The English Translation of the Missale Romanum-2002

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By Fr Ronald Serrao

Mangalore, 08 January 2011: The much awaited translation of the Missale Romanum 2002  in English,the so called "New Missal", is at hand. The Church in New Zealand introduced this Missal on 28th November 2010, the First Sunday of the Advent. But the Church of India will have to wait until the First Sunday of Advent in 2011, since the Missal is in printing. It may be useful to know a few historical facts and details as we receive the new translation.


Missale Romanum 2002 - A Historical Glimpse:

The medieval practice of celebrating “Private Masses” created the need to compile a variety of liturgical books like the Sacramentary (Book of presidential prayers, book of the Epistle and the Gospel, Gradual, Antiphonal, Ordines - the book of rubrics) into a single book, the Missal. Back then, every monastery and local church, even the papal curia, had its own proper Missals. These Missals differed  from each other and created confusion in the liturgy of the Mass. That is why, the Council of Trent (1545-1563) suggested to have a single Missal and Pope Pius V (1566-1572) published the First Missale Romanum in 1570.


The printing press made the Missal popular and the same Missal with little change was used until the publication of the Missal of the Vatican II. Vatican II moved by the spirit of liturgical reform decreed for a New Order of the Mass (SC 50). The introduction of the concelebration (SC 57) and a separate book for the Readings with more readings and responsorial psalm (The Lectionary, 1969), moved Paul VI to go for the post-conciliar Missale Romanum in 1970.  Within Five Years (1975) there came the Missale Romanum, altera (2nd Edition) with more elaborate rubrics and a few New Masses.


With the passage of time, more saints and blessed were canonized and beatified and they had their proper Masses approved by the Vatican. The New Eucharistic prayers were approved  such as Eucharistic Prayers for Reconciliation and for the Masses with Children, a few prefaces from the ancient sources were approved for liturgical use with some modifications, and a few New Masses for a variety of needs were found useful. Besides, Institutio Generalis of the Missal (GIRM) which had gone into four editions (1969, 1970, 1972, 1975) too needed elaborations and clarifications with another edition. All these factors  made it necessary to have a third edition of the Missale Romanum. That is why, John Paul II did not hesitate to approve the third edition of the Missale Romanum in 2002.


Translation of the Missale Romanum 2002:

The conciliar concession to celebrate Mass in vernacular (SC 54), necessitated the translation of the Missale Romanum in many languages. Though bishops discussed this matter privately with their friends in between the session of the Second Vatican Council, they did realize the seriousness of the work when they actually began.  In fact, it was something new. The Vatican had made it clear to the Episcopal Conferences to take care of the translation and seek its approval for liturgical use. Some of the Conferences were not ready for vernacular liturgy; it was too sudden for them. Meanwhile some of the Conferences sought the direction from the Vatican on translation. Therefore, the competent authority in Vatican, then, Consilium, issued a detailed Instruction: Comme le prévoit on 25th January 1969, a year prior to the publication of Missale Romanum. With the publication of the Missale Romanum in 1970, the Episcopal Conferences began the translation with the help of the experts.


The Instruction Comme le prévoit had directed the countries, which had a common language with others, to work as a team forming National and International Commissions and to go for a single translation in a given language, but to seek approval as an individual Episcopal Conference (Comme le prévoit, 41). As a result, the Episcopal Conference of Italy (CEI), formed a National Commission for the translation, but the English speaking Episcopal Conferences from all over the world, including India, had to come together for an International Commission.


Translation of the Missale Romanum in English:

Though some “English bishops” had informal talks on the possibility of a common translation of liturgical texts in English among themselves and with some English periti of the Council, with the promulgation of Constitution on Sacred Liturgy in 1963, Ten English speaking Episcopal Conferences formed an International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL)  in 1963. It had its office in Washington D.C. The following year, they appointed an Advisory and a Coordinating Committee of bishops, who would take up the translation with the assistance of the experts.


