Sep 15, 2014

The Work of ICEL: Liturgical Translation and Education

September 2014
Vol. XX, No. 6


Monsignor Andrew Wadsworth, Executive Director of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) presented an overview of the work of ICEL to the Liturgical Institute at Saint Mary of the Lake (Mundelein), as the Hillenbrand Distinguished Lecture, on July 16, 2014.  He focused on the new translations of  liturgical texts produced since the translation of the Roman Missal was completed, and progress on other texts.

Monsignor Wadsworth’s lecture appears in AB with his kind permission.


In the final stages of the preparation of the translation of the third typical edition of the Missale Romanum, the bishops of ICEL began to turn their attention to other liturgical texts. The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments had suggested that the experience of working on the Missal could be usefully carried forward by beginning work on orations found in other liturgical books. This work became the basis of the translations which have been our major concern in the time since the new Missal translation was promulgated and implemented.

New Liturgical Texts

The first group of texts to be brought forward were:

The Rite of Confirmation
-The Order of Celebrating Marriage
-The Order of the Dedication of a Church and an Altar
-Exorcism and Related Supplications
-The Supplement to the Liturgy of the Hours

These texts, of widely differing character, have required much attention and now move towards their final stage of appraisal as Gray Books for the canonical vote of the bishops’ conferences before they are ratified by the Holy See for liturgical use. [NB: Gray Books are the final ICEL draft presented to the bishops; Green Books are the initial draft.] Each of these texts presents significant challenges which have to be resolved as the translation process unfolds. It may be of interest for me to comment on the early stages of the preparation of these texts.

Our first task is to prepare a lexicon of basic vocabulary that relates to the text. For this, we look to the Missal and other texts to identify key vocabulary and to have a sense of the range of translation decisions already to be found in liturgical books. This will yield vocabulary lists that will assist the base translator in the preparation of the first draft of a translation. We then have to resolve issues of consistency and conformity in relation to certain aspects of the euchology [formulary for liturgical prayer] which are common to the Roman Rite or rubrical instructions which are found across a range of different texts.

In the cases of the Rite of Confirmation and the Order of the Dedication of a Church and an Altar, there are issues of consistency with the Ceremonial of Bishops which have to be identified and resolved. There are also considerations which arise in relation to the Code of Canon Law and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, both of which have been promulgated since the typical editions of the liturgical books were first compiled. In such cases, it is the competence of the Congregation for Divine Worship to make a final decision on these matters of interpretation.

A text such as the Order of Celebrating Marriage potentially admits a high degree of local adaptation in order to incorporate established customs in relation to the celebration of marriage in different territories. These variations are requested by individual bishops’ conferences, as distinct from the ICEL draft translation, which follows the typical edition and is identical for all conferences. The Congregation then deals directly with the individual conferences in relation to these adaptations of the text.

Exorcism and Related Supplications contains texts of a very particular character, which although they are rich in Scriptural allusions and quotations, are in many ways unlike any other liturgical texts. In the early stages of preparation of this translation, we were greatly assisted by those with direct pastoral experience of this ministry, who were able to offer guidance as to some of the very particular pastoral considerations which underpin this liturgical text.

The USCCB envisages that the liturgical text, when it is promulgated, will be accompanied by a pastoral guide which will offer information and explanation which will help in the reception and pastoral use of these texts.

Revising the Liturgy of the Hours

During this same period, a request from the USCCB for assistance in the production of a revised edition of the Liturgy of the Hours has resulted in a major translation project which will concern us for the next several years. The Conference seeks to publish a revised text which incorporates newly translated material alongside elements drawn from the current text. In undertaking this task, the Conference re- quested ICEL’s assistance in providing the following elements for the revised edition:

-The complete selection of hymns as found in the Liturgia Horarum
-Magnificat and Benedictus antiphons for Sundays of the 3-year cycle

-Orations from the 4-week psalter Te Deum
-Marian antiphons for use at Compline

You will understand, at once, that this is an enormous undertaking, as the sheer quantity of text puts this project almost on the scale of the Missal translation in its magnitude. As ICEL prepares translations for potential use in all its member and associate conferences, and these texts have to go through the established process of Green and Gray Book appraisal, we envisage that the Liturgy of the Hours project represents at least four years’ work for us.

