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And with your Spirit: The New English Translation of the Roman Missal

July 27, 2011:

All faith traditions have rituals and language surrounding those rituals that are important. Understandably there is great sensitivity to any changes in those rituals. On the First Sunday of Advent (27 November 2011), English speaking Roman Catholics will begin using a new English translation of the Roman Missal. In 1963 Vatican II affirmed that Latin was the official language of the Roman liturgy. At the same time it allowed the use of the vernacular. Because of the delicacy and difficulty of producing vernacular worship for the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Paul VI (d. 1978) convened a series of meetings in Rome around the complex issue of translation. Those meetings eventually produced translation guidelines in 1969.
The model behind these guidelines is sometimes called "dynamic equivalence," which attempts to capture essential ideas of a text in a culturally appropriate and accessible manner; "formal equivalency," on the other hand, values a word-for-word rendering more than common speech patterns. Using these guidelines the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) completed an English translation of the whole Missal by 1973. This was a very speedy process. From the beginning ICEL understood that this translation was provisional. In 1982 ICEL began work on retranslating the Roman Missal. A new proposed translation came to the U.S. Bishops in the early 1990's, which was revised and eventually approved by the U.S. Bishops and the ten other-English speaking bishops conferences of ICEL. Rome, however, never approved it, and criticized the translation work of ICEL for not being faithful enough to the Latin.
In 2000 Pope John Paul II (d. 2005) authorized the publication of a new Missal. In 2001 Rome published new translation guidelines that replaced and largely reversed the 1969 guidelines. This could be considered a shift from "dynamic equivalency" to "formal equivalency." A new Latin Missal appeared in 2002 and the translation process restarted. The completed retranslation of the Missal was approved by U.S. Bishops (November, 2009) and approved by Rome (March, 2010).
The new Missal will contain many changes, most unnoticeable by Sunday worshipers. The most obvious changes are those in the English translation of the Mass. These include:



The Lord be with you (or similar words)

People’s Response:
And also with you.



People’s Response:
And with your spirit

Confiteor (prayer during Mass when we acknowledge our sinfulness)

that I have sinned through my own fault
in my thoughts and in my words
in what I have done
and what I have failed to do ...”


that I have greatly sinned,
in my thoughts and in my words
in what I have done
and what I have failed to do
through my fault, through my fault,
through my most grievous fault ...

Gloria (prayer to God that is either sung or spoken)

Glory to God in the highest
and peace to his people on earth.


Glory to God in the highest
and on earth peace to people of good will.

Nicene Creed

We believe in one God ...
of all that is seen and unseen ...
one in being with the Father ...


I believe in one God ...
of all things visible and invisible ...
consubstantial with the Father ...

Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer III
(there are different Eucharistic Prayers – this is one of them)

Let us give thanks to the Lord, our God.

People’s response:
It is right to give him thanks and praise.




People’s response:
It is right and just.

Holy (prayer that ends the Preface)

Lord God of power and might ...


Lord God of hosts ...

Eucharistic Prayer III

Let your Spirit come upon these gifts to make them holy ...
This is the cup of my blood ...


Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray,
by sending down your Spirit upon them
like the dewfall ....
For this is the chalice of my blood ...

Communion Preparation
(a prayer recited before receiving Communion)

Lord I am not worthy to receive you ...


Lord I am not worthy that you should come under my roof ...


As with every translation, there are pros and cons here.  Some texts, like the Holy and communion preparation, are more biblical.  Others are more inclusive.  Still others are stronger theologically, such as the return of “justice” language in the preface response “it is right and just”!   On the other hand, the translation is often arcane, employing images beyond the comprehension of ordinary folk (e.g., “like the dewfall”).  Moreover, there are many English sentences, more strictly following the Latin word order, that will be a challenge to proclaim and to receive.

This is an important, difficult, grace-filled moment.  From my perspective, Catholics need to engage and acknowledge this new Missal in all of its “terrible beauty” (to quote the Irish Poet Yeates).  If we are honest and open, this new translation can help us be more actively engaged in the liturgy of the church, and maybe more actively engaged in the ongoing reform of the church’s liturgy. Perhaps this is also a time in which all of us, no matter what our faith tradition may be, can be more aware of the words we use during our rituals – especially those that are very familiar – so that these words take on a deeper and richer meaning for us.

Rev. Edward Foley, Capuchin, is Duns Scotus Professor of Spirituality and Professor of Liturgy and Music at Catholic Theological Union