U.S. Church Prepares for New Mass Translation


Published: April 20, 2011

An English translation of the Roman Missal released by Pope John Paul II in 2000 will be implemented in November of this year. The translation, which aims to be truer to the original Latin, was recently approved by the Vatican and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

“The long-term goal of the new translation is to foster a deeper awareness and appreciation of the mysteries being celebrated in the Liturgy,” according to the USCCB’s website on the new missal.

The new Missal will include “updated translations of existing prayers, including some of the well-known responses and acclamations of the people,” according to the website.

Some of these changes include alterations to the weekly-recited Nicene Creed. For instance, while English-speaking Catholics currently say the son is “one in being with” the Father, the new translation will say the two persons are “consubstantial.” According to the Bishops, “The new translation is…a more accurate translation [of the ancient Latin version of the Creed].”

The Bishop’s website encourages parishes to take steps to accustom congregations to the changes.

The website states, “Parishes should…offer a basic catechesis about the text, especially about the changes in people’s responses.”

The Rev. Thomas J. Scirghi, S.J., associate professor of theology at Fordham, said that parishes are already beginning instruction. “It is good that we have had a long lead time to help prepare the faithful for these changes.”

The Bishops’ website on the new translation of the Roman Missal identifies it as an “opportunity to deepen [the American Church’s] understanding of the Sacred Liturgy, and to appreciate its meaning and importance.”

The approval and release of the new translation has generated a mixed response among Catholics in the United States. Some think the linguistic changes are archaic.

An initiative called “What if We Just Said Wait?” expresses concern about the translation on its website, which features a petition with over 22,000 signatures.

“We are convinced that adopting translations that are highly controversial, and which leaders among our bishops as well as many highly respected liturgists and linguists consider to be seriously flawed, will be a grave mistake.” The initiative’s website identifies the translation as part of a “systematic dismantling of the great vision of the [Second Vatican] Council’s decree.”

Others think the new translation will benefit the Church. “Some believe that the greater use of poetic language will enhance a sense of reverence for our worship. So this is the value of the new translation: first, it will promote unity throughout the universal Church with a more literal translation; second, it will foster a heightened sense of reverence for worship,” said Scirghi, a professor of Liturgical theology.

A counter-petition to “What if We Just Said Wait?” entitled “We’ve Waited Long Enough” has just over 5,000 signatures. The Rev. Peter Stravinskas supported the counter-petition in a 2010 essay for America Magazine and said, “In my view, present efforts are precisely seeking to reclaim ‘the great vision of the council’s’ constitution.”

The news of the updated Mass translation came as a surprise to Luke Villapaz, Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) ’11, but he wasn’t worried. “It does sound more formal than what we’re used to, but unless the Mass was going back to full Latin, then I’m not really all that concerned about it.”

Scrighi said, “As for how [the transition] will go, time will tell…I imagine that the first time the people respond ‘and with your spirit’ instead of ‘and also with you,’ it will feel slightly strange.”

Regarding the use of the word “consubstantial,” he said, “This will need a word of explanation. And while the new term would make sense in a Metaphysics class, will it help with the Church’s prayer? Again, time will tell as we slowly adjust to the new translation.”