I think there is much to be enthusiastic about in this proposed revised edition. The decision of the USCCB to incorporate the whole body of hymnody, as found in the Latin text, represents a massive recovery of a neglected element of this text. While it does not, in any way, preclude the use of other material, sourced either in an appendix or elsewhere, it does offer, in the body of the text, these jewels of our liturgical patrimony, hitherto unavailable in their entirety in the liturgical book in English.

Although many of these hymns are already available in English translations made from the nineteenth century onwards, we have tried to consider some of the very particular demands of their varied use in a twenty-first century context. For this reason, the draft translations of these hymns do not rhyme but are in free verse which closely follows the meter and pattern of accentuation of the original Latin texts, enabling them to be sung either to the chant melody as given in the Liber Hymnarius or a metrical hymn tune that might be more easily known.

We intend to offer the chant melodies of these hymns in the Gray Book as we recognize that their “singability” is an important aspect of the reception of these texts. As many people pray the Liturgy of the Hours alone, we have tried to ensure that these texts have an integrity as spoken or read texts, avoiding wherever possible awkward inversions which are commonly used to preserve the rhyme scheme and have a tendency to obscure the sense.

Magnificat and Benedictus antiphons follow the lections of the 3-year cycle and are most often direct quotations from these Sunday gospels. Where this is not the case, they are often glosses on a Scriptural text or use older versions of the Scriptures particularly chosen to favor a Christological reading.

The preparation of these translations has taken into consideration majority readings of the versions most commonly used among ICEL conferences, although clearly in the USA, the resonances with the NABRE [New American Bible Revised Edition] texts of the Lectionary and the Revised Grail Psalter [Conception Abbey version] has also been taken into consideration.

The intercessions as a body of texts have probably generated more negative criticism than any other element of the Liturgy of the Hours. Their widely varying form and content reflect the fact that they were originally written by a number of different compilers, possibly working in a variety of languages and were only subse- quently translated into Latin.

We have tried to equalize these discrepancies of style, while attempting to be faithful in transmitting the content of the Latin texts. There has also been an attempt to reinforce the litanic quality of this aspect of the text and to bear in mind that in some contexts they may also be sung. Once again, there has been care to identify the many Scriptural allusions and quotations which underpin these texts with reference to a range of Scriptural versions.

As yet, we have not begun work on the “Te Deum” or the Marian antiphons. It is envisaged that, like the hymns, these will be presented with their chant melodies.
The orations of the psalter are among the texts that were in draft form before the completion of the Missal translation. They are now being reviewed in the light of the Missal translation along which they will stand.

A further source of texts is the Supplement to the Liturgy of the Hours which supplies proper texts for feasts which were added to the Universal Calendar since the last edition of the Liturgy of the Hours. This supplement is already at the stage of appraisal in the bishops’ conferences and so will be available for use with current editions before the revised edition of the Liturgy of the Hours is in use.

Although the USCCB is in a sense the commissioning conference of this Liturgy of the Hours project, we confidently expect that other conferences and groups of conferences will, in due course, wish to produce their own revised editions of the Liturgy of the Hours.  In this case, they will have at their disposal all of the elements ICEL offers from which to assemble their revised edition. The bishops of the Commission have decided to issue Liturgy of the Hours material in seasonal fascicles, the first of which, containing texts for Advent and Christmas, is currently a Green Book.

Rite of Infant Baptism and RCIA

Coterminous with our work on the Liturgy of the Hours has been the preparation of the draft translations of the Rite of Infant Baptism and the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. The commonality of text and vocabulary shared by these two rites makes their preparation together something of a necessity. These texts have been greatly sought by our member conferences and we hope that Green Books of both rites will be with the Conferences by the end of next year.

