By now most practicing Latin-rite Catholics in the English-speaking world have heard that we will soon be celebrating Mass using new texts. On the First Sunday of Advent (Nov. 27) the Roman Missal, Third Edition will become the authorized liturgical text for English Masses in the United States. It will eventually become the only authorized English translation for the entire English-speaking world.
This new English translation will surely be the most important liturgical change in the last 40 years when Mass was first permitted to be celebrated in the vernacular, or common language of the people. This renewal is not a rupture with the past, but is in continuity with our rich liturgical heritage. Many Catholics are looking forward to this transition with great anticipation and others with some apprehension. In this and subsequent columns I would like to highlight what we can expect and how we are preparing to implement the Roman Missal, Third Edition.
First, I want to emphasize what is not changing. The new Roman Missal does not alter the structure or order of Mass. It does not affect the meaning of the Mass or the way we celebrate Mass. The distinct roles of the priest, deacon and the laity, including the various liturgical ministries, remain unaffected.
The most obvious and important difference will be the actual words we use at Mass. Priests and people will have to grow accustomed to the new wording of prayers and responses. We will be learning new musical settings to accompany many newly-translated parts of the Mass that are ordinarily sung, such as the Holy, Holy, Holy and the Lamb of God.
Perhaps the most common question on peoples’ minds would be, “So why was a new translation necessary?” For one thing the new Roman Missal contains many new texts never before translated or in-cluded in the current Sacramentary. For example, there are over 25 new memorials and feasts. Many of these are Masses for saints canonized in recent years. They included such saints and blesseds as Padre Pio, Blessed Damien of Molokai, St. Katharine Drexel and St. Juan Diego. There are also several new Eucharistic Prayers in addition to the four which have been in use since 1970. Surprisingly perhaps, there also is more musical notation in the new Roman Missal than in any previous edition. This clearly highlights a preference for chanting many of the prayers, if not the entire Mass.
The new translation incorporates much of what we have learned about translation and liturgical language after 40 years of experience celebrating Mass in the vernacular. The current English text was made using a principle known as “dynamic equivalency.” In effect it was more of a paraphrase than a strict literal translation from Latin. While the resulting English version was more conversational, it sacrificed much of the nuance and precision of the original text.
When the Latin Roman Missal, Third Edition was issued in 2000, it was followed in 2002 by a new set of principles for translation. These new principles call for a more literal translation so as to capture the clarity, rhythm and richness contained in the Latin prayers. The result is that the concrete biblical imagery and precise theological concepts of the Latin texts are expressed even more beautifully now in English.
The Third Edition definitely uses a more heightened kind of language. It is not the kind of language we would use in ordinary conversation. It is more poetic. It is clearly more formal and dignified in its style. This deliberate preference and choice of style will not make the Mass any less accessible to ordinary worshippers. But it will help shape our attitude for worship. It reminds us that the One whom we worship at Mass is the Triune God! It is a language that inspires reverence, gratitude and humility as we come be-fore God as a worshipping community surrounded by the cloud of witnesses who are the angels and saints in glory!
(More to follow.)