New improved English Mass translation nears completion

New improved English Mass translation nears completion

Michael Gilchhrist

Liturgy for the third millennium

The long-awaited revised English translation of the Roman Missal is now approaching its final phase, with bishops conferences around the English-speaking world recently examining the latest draft translation produced by the Bishops' Committee of ICEL (the International Commission on English in the Liturgy) and offering their comments. By all accounts, the present draft is likely to be adopted with relatively few alterations.

This is to be welcomed as the new translation is a considerable improvement on the one currently used, both for its accuracy and its more dignified language - a far cry from the dumbed-down prose style of parts of the present translation used over the past 30 years.

A copy of the new draft translation was recently obtained by this journal, courtesy of the ABC religious affairs department.

Marked contrast

A close reading of the document reveals that the overall tone of the new Missal - with its strong emphasis on the profound sacredness of the divine liturgy and our dependance on God's goodness and mercy, and our own unworthiness, - contrasts markedly with the colloquial approach of the present translation.

When one places sections of the present Missal translation alongside the new draft version and the Latin master edition of the new Mass, as promulgated after Vatican II, one is struck by the many glaring linguistic inaccuracies, not to mention theological distortions or omissions.

Examples of these will be set out further on in this report.

The current draft, which has just been examined by English- speaking bishops conferences, has elicited generally positive responses, with only a few minor adjustments being requested. The present time- frame envisages a new Missal being available for use in parishes within two years, together with the first volume (Sundays and Feasts) of the new translation of the Lectionary which contains the Mass readings.

The Lectionary text will be taken from the NRSV (New Revised Standard Version) corrected according to the Latin of the New Vulgate. An International Commission for that work has now been set up, with Melbourne auxiliary Bishop Mark Coleridge playing a prominent role. The NRSV translation (like its predecessor the RSV) is generally superior to that of the Jerusalem Bible being presently used in Masses (with its "happy" preferred to "blessed").

While the NRSV contains some questionable use of inclusive language, this is to be carefully monitored in terms of doctrinal precision.

Following introduction of the new Missal and Lectionary, there will be a uniform national education program set up by the bishops. This will be necessary for priests, religious and laity to prepare for the new translation after 30 years of using a defective one (completed in haste during the heady years after the Council, when the "spirit of Vatican II" was rampant).

Bishops will face the major challenge of steering through the liturgical reforms in their dioceses and ensuring they are observed in letter and spirit.

The new Missal translation is the culmination of a series of significant, convergent developments that have challenged the post-1960s laissez faire liturgical culture.

These include the Pope's encyclical on the Eucharist, with its emphasis on the centrality of the Eucharist and its strong criticism of liturgical abuses. The Vatican document Redemptionis Sacramentum - foreshadowed in the Pope's encyclical - complements this, setting out the do's and don'ts of liturgical celebrations.

Radical reforms to ICEL's operations and membership in recent years have brought that once semi- autonomous body firmly under the control of the Holy See and bishops conferences. In addition, the Congregation for Divine Worship's document Liturgiam Authenticam sets out the basis for authentic liturgy and liturgical language, while the establishment of the Vox Clara Comm- ittee, under the chairmanship of Cardinal George Pell, has ensured that ICEL's on-going translation of the Roman Missal proceeds in accordance with the principles set out in Liturgiam Authenticam.

Striking changes

The following analysis identifies a few of the more striking examples of change in the new translation - but there are many more.

The first indication that things are to be different will come early in the Mass with the congregation's response to "The Lord be with you" where they are to say: "And with your spirit" - not "And also with you". The original Latin reads: Et cum spiritu tuo, which is now correctly translated. The original ICEL translators appeared to have major difficulties with "soul" and "spirit", purging mention of these in a number of places, despite what the Latin edition clearly states. These are now restored across the entire Missal.

During the Confiteor, the Latin mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa is translated accurately as "through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault" and not just "through my own fault". Worshippers are also reminded to strike their breast as they say these words - a practice that has fallen into general disuse, though it is called for in the present Missal.

In the Gloria, "peace to his people on earth" becomes "peace on earth to people of good will", which is literally what the Latin says, although the inclusive "people" is retained for hominibus, which is literally the generic "men".

"Sin" of the world now becomes "sins" of the world - the Latin peccata being plural. "Sin" suggests a collective guilt or "sinful structures" rather than our personal sinfulness.