ICEL and Liturgical Education

In giving you a survey of the range of texts currently in process, I have commented on the most important aspect of ICEL’s work — our commitment to assist our bishops in meeting their responsibility of providing texts for use in their territories. ICEL also has a concern to support the ongoing process of liturgical education in our territories and their agencies by assisting with initiatives which favor that goal. I hope this evening’s lecture could be considered under that heading. I would like to share with you my recent experience of leading a week-long workshop organized by the South African Bishops’ Conference for forty-one African language translators in Johannesburg.

The translators represented all of the eleven official languages of South Africa and were drawn from all over the country and beyond. The Conference is committed to providing liturgical texts in all eleven languages, although only three or four languages have translations of the whole suite of liturgical books. The workshop comprised fifteen 90-minute sessions which were broken up according to the following daily pattern:

Morning  Sessions 1 & 2 – Principles of translation drawn from a close reading of the following major texts: Comme le prévoit, Liturgiam authenticam, and the Ratio Translationis for the English translation of the Missale Romanum. The aim was to identify the sound principles which underpin good translations and to identify a much-needed continuity of thought across three very different documents.

Afternoon Session 3 – The examination of English language texts which illustrate the principles of translation outlined in the morning sessions.

Afternoon Session 4 – Meeting in language groups, translating the same textual examples into African languages.

Evening Session 5 – Meeting as a plenary group, sharing individual translations with free discussion of possible amendments and improvements.

I have to say that the sessions were wonderful. I was greatly impressed by the skills of the translators, all of whom are volunteers and many of whom have long years’ experience of this specialized work in the service of the Church.

On the final afternoon, we worked on the English text of Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest, a text of immense importance for the Church in South Africa. These sessions occasioned some of the most heated discussion of our time together and will remain in my memory for a long time. Even though most of these people had never met one another, the sense of unity we experienced, particularly in the celebration of the Mass, was a truly marvelous experience. The music each day was chosen from a variety of traditions and languages and seemed to harmonize wonderfully with Latin and English chants which were common to us all.

My strongest impression from these days, however, remains the realization that for these translators, and increasingly for many others elsewhere, the English translation is the sole portal of the meaning of the original Latin text. To the extent that English translations convey the content of meaning of the original, other languages will be served in producing their texts.

 The Work Continues…

I hope in considering these aspects of ICEL’s work, you [at the Liturgical Institute] find encouragement for your own work in the service of the liturgy. In your communities, your parishes, your dioceses and your conferences, you can potentially make a contribution which will enhance our experience and knowledge of the mysteries we celebrate. Thank you for all that you do in this respect. I would like to finish with a thought from the Holy Father, taken from his address to the bishops of ICEL and their collaborators in our audience with him on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of ICEL, last October.

I think the words of Pope Francis can and should be applied to all who are actively engaged in liturgical work:

The fruits of your labors have not only helped to form the prayer of countless Catholics, but have also contributed to the understanding of the faith, the exercise of the common priesthood and the renewal of the Church’s missionary outreach, all themes central to the teaching of the Council. Indeed, as Blessed John Paul II pointed out, “for many people, the message of the Second Vatican Council was perceived principally through the liturgical reform” (Vicesimus quintus annus, 12)… By enabling the vast numbers of the Catholic faithful throughout the world to pray in a common language, your Commission has helped to foster the Church’s unity in faith and sacramental communion. That unity and communion, which has its origin in the Blessed Trinity, is one which constantly reconciles and enhances the richness of diversity. May your continuing efforts help to realize ever more fully the hope expressed by Pope Paul VI in promulgating the Roman Missal: that “in the great diversity of languages, a single prayer will rise as an acceptable offering to our Father in heaven, through our high priest Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit.”

May God continue to bless the work of this Institute, its faculty and students, may its graduates be actively engaged in the service of the Church, contributing their knowledge and skill in the enrichment of the celebration and understanding of the Sacred Liturgy. May God bless us all in His service.


Monsignor Andrew Wadsworth