Probably the biggest news in the Church world this week was the announcement which all US bishops received yesterday from Cardinal Francis George that finally, after years of preparation, the new English texts for the Roman Missal have been approved by the Holy See and returned to all of the English speaking countries for printing, publication, and promulgation. Cardinal George in his message to the bishops said that in his capacity and role as president of the episcopal conference he was promulgating that the new translation of the texts used at Mass would be utilized starting on the first Sunday of Advent in 2011. So, the long and short of it is that you and I must begin to prepare ourselves for a new translation in English of texts which we have been using at Mass since the early seventies of the last century.
After the fathers of the Second Vatican Council decided that Mass could be celebrated in either Latin or in the language of every country in the world, the English speaking countries founded and financially supported an organization to translate the texts used at Mass from Latin into English. That organization was called the International Commission on English in the Liturgy or ICEL. Latin scholars and English technicians immediately set about to translate the texts used in the Missal on the altar at Mass into the vernacular of every country. There was enormous pressure to change at the time and the translation admittedly was rushed. The translators were allowed by the Holy See to use a translation technique called “dynamic equivalency” in translating which meant that they did not have to translate strictly but could use words and idiom of spoken language at that time. Or to put it more succinctly, both the Holy See and ICEL wished to present a translation which recognized that words change with time and a strict translation might not make sense to the hearer or reader. When published and approved by the Holy See, the translation we currently use served us well but if words can sometimes change and other words pass into disuse, then an updating from time to time was likely.
The bishops of the English speaking world began this updating about fifteen years ago and ICEL produced an absolutely magnificent translation of the Roman Missal which was passed by the US bishops conference by a vote of 235-32. But there was some controversy and the minority complained to Rome that they were not listened to in the debate in the US at least and Rome heard their complaint, refused to accept the new translation, and then amazingly did what the Council documents left to individual bishops’ conferences and changed the rules of translation from dynamic equivalency to a strict adherence to translating the Latin slavishly. The Holy See then ordered a new or third translation attempt, ICEL was radically altered and work begun on the Mass texts which you should be hearing and praying starting next November, 2011. So, for example, the Latin et cum spiritu tuo which we have been rendering as and also with you is now to be and with your Spirit.
The changes which will be asked of our praying communities will not be a terrible burden, I think. They will take some getting accustomed to but so did moving from Latin followed by some Latin/English to total English in the Mass. If the praying Church did it in the late 1960′s and 1970′s, I am confident that the praying Church will do it again. Only time will tell if the new translation to be brought into being in fifteen months will stand the test of time as well as the current translation has. There are words being changed which will require catechesis on the part of all of us. We use the word offering at Mass but we will soon substitute oblation in its place. The latter is a stricter translation of the Latin. We need to teach our children and others the meaning of a word which is not in common parlance. Perhaps no big deal but change always comes with some pain.
The arguments among the bishops of this country on this translation wore most of us down but I can tell you that in the end, the Holy See did listen and accept many of the greater concerns of bishops who were uncomfortable with some of what was being proposed. I am personally at peace with the translation as I understand it will be coming to us and along with our priests, I will do everything I can to welcome this change, make it as palatable as possible, provide the necessary catechesis prior to implementation, and ready the parishes and chapels of this diocese for the First Sunday of Advent in 2011. I shall be returning to this subject often in the coming fifteen months. I hope we will be one of the best dioceses in preparing for and implementing the new missal. Now is the time and it falls to us as it fell to our parents as well as ourselves and our beloved Church in the late ’60′s and early ’70′s. As Christ said, be not afraid.