Mar 15, 2004

Bishops Receive ICEL Missal Texts; Translation Norms

Online Edition – Vol. X, No. 1: March 2004 

Roman Missal Translation Update

Bishops Receive ICEL Missal Texts; Translation Norms

by Helen Hull Hitchcock 

Two signs of significant progress on the authentic reform of the Liturgy were revealed at the beginning of this year. First, a draft document on English translation was released in January by Vox Clara, the panel appointed to assist the Congregation for Divine Worship (CDW) with English-language texts for the Liturgy. Second, a draft of the Order of Mass produced by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) was sent to bishops in February — signaling that new translations of the Mass may be in use a year from now.

It has been almost four years since the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani (General Instruction of the Roman Missal or GIRM) first appeared — in advance of a new edition of the Missal — the third since the Council. The original plan was to release the new Missal during the Jubilee Year 2000, but it was not officially released until March 2002. The delay was in part over problems with the new GIRM. It was revised in 2002, and the US-adapted version (the subject of considerable debate in the bishops’ conference) was published a year ago.

It has been three years since the Holy See’s Instruction on liturgical translation appeared. Liturgiam authenticam, the Fifth Instruction on the implementation of Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Liturgy — and the first high-level document on translation — made it possible to resolve more than a decade of disputes about principles of translation, and cleared major obstacles to a more “authentic Liturgy”. This document promised a “new era” in liturgical renewal, and we are now seeing concrete evidence of this.

Last year — forty years after Sacrosanctum Concilium was issued — the groundwork for the promised “new era of liturgical reform” was completed. On May 13, 2003, Pope John Paul II issued his fourteenth encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia (The Church of the Eucharist). Five months later, the “thorough-going restructure” of ICEL was finally accomplished when new statutes were issued on October 17 — on the fortieth anniversary of its founding, and fifteen years after Pope John Paul II, in his 1988 Apostolic Letter on the 25th anniversary of the Constitution on the Liturgy called for review of the commission:

For the work of translation, as well as for the wider implications of liturgical renewal for whole countries, each episcopal conference was required to establish a national commission and ensure the collaboration of experts in the various sectors of liturgical science and pastoral practice. The time has come to evaluate this commission, its past activity, both the positive and negative aspects, and the guidelines and the help which it has received from the episcopal conference regarding its composition and activity. The role of this commission is much more delicate when the conference wishes to introduce certain measures of adaptation or inculturation: this is one more reason for making sure that the commission contains people who are truly competent. (Vicesimus Quintus Annos 20)

In the same letter of a quarter-century ago, Pope John Paul II said,

The time has come to renew that spirit which inspired the Church at the moment when the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium was prepared, discussed, voted upon and promulgated, and when the first steps were taken to apply it. The seed was sown; it has known the rigors of winter, but the seed has sprouted, and become a tree. It is a matter of the organic growth of a tree becoming ever stronger the deeper it sinks its roots into the “soil” of tradition. I wish to recall what I said at the Congress of Liturgical Commissions in 1984: in the work of liturgical renewal, desired by the Council, it is necessary to keep in mind “with great balance the part of God and the part of man, the hierarchy and the faithful, tradition and progress, the law and adaptation, the individual and the community, silence and choral praise. Thus the Liturgy on earth will fuse with that of heaven, where … it will form one choir … to praise with one voice the Father through Jesus Christ”. (Vicesimus Quintus Annos 23)

Two new papal documents on the Liturgy appeared in December 2003: the pope’s Apostolic Letter on the Liturgy, Spiritus et Sponsa, in observance of the fortieth anniversary of Sacrosanctum Concilium; and a “chirograph” on sacred music, in observance of the 100th anniversary of Pope Saint Pius X’s document on the same subject, Tra le sollecitudini.

The way forward for authentic renewal of the Liturgy now seems assured. This is indeed most welcome news, especially considering the many complexities and difficulties that have attended the project of revising and re-translating English- language scriptural and liturgical texts — an undertaking that took up the entire decade of the 1990s.

