The new translation of the Roman Missal will be "unveiled" next weekend for the first Sunday of Advent. Word on Fire blog contributor Kerry Trotter gets a little insight into some of the changes from liturgy expert Dr. Denis McNamara.
May the Lord be with you.
And also with—
Wait, hold that thought.
Change is afoot for Catholics in the English-speaking world, as the Roman Missal, Third Edition will be introduced next Sunday, marking the first time since the late '60s that the original Latin text of the Mass has been revisited. While the Missal, the guidebook of the Catholic liturgy, will hardly be unrecognizable to clergy and lay alike, it contains enough changes to wake folks up, and presumably get them thinking.
“It’s definitely a much more accurate rendering,” said Dr. Denis McNamara, the assistant director of the Liturgical Institute at St. Mary’s of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein, Ill. “Which is great news.”
This edition was a long time in the making, McNamara said, with past attempts scrapped due to the sheer magnitude of the undertaking. But now with multiple publishers on board, as well as a comprehensive road map for the Missal’s roll out on November 27, Catholics worldwide will experience a new Mass.
“Oh, people will notice,” he said.
If Catholics are uneasy about the changes, it might be a comfort to hear that our (lay) role only includes a dozen or so alterations. As for your parish priest? Well, he’s got his work cut out for him.
Those in the pews will hear new renderings of prayers, calls to response, and the responses themselves. It’s a lot to digest, but it’s for the greater good.
McNamara explained that the meat of the change was with the instruction of translation, in other words an adoption of “Liturgicum Authenticum”: keep it as close to the original text as possible.
In the case of “May the Lord be with you,” anyone possessing a passing familiarity with Latin can hear that the current response is not completely in concord with its origins: cum spiritu tuo. This is an acknowledgement that the spirit of Christ is present in the celebrant, lost somewhat in the polite “And also with you,” to which Catholics are accustomed.
What will we be saying this Sunday? “And with your spirit.”
The 1969 translation, which was the first time Catholics heard Mass celebrated in the vernacular, was that of “dynamic equivalence,” McNamara said, or a more easily understood text.
“This allowed for a lot of latitude for a more creative translation,” he said. This new translation is in the language of “formal equivalence,” or a style befitting the beauty and majesty of the Mass, language befitting a king.
“I think people will say, ‘Oh, wow. Those words were always there?’ ” McNamara said. “The language of the liturgy (now) has the dignity of the liturgy itself.”
McNamara compared it to translating Shakespeare: sure, a modern take might appeal to a wider audience, but you do lose a lot of that Shakespearean experience.
“The biggest changes will be in the linguistic register,” he said, meaning how one might talk to your boss differs from how one might talk to your spouse. “It’s an elevated linguistic register. It’s poetic.”
Another intent of the new translation was to keep the text as scriptural as possible. For example, McNamara said, during the Liturgy of the Eucharist when the priest says, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you …”, the term “receive” implies to take on the tongue. The translation will have the priest now saying the more scripturally accurate, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”
Change, while unsettling, is ultimately intended to advance the cause. Not only is the new translation meant to evoke a more authentic experience from the liturgy, it’s also the first time the English-speaking Catholic world will be operating from the same user’s manual, so to speak.
“Liturgical things are meant to have consistency and permanence,” he said.
In another instance, where we would say, “One in being with the Father,” in England they say, “Consubstantial with the Father.” American Catholics are on the “consubstantial” track now, too, because that word is more in line with the intent of the Latin text.
While addendums to the Missal — accounting for the addition of newly canonized saints or updated prayers — are not unusual, an entirely new translation certainly is. McNamara thinks this version is likely to stick around a while.
“In 1969 the Church had zero experience translating into the vernacular,” he said. Not so any more.
A learning curve is inevitable. Reaction to change is likely to be mixed. But one thing is certain, and that is Catholics will be listening up.
Interested in hearing about more changes?
They’re coming soon to a church near you.
Kerry Trotter is Chicago-area writer and the newest member of the Word on Fire team.