The case for a new Missal translation

The case for a new Missal translation

Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli

Bishop Serratelli of Paterson, New Jersey, is chairman of the US Bishops' Committee on Divine Worship. The following are extracts from his address to the national convention of the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions.

In May 2002 the publication of the Missale Romanum marked an historic moment in the life of the Church in our day. Translators set to work to produce translations that expressed the Latin Missal in modes of expression appropriate to the vernacular languages while retaining fidelity to the Latin original.

From 1969-2001, the document Comme le Prvoit had granted translators wide latitude in translations for the liturgy. English-speaking translations adopted "dynamic equivalency" as their approach to the texts. Simply stated, "dynamic equivalency" translates the concepts and ideas of a text, but not necessarily the literal words or expressions.

In 2001, the Holy See issued the instruction Liturgiam Authenticam to guide translations both of the Scriptures and liturgical texts. This document espouses the theory of "formal equivalency", i.e., not just concepts, but words and expressions are to be translated faithfully.

The International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) worked with scholars to produce a base translation of the texts of the Missal. No less than nine review teams were then asked to look at these base translations and comment on their fidelity to the Latin as well as their suitability for public worship.

Early in 2002 the Roman Missal Editorial Committee was formed. It made adjustments in terms of style, syntax, vocabulary and proclaimability, and a new version was produced. Thus, when the ICEL members met, they had before them the Latin text, the base text, the amended text and the Editorial Committee's text. The Bishops of ICEL examined each text.

ICEL kept in mind the goal of producing a text that would be accessible to the different language groups within the English-speaking world. Many people speak English, but not all the same. Our accents differ and so do our expressions and vocabulary.

Translating a Latin text into English, therefore, requires the expertise of many people. All involved in the work of translation realised that there is also needed the art of compromise that comes from humility.

Once ICEL agreed on a text, it was sent to the individual national conferences. Each national conference of bishops used its own process of consultation on both a diocesan and conference level.

Their comments were sent to ICEL where they were incorporated into a final text, which was then sent back to the bishops' conferences for approval with the process of approval to be completed by November 2009. From there the text goes to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments for "recognitio" (official approbation).

Meaning and tradition

The liturgy is the source of the divine life given through the Church as the sacrament of salvation. Wisely, therefore, the Church does not leave the words used in the liturgy to the theology or pastoral sensitivity of any individual celebrant. The words used in the prayers of the liturgy, and most especially the Eucharistic Prayer, are not to be changed by the priest. They are freighted with too much meaning and tradition.

First of all, Latin orations, especially the post-Communion orations, tend to conclude strongly with a teleological or eschatological point. The new translations in English follow the sequence of these Latin prayers in order to end on a strong note.

Secondly, in the new translation there is a deliberate attempt to pass on the biblical references in the Roman Rite, for example, in Eucharistic Prayer III, we will no longer say: "From east to west, a perfect offering is made to the glory of your name." Instead we pray the words of Malachi 1:11: "... from the rising of the sun to its setting". Nothing is lost in meaning. A sense of poetry is gained.

In the Communion Rite, we will now repeat the words of the humble and compassionate centurion of Matt 8:8: "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof but only say the word ...".

Thirdly, the new translations are careful to keep the allusions from patristic writings, e.g., in the post-Communion prayer for August 28, the memorial of Saint Augustine, we pray:

May the partaking of the table of Christ sanctify us, we pray, O Lord,
That, being made His members,
We may be what we have received.

Our words asking God that we may be what we receive play on Saint Augustine's dictum: "If you have received worthily, you are what you have received" (Sermons 227; cf. 272).

Fourth, the new translation respects the rich vocabulary of the Roman rite. The post-Communion prayers employ a variety of words such as nourished, fed, recreated, and made new. The Collects use words such as: we pray, we beseech, we ask.

The many different words of the Latin text are not monotonously translated with the same words.

Fifth, the Latin uses anthropomorphic expressions that add certain poetry to the prayers.

So, while it is perfectly good English to say: in your pity hear our prayers, the translation respects the poetry of the text and, in the blessing of ashes, says: in your pity give ear to our prayers. Sixth, the Latin prayers are concise and noble in tone. When we frame our prayers in liturgy, the language of the street is not appropriate. The vocabulary of the person in the supermarket, in the gym or around the kitchen table should not be the standard for liturgical language.

Since this new phase of liturgical renewal is not simply about changing words, but changing hearts, there is a need for proper catechesis before the new texts are put into use. The goal is "full, active, conscious participation in the liturgy". Therefore work is already being done to make available material that will facilitate this proper catechesis, e.g., the USCCB's Committee on Divine Worship has posted some initial material in its website to help in catechesis. [].

Be the first to comment

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