A Guide To The New Translation of The Mass

1. Is the Mass changing?

The essence of the Mass is not changing, but the way it is celebrated will be noticeably different. While the structure and order of the Mass will remain the same, many of the prayers and responses of the liturgy have been newly translated into the English from the original Latin text. In addition, new observances for recently canonized saints, additional prefaces for the Eucharistic prayers, additional Masses for various needs and intentions, and updated instructions for the overall celebration of the Mass will be added. The most significant change people will notice, however, is the new translation of the actual words of theMass. 

2. So the Mass we celebrate in English is a translation from the Latin?

Yes. In the Roman rite of the Church, the Mass was celebrated in Latin for centuries. After the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, the prayers of the liturgy were translated into the vernacular (or “common”) language of a given country to encourage more active participation by the people. The official Latin text of the Mass is contained in a book known as the Roman Missal or Missale Romanum (from the Latin word missalis, meaning “pertaining to the Mass”). This is the foundational text from which bishops around the world commission translations of the Mass into local languages. 

3. How significant will the changes in the Mass parts be?

The new translation will bring about the most significant change in the way most Englishspeaking Catholics participate in the Mass since the years following the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), when the liturgical texts translated into English and officially used in worship for the first time. When the new translation is implemented, we will see how almost all of the prayers have been affected by it. The basic structure of the prayers will for the most part remain the same, but the change in wording at many points throughout the liturgy will be quite noticeable. For a time, most Catholics will no longer be able to walk into church on Sunday and automatically recite the Gloria, the Creed, and other Mass parts by memory. They will need a guide to help them become accustomed to the new translation of these prayers. 

4. Why do we need a new translation?

When the Second Vatican Council allowed for “a more extended use of the mother tongue within the Mass” (Sacrosanctum Councilium, no. 53), various groups worked quickly to develop an official English translation to be used for the first time in worship, and a full English missal was published in 1973. The approach to translation used at the time (known as “dynamic equivalence”) aimed at communicating the general meaning of the Latin text of the Mass, rather than providing a literal, or word-for-word, translation. After forty years of celebrating Mass in English, the church has come to see certain areas where the English text could be improved. Some have noted that, when the Latin text was paraphrased, a number of rich spiritual metaphors and images were lost. Important theological concepts were not always clear, and several biblical allusions did not shine out as noticeably as they could.   

In 2001, the Vatican called for a more precise translation that gives Catholics a better sense of the richness of the Latin text – a translation that would be “without omissions or additions in terms of their content, without paraphrases or glosses” (Liturgiam Authenticam, no. 20). Following this approach, the new translation of the Mass preserves more fully the theological tradition captured throughout the centuries in the liturgy. It also more clearly communicates the many biblical allusions and vital theological concepts that are expressed in the Latin original. 

5. Who is responsible for making the English translation of the Mass?

The translation process actually entails the work of several groups. Following the issuance of Vatican II’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Councilium) in 1963, the bishops’ conferences in several English-speaking countries commissioned a Vatican approved organization known as the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) to prepare preliminary translation of the Mass. These translations are then reviewed, modified, and approved by each country’s conference of bishops. They are then sent toRome for final approval by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, the Vatican office that oversees all matters concerning the celebration of the liturgy. The Congregation is assisted by a subcommittee of bishops and consultants from the English-speaking world known as Vox Clara (“Clear Voice”). 

6. What are some examples of the changes made to the prayers of the Mass?

A change everyone will notice at the very beginning of Mass is the people’s response to the priest’s greeting, “The Lord be with you.” In place of the words “And also with you,” The congregation will reply, “And with your spirit”—wording that better reflects the biblical language of St. Paulin his letters (see Galatians 6:18; Philippians 4:23; 2 Timothy 4:22) and recognizes the unique work of the Holy Spirit through the ordained priest to celebrate the Eucharist. People will also notice a change in the opening word of the Nicene Creed. Instead of saying “We believe in one God…,” the congregation will begin “I believe in one God…, a more personal expression of faith—as well as a more literal translation of the Latin text of the Creed. A commentary on the major changes to the English text of the Mass begins on page 10. In addition, a tear-out chart containing all of the new people’s parts of the Mass can be found at the end of this booklet. 

