New Words for Worship Part 21: The Revised Missal Why

New Words for Worship Part 21: The Revised Missal - Why

The question asked most frequently at a series of workshops I presented recently was “Why is the Missal being changed (when the one we have been using for nearly 40 years is perfectly fine)?” There are two reasons why a new English language edition of the Missal was compiled.

Firstly, the English text we presently use is a translation of the first Latin edition produced soon after the second Vatican Council. In the years since, a number of additional texts have been made available for use in the Mass. These include new Eucharistic Prayers and Prefaces, more Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Masses for over 20 new saints (St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross - better known as Edith Stein - and St Pio of Pietrelcina - better known as Padre Pio, for example), and some revisions of the rubrics (instructions) for the celebration of the Mass.

During the Jubilee Year 2000, Pope John Paul II announced that a 3rd edition of the Roman Missal incorporating these additions was to be issued. Once that text was published, conferences of Bishops had to begin the work of preparing vernacular translations of this official text.

Secondly, the Missal and all the other liturgical books we currently use were very quickly translated from Latin into English after the Second Vatican Council. It was soon recognised that there would have to be a revision at some stage. The original translators believed that simple grammar and vocabulary were necessary to make the oral texts easily understood. After 40 years of using vernacular texts, it is clear that people can understand more complex language than that used in everyday conversation.

The revision process began in 1983 and after very many years of painstaking translation work by ICEL members, a new Missal was presented to the Holy See in 1998. Rome did not approve that revision and a new one was commissioned. This new version was to be based on different principles and rules of vernacular translation of the Roman liturgy as outlined in the instruction Liturgiam Authenticam, published by the Congregation for Divine Worship in 2001.

Liturgiam Authenticam directed translators to make the English text follow more closely the original Latin in its wording and structure, to strengthen the scriptural language and imagery in the texts and to re-introduce some theological vocabulary that may have been lost over years. It advocates a ‘vernacular of a sacred style’ that differs from the usual manner of speech. This means that the language of the new Missal will be markedly different from what we use now.

Across the English speaking world the new edition of the Roman Missal will, therefore, contain both new material and a new style of translation. A significant number of our prayer texts have changed – sometimes by just a few words or in the word order. Prayers that we have become used to reciting by memory will need to be relearned. Prayers that we are used to hearing the priest say will sound different to us.The style of language we will hear and pray may seem more formal and perhaps, in parts, more complex. But over time, with the praying of these texts, the sound of the Mass will again become familiar.

Elizabeth Harrington