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Another Chance for the Missal

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Nov 05, 2007

Bishop Arthur Roche, Chairman of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy, has submitted a new translation of the Roman Missal to the English-speaking episcopal conferences for review and comment. The promulgation of the third typical edition of the Roman Missal in 2002 occasioned this opportunity for a new translation.

Discontent with the English translation of the ordinary form of the Roman Rite promulgated by Pope Paul VI persisted for so long that the Vatican issued new norms for translation in 2001 (Liturgiam Authenticum). At the same time, the Vatican established a new administrative structure, the Vox Clara Committee, to ensure that ICEL produced a more faithful translation of the third edition of the Missal when it was released. Now, after collecting comments from the bishops, ICEL will make revisions and submit a final version both to the bishops and to the Holy See for approval, most likely in 2008.

In general, the earlier translation and its various revisions have been plainer, less Scripturally-resonant, and more politically correct than the Latin original. They have also been decidedly more “horizontal”, typically using ordinary terms in place of highly-specific and even exalted language formerly designed to expresses the transcendence of God and the sacredness of the liturgical actions. Moreover, in certain cases, the earlier translations simply say something different than the Latin, substituting the mind of the translators for the mind of the Church.

The draft of the new translation is more literally faithful to the Latin and attempts to recover some of the sacred resonance which had been lost. We already know that certain obvious errors have been corrected. For example, the Creed once again starts with “I believe” instead of “We believe”; the response to “The Lord be with you” is once again the traditional “And with your spirit”; and inclusive language is generally avoided so that masculine pronouns can retain their reference to Christ. The third edition of the Missal creates an opportunity not only for a new translation but also, when the translation is released, for a new catechesis on the Mass. Bishop Roche says this is already being planned.

It remains to be seen how good the new translation will ultimately be. Any gains must be weighed against the problems created by constant change in liturgical (or Scriptural) language, and it goes without saying that no translation will satisfy everybody. Still, we have here an opportunity to replace a translation which unfortunately appears to have been produced and promoted by persons who wished to minimize the sacrality of the Roman Rite. Benedict XVI has made it unmistakably clear that this loss of sacrality is a serious concern. Let us hope that the new translation will be an important step in remedying a significant modern flaw in the Church’s liturgical life.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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