As this journal has regularly reported over the past decade, the production of a revised English translation of the Roman Missal has been a long and painstaking task. But according to Archbishop Denis Hart, ICEL representative of the Australian Bishops Conference, Catholics in the pews should be encountering the changes at Masses during the latter part of 2011.
Ten years earlier Pope John Paul II approved the publication of Liturgiam Authenticam which set out guidelines for correct vernacular translations of the Missal from its official Latin. While prayers and responses spoken by congregations needed to be 'proclaimable', greater accuracy and sense of the sacred were key priorities in revising the present loose and banal English translation.
Since then, after years of meetings and discussions, the Australian Bishops finally approved all of the segments of the Roman Missal in May 2009, with a small section containing new texts for the expanded Vigil of Pentecost and Masses for recent saints approved at their November meeting.
The Vatican had asked the world's English-speaking bishops' conferences to have all their votes and comments in Rome by 30 November, after which the Congregation for Divine Worship would produce a final text, taking into account the votes of approval and comments from the conferences, and seeking the advice of its Vox Clara Committee, chaired by Cardinal George Pell.
Archbishop Hart said it was hoped the final text would be released by the Congregation after Easter 2010 and then it would take up to a year to print the Missal (because of its huge 1,500 page size), thus allowing it to be available in the first part of 2011. The date of commencement of its use in parishes would be set when the printing schedule and work of preparing the people were completed.
As in Australia, last November the US bishops' conference completed its own approval of the final portions of the new translation and these also await the Vatican's confirmation.
As the largest English-speaking branch of Catholicism, the United States has generally set the pace since Vatican II for the rest of the Anglophone world. At this stage, their example has been a positive one.
The overwhelming votes in favour of the revisions at the US bishops' November conference underlined the gradual shift over the past decade from a liberal-modernist majority to a more orthodox one, thanks to the appointment of a new generation of bishops sympathetic to Benedict XVI's desire for a 'reform of the reform' of the liturgy. Serratelli, Finn, Bruskewitz, George and Chaput are a few names that come to mind.
On the other hand, the disciples of Cardinal Bernadin are becoming yesterday's men.
One of them, Bishop Donald Trautman of Erie, Pennsylvania, had formerly headed the bishops' liturgy committee and is a strong supporter of gender-neutral ('inclusive') translations. He moved that the conference reject the liturgical translations proposed by the Vatican. However, his motion was defeated 194-20.
The final five groups of prayers were then passed, each with support from at least 88 percent of the bishops with only a handful of abstentions.
The translation of the Proper of Saints, the Mass prayers for the feast days of saints, was approved 195-23, easily exceeding the required two-thirds majority.
The Roman Missal Supplement translation, with extra material added in the 2008 reprint of the Missale Romanum, was also approved by a vote of 203-15.
The translation of the Commons, consisting of Mass prayers for the feast days of saints who have no proper prayers, was ratified by the conference 200-19.
The US Propers, including prayers for specific days on the US liturgical calendar such as Thanksgiving Day and Independence Day, was approved by 199-20.
Lastly, certain US adaptations to the Missale Romanum were approved 199-17.
Bishop Arthur Serratelli, chairman of the Bishops' Committee on Divine Worship, thanked the bishops after their approval of the last group of texts, calling it 'a historic moment.'
He noted that the recognitio (approval) from the Vatican is expected at the beginning of 2010, but that it would take around 12 months for the Missal to be published.
In the meantime he urged his fellow bishops to catechise the people in preparation for the coming liturgical changes and mentioned that many publishers were already preparing material to help in the implementation of the new Missal.
He exhorted parishes to 'begin now' to prepare their people and for priests to review the approved translations on the Web site of the conference Committee on Divine Worship. Twenty workshops were scheduled for April-May 2010 to be held around the country to help in the preparation.
Cardinal Francis George, the conference president, concluded the November meeting, affirming that with the coming changes, 'there is a tremendous moment of religious renewal that is possible now.'
Window of opportunity
As for Australia, one wonders how many Mass-goers are even now aware of the imminent changes; that they will soon be saying 'I believe' instead of 'We believe' in the Nicene Creed, along with many other changes to their prayers and responses.
If other parishes are typical of this writer's - where over a ten year period not a word has been said or printed about the upcoming new translation - then the task of educating people in the pews will be a major challenge.
But it will also be a window of opportunity for the Australian bishops to focus all priestly minds, not only on following faithfully the new translation, but also all the liturgical rubrics.