Though many countries spoke English, we must note that the language was not the same. That is why they had "starting troubles" or initial problems. When the Missale Romanum 1970 was published, ICEL experts translated the texts. In 1972 the English version of the Missale Romanum was approved by the Congregation for Divine Worship (CDW) and thereafter individual Episcopal Conferences were granted approval by the Vatican for publication. This is the current version. The Indian Missal was published in 1973 by NBCLC. As the texts came to be used for liturgy, some “English bishops and scholars” pointed out to the Pope that the ICEL texts were inadequate and even seriously defective on essential points of the Catholic faith. It was a direct attack on ICEL and an indirect one on the English speaking Episcopal Conferences who relied too much on the experts. Thereafter, the relationship between CDW with ICEL and the English Speaking Episcopal Conferences has not been pleasant. Meanwhile the Missale Romanum 1975 had come! Now the need was felt to revise the English texts based on the Missale Romanum 1975.


It was true that many of the English texts of ICEL did not correspond to the original Latin texts due to the method followed by ICEL, the dynamic equivalent to formal equivalent. They did manifest a meaning far from the original texts in Latin. Besides, being in modern English, the English texts failed to evoke the sense of the sacred and the mystery. That is why, CDW asked the English speaking Episcopal Conferences to revise the ICEL translation of 1972. On the request of the English speaking Episcopal Conferences, ICEL began their work again and revised the texts. After many years of hard work the texts were submitted for approval to CDW in 1999. But they were not approved!


Meanwhile in 2001 CDW published a new Instruction: Liturgiam authenticam on the liturgical translation of Latin texts. This instruction nullified Comme le prévoit and set new norms for translation. Accordingly, the translated texts had to be faithful to Latin in its content and even in its style! Then ICEL realized why the 1999 version was not approved!


The following year, 2002, the third edition of the Missale Romanum was published while the English speaking world was still using the “faulty translation”!  With the publication of Liturgiam authenticam and the Missale Romanum 2002, both the English speaking Episcopal Conferences and ICEL were in no mood to revise the texts! But they had to! By then some of the ICEL members were worn out and a new team was needed. Hence, the English speaking Episcopal Conferences reorganized ICEL and their experts for this noble and challenging task. Following the guidelines of Liturgiam authenticam literally, ICEL worked for almost 7 years, and then produced the texts for the approval of CDW a couple of years ago. CDW consulting their experts, especially Vox Clara (a committee of CDW assisting to verify the correctness of liturgical texts in English), approved the English translation for liturgical use.


The Forthcoming Missal and its Impact:

The forthcoming Missal in English will have its direct impact on those who celebrate the Mass in English, especially the clergy. As the revised texts will come to use, there will be discussion and polemics; even by those who have little idea of the Missale Romanum and its English rendering.


The new translation will create certain uneasiness since we have been using the current translation for a number of years. We will have to be attentive to the response “And with your spirit” in place of the current response “And also with you” (Et cum spiritu tuo).  We will have to be careful to insert the missed phrase of I confess “through my fault, through my fault,  through my most grievous fault” (mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa).  We will have to slowdown to say “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed” (Domine, non sum dignus, ut intres sub tectum meum, sed tantum dic verbo, et sanabitur anima mea) in place of the current translation which we are used to.


It is easy to walk the beaten path but the new way will have initial difficulties. As with any change, it will take time to get used to the new texts. But the new texts must help us to appreciate the meaning of the faith that we proclaim at Mass. Since the new translation seeks to reclaim “the richness of the original Latin texts,” with time, I hope, the new language will become as familiar as the current one and enable us to pray and express our faith better.


(Note: Rev Dr Antony Ronald Serrão is a priest of the Diocese of Mangalore. He holds a Licentiate (SLL) and a Doctorate (SLD) in Sacred Liturgy from the Pontifical Liturgical Institute of Sant’Anselmo, Rome. He was the former Director of Mangala Jyothi, the Mangalore Diocesan Biblical Catechetical and Liturgical Centre. At present he is the Professor of Sacred Liturgy at St. Joseph’s Interdiocesan Seminary, Mangalore and is also a visiting professor at various seminaries and theological faculties in India).



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