After seeing the new ICEL draft, one reporter commented that translating the new Missal into English is progressing with “breakneck speed”. But in comparison with the massive and historic post-conciliar revision and vernacularization of the Mass texts — which, as everyone agrees, were “rushed into print” — the current project of renewal and refinement the English translation of the Mass texts seems to be proceeding in very deliberate and orderly steps.

To appreciate this, it’s worth recalling that ICEL was organized even before Constitution on the Liturgy was promulgated (December 4, 1963), and that less than a year later a new Missal, with readings and some texts in English, was published and in use — while the Council was still in session. By Holy Thursday, 1969, Pope Paul VI had approved a thoroughly revised new Missal, with added Eucharistic Prayers and many other changes — and only four years later (1973) the English-language versions of all the new texts were published.

Early this year the draft of the English translation of the Order of Mass was sent to the bishops by ICEL Chairman Bishop Arthur Roche of Leeds, England. His letter, dated February 2, 2004, invited the bishops’ comments and suggestions, which are to be returned to the ICEL office (in Washington) by May 15. ICEL will consider the bishops’ comments when that body meets in July 2004. In September, ICEL will submit the revised draft to the bishops conferences, who will vote on the texts. Finally the new translation of the Order of Mass will be sent to the Holy See for recognitio (approval/acceptance). Thus, if all goes well, English-speaking Catholics could be using the newly translated Missale Romanum a year from now.

In accordance with Liturgiam authenticam, the English version of the Latin texts will follow the original more closely than did the 1973/4 ICEL Sacramentary now in use. A few examples of texts spoken by the congregation illustrate this greater fidelity to the Latin:

Dominus vobiscum. ­ Et cum spirituo tuo.
Sursum corda. ­ Habemus ad Dominum.
Gratias agamus Domino Deo nostro. ­
Dignum et iustum est.

ICEL 1973
The Lord be with you. ­ And also with you.
Lift up your hearts. ­ We lift them up to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. ­ It is right to give him thanks and praise.

ICEL 2004
The Lord be with you. ­ And with your spirit.
Let our hearts be lifted high. ­ We hold them before the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. ­ It is right and just.

The Roman Canon (Eucharistic Prayer I) begins:

Te igitur, clementissime Pater,
per Iesum Christum, Filium tuum,
Dominum nostrum,
supplices rogamus ac petimus,
Uti accepta habeas et benedicas +
hæc dona, hæc munera,
hæc sancta sacrificial illibata…

ICEL 1973:
We come to you, Father,
with praise and thanksgiving,
through Jesus Christ your Son.
Through him we ask you to accept and
bless +
these gifts we offer you in sacrifice…

ICEL 2004
Most merciful Father,
we therefore humbly pray and implore you
through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord,
to accept and bless +
these gifts, these offerings,
these holy and undefiled sacrifices…

The words and gestures of the Act of Penitence are restored to the greater solemnity of the original Latin Confiteor (which had never been changed). Catholics will now for the first time say in English, Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa:

I confess to almighty God and to you my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned exceedingly, in my thoughts and in my words; in what I have done and in what I have failed to do, (striking their breast, they say) through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault…

The rendering of the Mysterium Fidei (Mystery of Faith) now in use is corrected. The familiar text “Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again” does not exist in the Latin text, but was added by ICEL. It will disappear (and with it, many hope, the unauthorized substitution of the Mystery of Faith with song refrains like “We remember…” and “Keep in mind…”). The new translations are accurate renderings.


Mortem tuam annuntiamus, Domine,
et tuam resurrectionem confitemur,
donec venias.

Quotiescumque manducamus panem huncet calicem bibimus, mortem tuam annuntiamus, Domine, donec venias.

Salvator mundi, salva nos,
qui per crucem et resurrectionem tuam
liberasti nos.

