Worshipping in English

Liturgical texts for the Roman Catholic Church are issued in Latin and then translated into more than 300 languages spoken by Catholics around the world. The conference of bishops in each country is responsible for producing rites in the local language.
In 1963, during the Second Vatican Council, representatives of ten English-speaking conferences of bishops met to establish ICEL (International Commission on English in the Liturgy) to assist them in their task and to coordinate the work across the English-speaking world. An eleventh country, the Philippines, joined in 1967. Each member conference appoints a bishop representative to the Episcopal Board of ICEL which acts as a board of directors. Australia’s current representative is Bishop James Foley of Cairns.
The mandate given to ICEL was to “work out a plan for the translation of liturgical texts and the provision of original texts where required in language which would be correct, dignified, intelligible, and suitable for public recitation and singing.” This work is carried out through an Advisory Committee, made up of people with expertise in language and liturgy, and four sub-committees.
The first complete edition of the Roman Missal in English appeared in 1974, four years after it was issued in Latin.
At that time it was recognised that the translations would need to be reconsidered after they had been in use for some time. ICEL undertook a review of the first edition of the Missal with a series of worldwide consultations beginning in 1982. Comments from bishops and others from English-speaking countries indicated that some revision of the texts of the Missal would be desirable.
Why is it necessary to change the wording of the Mass which, some people feel, has just become familiar?
Our present translation is 25 years old. The way we use English has certainly changed in the last quarter century. There are also new groups, needs or situations that we would want to include.
Many respondents to the consultation called for new translations that were more faithful to the original Latin. The prayers we use at present are frequently much simpler that the Latin original because it was thought that short phrases in plain English would be easier to understand. After some years of use it has become clear that more elaborate prayers with a richer vocabulary are often preferable.
A review of the Missal is also necessary because the original work was done quickly with insufficient time to do research and detailed background preparation. Translators for the revised edition have had more time to consider the texts and more scholarly resources at their disposal. Often being more faithful to the original Latin will help ensure that texts that are meant to refer to all people clearly do refer to all people.
As well as translations from Latin prayers, our Missal contains a number of prayers composed in English. The revised Missal will contain more newly composed texts including alternative opening prayers that take their inspiration from the readings for the day. There will also be new prayers for some local celebrations such as Australia Day, Anzac Day and the feast of Blessed Mary MacKillop and for times of need that are common in Australia – bushfire, drought and flood.
All segments of the revised Missal have been approved by the Australian bishops. It now awaits confirmation of this approval by Rome. It has been a long and painstaking process aimed at fulfilling the call of Paul VI for modern language texts that would be simple enough for all to understand and yet profound enough to express the deepest truths of faith.

Elizabeth Harrington