The omission in the present translation of numerous expressions in the Latin text that emphasise a Catholic theological understanding has been rectified in the new translation. Examples of these include the phrases only-begotten Son, of your bounty, deigned, humbly, blessed, almighty, most merciful, glorious, graciously - and many others.

Another significant change is occurs in the Nicene Creed, where Credo is translated accurately as "I believe" rather than the present "We believe". In addition, people are reminded to bow at the words "and by the Holy Spirit became incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and was made man." This practice, while called for in the present Missal, is rarely encountered.

It seems taken for granted, even by those who should know better, that most Catholics now find the generic expression "man" - meaning the human race - jarring. Yet one continues to hear in science documentaries about the origins of man. Fortunately, there are few such lapses in the new translation.

The Orate Fratres (Pray my brothers and sisters, or more literally, brethren) translates meum ac vestrum sacrificium as "my sacrifice and yours" and not "our sacrifice", which blurs the distinct roles of the priest celebrant and worshippers.

Perhaps the most striking example of the liberties taken by the earlier ICEL translators can be found in Eucharistic Prayer I (the original Roman Canon carried over from the Tridentine Mass). Here, the present English version is almost unrecognisable when set against the Latin edition and the new draft translation, which follows the Latin text closely and restores a much-needed sense of the sacred.

A typical example of the new prose used is: "Most merciful Father, we therefore humbly pray and implore you through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, to accept and bless these gifts, these offerings, these holy, and undefiled sacrifices."

In the present Missal, this passage reads as: "We come to you Father, with praise and thanksgiving, through Jesus Christ your Son. Through him we ask you to accept and bless these gifts we offer you in sacrifice." Instead of the priest "asking" God, he will say that we "humbly pray and implore" - a more appropriate approach for mere mortals in the presence of the Almighty.

The pattern continues throughout Eucharistic Prayer I - and to some extent in the other three Eucharistic Prayers.

The text now used during the Consecration reads: "Again he gave you thanks and praise, gave the cup to his disciples, and said ...". The new translation follows the Latin closely: "... taking also this noble cup into his holy and venerable hands, once more giving you thanks, he blessed and gave it to his disciples, saying ...".

Following the Consecration, the present first Acclamation, "Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again", becomes in the new translation, "We proclaim your death, O Lord, and profess your resurrection until you come" - which is what the Latin actually says.

Later, "Look with favour on these offerings and accept them as once you accepted the gifts of your servant Abel ..." - which sounds as if the priest if telling God to do something - is correctly translated as: "Be pleased to look on them with a favorable and kindly face and to accept them, as you were pleased to accept the gifts of your just servant Abel ...".

At the beginning of Eucharistic Prayer III, the words, "From age to age you gather a people to yourself, so that from east to west a perfect offering may be made to the glory of your name", become in the new translation: "... you never cease to gather a people to yourself, so that from the rising of the sun to its setting a pure oblation may be offered to your name" - with geographical space transformed into time.

In the introduction to the Our Father (the only option provided), the present words "Jesus taught us to call God our Father, and so we have the courage to say" become the more literal: "Taught by commands that bring salvation and formed by divine instruction, we have the courage to say".

The celebrant's words before Communion are currently: "Lord Jesus Christ, with faith in your love and mercy I eat your body and drink your blood. Let it not bring me condemnation, but health in mind and body". The new version reads: "May receiving your Body and Blood, Lord Jesus Christ, not bring me to judgment and condemnation, but through your loving mercy let it be my protection in mind and body, and a healing remedy."

The priest says in the present Missal: "This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are those who are called to his supper".

The new version is far more striking, with the words "This is" replaced by the stronger (and more accurate) "Behold" (Ecce), while the innocuous "happy" is replaced by "blessed" (beati): "Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are they who have been called to the supper of the Lamb."


At this point, congregations will be made particularly aware of the extent of change as they recite the words, "Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed."

The present version, which is a gross mistranslation, empties the response of its scriptural echoes, reading: "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed". The new text refers us to Luke 7:6-7, from which the words "come under my roof" (sub tectum meum) derive. This is the Gospel account of Our Lord's curing of the centurion's dying slave. The centurion says: "I am not worthy to have you come under my roof" (Catholic RSV edition).

Similar illustrations can be multiplied.

But what these examples demonstrate most strikingly is that English-speaking Catholics for far too long have had to put up with a poorly translated Missal text which, arguably, has eroded for many their sense of the sacred and their doctrinal understandings.

We can now look forward with keen anticipation to a new English Missal that faithfully conveys the truths of faith and inspires a sense of the sacred: lex orandi, lex credendi.

Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.