ICEL 1973

Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. (NB: not in the Latin text.)

Dying you destroyed our death,
Rising you restored our life,
Lord Jesus, come in glory.

When we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim your death, Lord Jesus, until you come in glory.

Lord, by your cross and resurrection you have set us free. You are the Savior of the world.

ICEL 2004

We proclaim your death, O Lord,
and profess your resurrection
until you come.

When we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim your death, O Lord, until you come.

Save us, Savior of the world,
for by your cross and resurrection
you have set us free.

The traditional English version of the Our Father was retained in the 1973 ICEL version, at the insistence of English-speaking bishops. The “embolism” that follows it will now also reflect the prayerful expression of the original Latin:

Libera nos, quaesumus, Domine, ab omnibus malis,
Da propitious pacem in diebus nstris
Ut, ope misericordiæ tuæ adiuti,
Et a peccato simus semper liberi
Et ab omni perturbatione securi:
Exspectantesbeatam spem
Et adventum Salvatoris nostri Iesu Christi.

ICEL 1973
Deliver us, Lord, from every evil,
and grant us peace in our day.
In your mercy keep us free from sin
and protect us from all anxiety
as we wait in joyful hope
for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

ICEL 2004
Deliver us, Lord, we pray, from every evil,
graciously grant peace in our days,
that with the help of your mercy
we may be always free from sin
and safe from all disquiet
as we await the blessed hope
and the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ.

These examples — and many others could be cited — demonstrate that the ICEL translators have observed the principles of translation in Liturgiam authenticam, which said:

The Latin liturgical texts of the Roman Rite, while drawing on centuries of ecclesial experience in transmitting the faith of the Church received from the Fathers, are themselves the fruit of the liturgical renewal, just recently brought forth. In order that such a rich patrimony may be preserved and passed on through the centuries, it is to be kept in mind from the beginning that the translation of the liturgical texts of the Roman Liturgy is not so much a work of creative innovation as it is of rendering the original texts faithfully and accurately into the vernacular language. While it is permissible to arrange the wording, the syntax and the style in such a way as to prepare a flowing vernacular text suitable to the rhythm of popular prayer, the original text, insofar as possible, must be translated integrally and in the most exact manner, without omissions or additions in terms of their content, and without paraphrases or glosses. Any adaptation to the characteristics or the nature of the various vernacular languages is to be sober and discreet. (Liturgiam authenticam 20, “General Principles Applicable to All Translation”. Emphasis added.)

The importance of sacral language — words that convey a sense of reverence — in the vernacular Mass texts was also emphasized in Liturgiam authenticam:

The translations should be characterized by a kind of language which is easily understandable, yet which at the same time preserves these texts’ dignity, beauty, and doctrinal precision. By means of words of praise and adoration that foster reverence and gratitude in the face of God’s majesty, His power, His mercy and His transcendent nature, the translations will respond to the hunger and thirst for the living God that is experienced by the people of our own time, while contributing also to the dignity and beauty of the liturgical celebration itself. (Liturgiam authenticam 25)

“Inclusive” Language Issues Persist
Liturgiam authenticam 30 emphasized that the nouns and pronouns in the original text “should be maintained in translation”, and suggested “catechesis” to aid in correct understanding, if there is any ambiguity of meaning. But this principle is not observed consistently in the ICEL draft.

One notable example is in the Creed, where “for us men and for our salvation” has inexplicably become “for us and for our salvation”. Considering that the new ICEL rendering of Credo is, accurately, “I believe” instead of “We believe”, it seems odd that the word homines (men) has been omitted in this draft.

This may reflect “translator’s bias”. In the CD video sent with the text, ICEL secretary, Father Bruce Harbert, speaking of changes in the Gloria states that,

Objections are sometimes raised to the use of the masculine pronoun ‘his’ here and elsewhere in the Liturgy. The new version, ‘and peace on earth to people of good will’, corresponds more accurately to the Latin, and also removes the unnecessary masculine pronoun. The bishops of ICEL are taking care to make the language of the Mass as inclusive as possible.

