“The Roman Rite, like all the great historical liturgical families of the Catholic Church, has its own style and structure that must be respected in so far as possible in translation." 

Liturgiam Authenticam 2001

How did the English translation of the Mass we’ve already been using come about?

The prayers and rites of the Mass are contained in an official book, called in English the “Missal.” In 1962 shortly before the opening of Vatican Council II,  Pope John XXIII issued an edition of the Missal which made a few slight changes to the rites and some of the prayers. At the Second Vatican Council (1962-5), the assembled bishops proposed that parts of the sacred liturgy could be celebrated in the various mother tongues of the people (while stating also that the use of Latin should be preserved and people should be taught the Latin responses at Mass). They also sanctioned a more extensive reform of the rites  and ceremonies of Mass. English started to be used in a few parts of the Mass in 1964, but the work of reforming the rites was not yet complete. Over the next few years, more parts of the existing Mass were permitted in English, including, in 1968, the Canon (Eucharistic Prayer.)

In 1970 the completely revised rites and prayers of Mass were published, the “1st  Latin typical edition”, and an official English translation was prepared over the next four years, and published as the “1st English typical edition” . This translation was done in accordance with the particular methodology given in an instruction from a special  Vatican committee, known as the “Consilium”. This instruction, called “Comme le prevoit”, asked for translations made  according to the theory of “dynamic equivalence”. Using this theory, the translator does not aim so much to translate exactly what the original text says as to produce in English a text that says what the translator estimates the original author would have written if he or she had been writing in English in the first place. The finished translation will reflect the original  Latin more or less closely, depending on the creative interpretation of the translator.

In 1975, Pope Paul VI published a new, “2nd Latin typical edition”, with some slight changes and additional texts. The 2nd English typical edition was not published until ten years later, 1985.


Why has a whole new translation of the Missal been done?

Pope John Paul II issued the 3rd Latin typical edition of the Missal in 2002. It contains a number of new Masses in honour of recently canonized saints and other new texts for various feasts and special occasions, and some other revisions. These new Mass texts needed to be translated into English.

In the decades since the first translations into English, the Pope and bishops and those who assist them had been able to reflect further on the Catholic Church’s new experience with using many vernacular languages in the liturgy of the Roman Rite. For example, in 1994 the  Congregation for Divine Worship published an Instruction, “Varietates Legitimae”, which identified some of the issues which had surfaced from the experience of “inculturating” the Roman Rite. It identified translation as the first significant measure of inculturation, and noted that while all peoples have a religious language suitable for expressing prayer, “liturgical language has its own particular characteristics: It is deeply impregnated by the Bible; certain words in current Latin use (memoria, sacramentum) took on a new meaning in the Chrisdtian faith”. (LV 53.) This Instruction also touched on the great value of maintain the unity of the Roman Rite even in many translations; and the particular nature of the Roman Rite is conveyed in its liturgical prayers and texts, many of which date back to the early centuries of the Christian faith.

In 2001, a further Instruction, Liturgiam Authenticam was issued by the Holy See, setting for  the principles by which future translations of liturgical texts should be undertaken. In particular, the Instruction noted “The Roman Rite, like all the great historical liturgical families of the Catholic Church, has its own style and structure that must be respected in so far as possible in translation. The Instruction repeats the call of earlier papal documents for an approach to the translation of liturgical texts that sees it not so much a work of creative inventiveness as one of fidelity and exactness in rendering the Latin texts into a vernacular language, with all due consideration for the particular way that each language has of expressing itself.”

The Instruction also identified that  “The vocabulary chosen for liturgical translation must be at one and the same time easily comprehensible to ordinary people and also expressive of the dignity and oratorical rhythm of the original: a language of praise and worship which fosters reverence and gratitude in the face of God’s glory.”  and , drawing on the pastoral  experience of the past 30 or so years the Instruction also says:  “Translations must be freed from exaggerated dependence on modern modes of expression and in general from psychologizing language. Even forms of speech deemed slightly archaic may on occasion be appropriate to the liturgical vocabulary.”

Hence, when the 3rd Latin typical edition of the Missal was published in 2002, the process of translating the whole of it into English was undertaken using the principles outlined in Liturgiam Authenticam, rather than the previous method of “dynamic equivalence, which through experience had come to be seen as not really suitable for producing liturgical texts helpful for the authentic inculturation of the Roman Rite. 

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