Liturgy Training Publications receives many questions regarding the Roman Missal. Here are several of the most frequently asked questions with answers. Feel free to contact us if you have questions not addressed on this page.

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Q: Why do we need a revised translation?
A: To answer this question, we need to know something about the process that produced previous translations of the Roman Missal. Since the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council on December 8, 1965, we have had three typical editions of the Roman Missal in Latin. A “typical edition” is the official Latin text that all of the approved translation groups use, regardless of the language into which the Latin text is translated.

ICEL and Vatican II
The International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL), is the translation commission approved by the Holy See. It was founded October 17, 1963, after the decision at the Second Vatican Council to allow the public celebration of the Mass and the sacraments in the vernacular. Considered a mixed commission, ICEL is composed of several Episcopal Conferences in which the number of people desiring to celebrate the liturgy in English is substantial.

The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy [CSL] (Sacrosanctum Concilium) mandated the revision of the liturgical books. “The liturgical books are to be revised as soon as possible; experts are to be employed on the task, and bishops are to be consulted, from the various parts of the world,” CSL, 25. Continuing the instruction on the norms of translation, CSL, 36.4, states: “Translations from the Latin text into the mother tongue intended for use in the liturgy must be approved by the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority mentioned above.”

Those territories in which English is the language of a significant proportion of Catholics joined ICEL to prepare English translations of the Latin liturgical books that the member Episcopal Conferences could vote on prior to the final approval that would be sought from Rome. Full membership in ICEL is held by those Episcopal Conferences that have substantial numbers of people desiring to celebrate the liturgy in English: Australia, Canada, England, Wales, India, Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Philippines, Scotland, South Africa, and the United States.

In addition to the full members are the associate membersthe numerous Episcopal Conferences in which Mass and the sacraments are celebrated in English among other languages. ICEL’s associate members are from the following conferences: Antilles, Bangladesh, CEPAC (Episcopal Conference of the Pacific), Gambia-Liberia-Sierra Leone, Ghana, Kenya, Malaysia-Singapore, Malawi, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea and the Solomons, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. It is apparent that the influence of ICEL is worldwide.

Weaknesses in the First English Edition of the Roman Missal
In 1969, the First Edition of the Roman Missal in English was published. To meet the demand by clergy and the laity to celebrate a vernacular liturgy as soon as possible, ICEL rushed the translation of the Latin text into English. In so doing, the English liturgy was often introduced with inadequate catechetical instruction. Additionally, some priests experimented with changes not called for and not allowed by the Holy See and our Bishops. Realizing these problems, the office known today as the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments issued clarifications on the correct implementation of the vernacular in the liturgy. However, the problems experienced with the introduction of the vernacular were deeper than first thought.

Problems in the English First Edition

  • Some of the obvious connections with scripture in the Latin text were lost in the English translation.
  • References in the Latin text to the homilies of the Fathers of the Church and influential authors such as Pope Leo the Great were no longer apparent.
  • The poetry, rhyme, and rhythm of the Latin language were lost in the new translations. To make the text more understandable to a modern audience, some of the metaphors from the Latin text were eliminated in the English translation.
  • Often the use of the superlative degree in adjectives referring to God were eliminated.
  • Viewed as duplicative and unnecessary to prayer, so words and sentences in the Latin text were never translated.
  • At times, explanatory comments not found in the Latin text were added to the English texts, creating texts which went beyond the mandate to provide a faithful translation of the Latin in the vernacular.
  • The English translation was viewed as lacking a sense of solemnity and sacredness, too difficult to sing, oversimplified and inaccurate in many places.
     

Weaknesses in the Second Edition
In 1975, the Second Edition of the Roman Missal in English was issued. It was more complete than the first edition. The first edition had needed a revision to put it in accord with the documents and directives issued since the publication of the first edition, for example, the June 29, 1970, Instruction on the Extension of Distributing Holy Communion under Both Kinds and the September 5, 1970, Third Instruction on the Orderly Carrying out of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. However, much of the translation of the Second Edition of the Roman Missal was the same as the rushed translation of the first edition.

The attention of our Bishops in the 1970s was often directed to providing the necessary catechesis on the changes in the liturgy that was not provided prior to the introduction of the reformed liturgy. In addition, there was a pressing need to correct abuses in the celebration of the liturgy. Many will remember the unapproved Eucharistic Prayers that some priests used, the invitation to the congregation to recite parts of the Eucharistic Prayer with the priest, priests and readers changing the wording of the official texts, and a general disregard for the rubrics.

In addition to the need for catechesis on the Mass and the need to correct abuses, the Bishops also had the task of providing catechesis on the sacraments whose texts were being revised. Moreover, new approaches, such as the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) and the Directory for Masses with Children, needed to be explained and implemented. Training programs for new liturgical ministries needed to be provided. ICEL worked overtime to provide the English translation for all the sacraments and documents coming from Rome. With so many tasks at hand, it was decided that, rather than completely reworking the English text, major weaknesses of the first edition would be corrected.

That decision left the following major problems in the English translation of the second edition of the Roman Missal:

  • Too often the translation paraphrased the Latin text, thus losing much of the richness of metaphor and imagery from the original.
  • Creative additions in English not found in the Latin text made some of the prayers look like new compositions rather than translations.
  • Superficial contemporary expressions and phrases in English continued to rob the Roman liturgy of its richness.
  • The sacred language of the liturgy seemed to be lost by the more secular usages that were employed.
  • Some complained of a loss of awe and mystery that the celebration of the liturgy should engender. Since liturgy is formative of our Catholic faith (the Latin principle of lex orandi lex credendi), many people expressed the need for the liturgical language in the vernacular to more faithfully capture the sacredness and poetry of the Latin text.
     

The Third Edition of the Roman Missal
In 2002, Pope John Paul II promulgated the Third Edition of the Roman Missal. More than 15 percent of the texts in the third edition are new, due to the large number of new saints Pope John Paul II canonized and the requests by our Bishops for new texts to address special circumstances, for example, wedding anniversaries and funerals. Since 2002, major efforts have been made to translate this Third Typical Edition of the Roman Missal into English. Fortunately, the translation has been guided by several new decrees addressing the questions raised by our Bishops and their consultants regarding the norms for translating Latin into English.

 

Written by Robert Tuzik, PhD © 2008, Liturgy Training Publications.

Q: Why does it take so long for a revised English translation?
Q: What is recognitio?
Q: What are rubrics?
Q: When will the third edition of the Roman Missal receive recognitio?
Q: Will the scripture readings be affected by the revised translation?
Q: The Order of Mass is available to review at www.USCCB.org. Does this mean we can use the texts now?
Q: What is promulgation?
Q: When will the English translation be promulgated?
Q: Will new musical settings for the Mass parts be made available?
Q:

Will the revised translation affect the General Instruction of the Roman Missal?

Q: What is Liturgiam Authenticam?
Q: What is ICEL?
Q: What is Vox Clara?
Q: How is a Roman Missal different from a Sacramentary?