Sixteen years ago, St. Anthony Messenger interviewed the then-head of the International
Commission on English in
the Liturgy (ICEL) about the forthcoming
changes in the Sacramentary,
the red book of prayers that we all see
on the altar at every Mass. That Sacramentary
we use is a translation based
on the official Latin version of the
The English version that we were
using 20 years ago, and still use today,
is from the 1970s, which, in turn, was
an upgrade of the hastily made translations
following Vatican II in the
1960s. Of course, the prayers were all in
Latin before then.
At the time of our 1994 interview,
Cincinnati Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk,
Ph.D., former Latin and classics
seminary professor, was international
chairman of ICEL and former president
of the U.S. bishops' conference.
Pilarczyk showed off a table stacked
with documents that led to the new
translation and predicted that the work
of translation was "almost done."
It took a few more years, until 1996,
though, for the English translation,
10+ years in the making, to be approved
by our bishops and sent to
Rome for approval.
It landed in a quagmire. A new edition
of the Roman Missal (the book
that had been translated) was in the
works, and would require new translation.
That Third Edition of the Missal
appeared six years later, in 2002, and
the translating began again, now in a climate
somewhat different than before.
Shortly after that Third Edition came
an instruction from the Vatican congregation
which oversees translations.
In short, the instruction was to, while
trying to maintain a good flow, preserve
exact word-for-word translation
whenever possible. (Previous instructions,
following Vatican II, had put
meaning, rather than exact wording, as
the guide for translation.)
Here We Are Again
Now, in 2010, Archbishop Pilarczyk
has retired. The new translation has
been revised and revised, much of it
over what many would call details.
Bishop Donald Trautman, of Erie, Pennsylvania,
former head of the bishops'
liturgy committee, has pretty much
thrown up his hands in dismay and
disowned the translation. In the search
for sacred language, he says, we've
abandoned primary concern for the
"living language" of the worshipers.
Trautman recommended to the U.S.
bishops, gathered last November, that
the whole project should be further
delayed while better translation was
sought. After all, the Vatican office now
coordinating the English translation
had brushed aside a final consultation
with the bishops' conference, against
the mandate of the Constitution on the
Sacred Liturgy. In as many words, he
pleaded, How can a Vatican congregation
trump magisterial teaching?
But even Bishop Trautman's allies
had tired of the struggle. After a small
compromise, the conference of bishops,
ranging between gladness and resignation,
O.K.'d the translation and
sent it to Rome for final approval. Firsthand,
this was not a pretty sight.
If all goes as planned, we can expect
to see new Sacramentaries in our
parishes in 2011. In those new Sacramentaries,
we in the pews will notice
that some of the responses in our Mass
will be replaced by new, more exact
translations of the Latin. The new
words will be either welcomed or
scorned. Pick one.
Like it or not, the new translations will
be noticeable. For example, "The Lord
be with you; And also with you" reverts
to: "The Lord be with you; And with
your spirit." "It is right to give him
thanks and praise" becomes "It is right
The Nicene Creed will sound different
in lots of places: "We believe"
becomes "I believe"; "one in being with
the Father" becomes "consubstantial
with the Father"; "We acknowledge
one baptism" becomes "I confess one
baptism." We becomes I throughout:
Personal vs. communal commitment
wins out as the more exact translation.
The penitential rite is a little different,
as are the Gloria, the Holy, Holy,
Holy and much of what we will hear
the priest recite. Nowhere will the differences
be dramatic, but the prayers of
the Mass are so ingrained in us that
changing things a little here and there
will be unsettling.
"Lord, I am not worthy that you
should enter under my roof" may take
the most getting used to.
Meanwhile, increasing numbers of our
young adults are watching from the
sidelines—outside of church. As the
struggles of the world are on their
minds, coming to them via Web and
iPod, they hear their parents' generation
fussing about the prayers at Mass.
It's not heartening.
Some would argue, though, that our
Church has accommodated this same
world too much. Have we sacrificed
our sense of the sacred for worldly relevance?
Won't reclaiming that sacred
sense attract young people?
Others would argue that our eucharistic
liturgies need to reflect our
encounter with the world. Wasn't that
the vision of Vatican II? Won't youth
respect that, too?
At the end of the day, it all sounds,
from the outside, like old folks arguing.
Maybe that's why those bishops who
might have opposed it voted to approve
the translation and, flawed or not, send
it off to Rome. It may have seemed
that there are other pressing matters
that need our attention. That would