Soon after his appointment to ICEL, Father Harbert told John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter that Liturgiam authenticam “‘has not spoken the last word’ on the masculine pronoun ‘man’, the use, or avoidance, of which in many liturgical settings has become symbolic of attitudes towards wider gender issues in the Church. Harbert said the issue would require ‘much study’, especially from Hebrew scholars”. (John Allen, “Word from Rome”, NCR, August 26, 2002)

The Way Ahead

The next step on the journey to a renewed Liturgy is ICEL’s review of the responses of the bishops — to take place in July.

It is not possible to predict what changes to this draft will be made before a final draft of the Order of Mass is sent back to the conferences and then to the Holy See for necessary recognitio. But it is not impossible to imagine that there will be objections in some quarters to the very concept of a more formal style that is closer to the Latin, not only in restoring words and expressions missing from the 1973 ICEL version, but in its more reverent, prayerful, and poetic tone.

The matter of ICEL’s omission of words and concepts from the Latin texts for the Order of Mass was the subject of intense debate within the US bishops’ conference in June 1995, when the bishops voted on this segment of ICEL’s proposed revision — and the matter has remained a topic of not inconsiderable controversy. Look for more comments like “Vatican demands outmoded English”, or “ICEL tongue-tied by new translation rules”, or “Liturgiam authenticam causes massive rupture with Roman liturgical tradition”.

Ever since the first version of the new General Instruction of the Roman Missal appeared in 2000, there has been an almost continuous stream of complaints of “Vatican interference” in governance of the Liturgy. Interpretations of the Council’s reforms, devised in the 1960s and reflecting that period, are now deeply entrenched, and doubtless some people will find it a challenge to change. Old attitudes and old habits sometimes die very hard indeed.

Nevertheless, there are strong indications that the changes Catholics will soon experience will be welcomed by most for what they are — a genuine recovery of the sacred dimension of Catholic worship that was sorely diminished by misguided flirtations with the “spirit of the age” that prevailed four decades ago. Obviously, the cultural phenomenon of “The Sixties” pervaded society and affected far more than Catholic worship. But, as William Ralph Inge, the Anglican dean of St. Paul’s in London, once quipped, “He who marries the Spirit of the Age will soon find himself a widower”.

We have learned a few things in the forty years since the Second Vatican Council. One of these things is that Catholic worship cannot — must not — be confined to any one culture or age. The Liturgy transcends time, truly drawing believers of today — in our own communities circumscribed by time and place — into genuine communion with all Christians throughout the world and in every age. The Liturgy of the Church is “ever ancient, ever new”, to use the words of Saint Augustine.

The Council permitted the translation of the timeless Latin Liturgy into contemporary tongues so that it might more effectively transmit the unchanging truth of the ages to the people of our time. To remain vital, the Liturgy must maintain this connection with all ages — past, present, and yet to come. We are now discovering anew what this means and what must be done to accomplish it.


Helen Hull Hitchcock is editor of the Adoremus Bulletin and director of Women for Faith & Family.






Helen Hull Hitchcock

Helen Hull Hitchcock (1939-2014) was editor of the <em>Adoremus Bulletin</em>, which she co-founded. She was also the founding director of Women for Faith & Family and editor of its quarterly journal, Voices. She published many articles and essays in a wide range of Catholic journals, and authored and edited <em>The Politics of Prayer: Feminist Language and the Worship of God</em> (Ignatius Press 1992), a collection of essays on issues involved in translation. She contributed essays to several books, including <em>Spiritual Journeys</em>, a book of “conversion stories” (Daughters of St. Paul). Helen lectured in the US and abroad, and appeared frequently on radio and television, representing Catholic teaching on issues affecting Catholic women, families, and Catholic faith and worship.