Capital Letters in Liturgical Texts

Capital Letters in Liturgical Texts
One difference between the revised translation of the missal introduced last year and the version it replaced, which soon becomes obvious to anyone reading the printed text, is the much greater use of upper case (capital) letters.

For example, the “I confess” form of the penitential act now has “therefore I ask blessed Mary ever-Virgin, all the Angels and Saints” where the previous Missal used lower case for virgin, angels, and saints.

As written English increasingly does away with the use of capital first letters even for proper nouns, the revised translation has capitalised dozens of words that were previously in lower case. This change seems to reflect the emphasis in the revised translation on producing a more sacred style. One wonders how these capitalised words are proclaimed or heard differently from when they were printed in lower-case in the 1975 missal.

The reason for this change is the same as for the other changes to the official Mass texts. The new rules for translating liturgical texts set out in the document Liturgiam Authenticam (“On the Use of Vernacular Languages in the Publication of the Books of the Roman Liturgy”) call for greater fidelity to the original Latin. This “fidelity to the original Latin” extends to following the Latin original when it comes to the use of upper case or capital letters on nouns:

“The use of capitalisation in the liturgical texts of the Latin editiones typicae as well as in the liturgical translation of the Sacred Scriptures is to be retained in the vernacular language at least insofar as the structure of a given language permits.” (Liturgiam Authenticam #33)

The problem is that this rule has not been followed consistently. Many words have been capitalised in the English language missal even though they retain a lower case in Latin: “Bishop”, “Priest” and “Deacon” for example.

The use of upper or lower case with some nouns is also inconsistent. The word “cross” is usually capitalised, as in the memorial acclamation “Save us, Saviour of the world, for by your Cross and Resurrection you have set us free”. However it is in lower case whenever it appears in an antiphon, as in “for the Lord became obedient to death, death on a cross”, the entrance antiphon for the Wednesday of Holy Week. The rubrics refer to the “cross” that is carried in the entrance procession but also to the making of the Sign of the Cross.
One text that is especially puzzling is:

“May the Priest Saint Paul,
whose only love was the Cross,
obtain for us your grace, O Lord,
so that, urged on more strongly by his example,
we may each embrace our own cross with courage.
A few people have asked why pronouns referring to members of the Trinity are no longer capitalised in the missal. The short answer is that they never were! The doxology “Through him, (and) with him, (and) in him”, for example, has always been printed with lower case pronouns. Writing “He” or “His” when referring to God or Christ is an honorific device or devotional practice that has not been used in official liturgical texts or biblical translations.


Elizabeth Harrington