking work, which has taken five years already, will give us prayers which reach into the Fathers of the Church, the Scriptures, and all of the Christian sources of our prayers. They will have a much more sacred feeling and will lead people to a deeper level of encounter with the Lord.

'Despite the painstaking work the final result is uplifting and pleasing.'


Running parallel to the work described by Archbishop Hart is the demanding task of producing a revised Lectionary translation that matches the style of language in the Missal.

Archbishop Coleridge has provided the following outline of progress.

'At this stage', he says, 'the Bishops' Conferences of Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Scotland and England and Wales are still hoping to produce a Lectionary which combines a modified form of the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) Bible with a modified form of the Grail Psalter. The revision of the Grail Psalter is now complete.

'Some time ago, the copyright holders of the NRSV denied copyright to the International Commission for the Preparation of an English-language Lectionary. This was because their Translation Committee felt that we were requesting too many changes to bring the NRSV into line with the requirements of Liturgiam Authenticam.

'ICPEL was preparing a second submission to the copyright holders of the NRSV, relying upon the good offices of the Bible Society of the UK who had been granted copyright for the NRSV and were prepared to help ICPEL.


'But then news came through that the Holy See had given the recognitio to the Canadian Bishops' Lectionary for Sundays and Solemnities which used a modified form of the NRSV. The recognitio was given after long negotiation between the Holy See and the Canadian Bishops.

'The question now is how far may ICPEL use the Canadian Lectionary, at least for the readings if not for the Psalter. We are awaiting clarification on that point before proceeding further. Our hope is still to have at least some of the Lectionary ready for publication with the new translation of the Roman Missal.'

As pointed out in earlier progress reports in AD2000, while producing acceptable translations has been a long and tortuous project, a further challenge for the world's English-speaking bishops will be topromote the revisions to their priests and parish congregations - many of whom remain unaware of what is in store in the next couple of years.

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