7. Will these changes affect the music for the parts of the Mass?

Yes, to some degree. Liturgical music publishers have been developing new musical settings for the newly translated prayer responses such as the Gloria, the Lamb of God, and other Mass parts. Many dioceses and parishes will introduce people to these new settings to prepare them for use when the new translation goes into effect. New chants also are being incorporated into the publication of the revised Missal. 

8. When will we start using the new translation? 

The new translation will be officially promulgated for use in the liturgy on November 27, 2011, which is the first Sunday of Advent and the beginning of the Church’s new liturgical year.        

9. Can I review the new translation of the Mass now? 

The new translation of the Mass is posted online at the Unites States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) website, www.usccb.org/romanmissal. It has been made  available for catechetical purposes. To avoid confusion between the current and revised versions of the Mass, however, the new translation is not permitted to be used in the liturgy until it is officially promulgated on November 27, 2011.

10. What are some of the benefits of the new translation?  

Fist, as previously noted, the older translation of the Mass parts does not fully convey many of the rich biblical images and allusions in the Latin original; the new translation seeks to bring these out more clearly.  Moreover, various bishops, theologians, and commentators have noted how the new translation preserves traditional theological terms such as Jesus being “consubstantial with the Father” and made “incarnate” of the Blessed Virgin Mary—terms that are important to pass down in our worship. (The significance of these and other terms is considered beginning on page 10.)  In addition, the revised translation as a whole uses a more “heightened” style of English that is less conversational and nobler in tone. This style more closely parallels the Latin text and helps us express an even greater reverence and humility in praying to God in the Mass.   All these changes are valuable. The way we worship tells us a lot about what we believe and how we view our relationship with God. As a traditional Latin expression goes, lex orandi,lex credendi—“the law of prayer is the law of belief.” In other words, the way we pray shapes our beliefs. And what we believe affects how we live our relationship with God.  For example, when we use more informal language while praying, we might tend to relate to God in a more casual manner. But when the Mass uses more heightened language that emphasizes God’s goodness, power, and glory, we may be more disposed to recognize that we are encountering the presence of the all-holy God in the sacred liturgy and to approach him with greater humility, reverence, and gratitude. Indeed, the words we use in worship express how we view ourselves in relationship to God. Thus, it was important for the Church to weigh carefully the translation of the Mass parts in this way.  Finally, a positive side effect of the new translation is that it provides the Church in the English-speaking world with a unique moment to catechize about one of the foundational aspects of our faith, but one that is often not understood well by Catholics—theMass.  With the significant changes in the Mass parts, we will need to learn new responses and new musical settings, as well as become accustomed to hearing the priest use liturgical phrases that are different from what we have heard for nearly forty years. The upcoming period of translation can be an opportunity not merely to train us how to say new responses, nut to catechize on the meaning of the liturgy—to help us understand the Eucharist as the sacrificial memorial of Christ’s death on the cross, the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharistand the intimate union we have with Our Lord in holy communion. It also is an opportunity to help us understand the significance of the prayers and rituals in the liturgy. The more we grasp the meaning of what we say and do in the Mass, the more we will be able to give ourselves to God in the liturgy and encounter him in these sacred mysteries.  

11. How is the Church preparing for the new translation?

As we have seen, the upcoming changes to the Mass represent the most significant liturgical development in the English-speaking world since Vatican II. Educating Catholics on the changes is vitally important to the liturgical life of the Church and our personal devotional lives. This way it is crucial for dioceses and parishes to prepare the people for these changes. The majority of dioceses have already begun training priests, religious, deacons, catechists, and other lay ministers in the details of the new translation. These and other diocesan and parish leaders will provide the laity with catechesis and resources concerning the new Mass texts.  

12. What can I do personally to prepare for the new translation? 

First, become educated o the actual changes in the Mass text, especially to the people’s  parts (which are listed on the chart at the end of this booklet). In addition, take advantage of any workshops on the new translation offered in your parish or diocese, and seek out articles and books on the topic. The more you learn about the new Mass parts and why these changes were made, the better you will be prepared to understand and appreciate the new translation. This will help you enter more deeply into the celebration of theMass.  Developing a deeper spiritual participation in the liturgy right now will help you benefit from the improvements we will find in the new translation. Participating in Mass every Sunday  and holy day is most fundamental. Arriving a few minutes before the start of Mass to pray can help you prepare to encounter Our Lord in the Eucharist. Listening attentively to the Scripture readings and homily, receiving Jesus in holy communion reverently, and taking time for prayer and thanksgiving after communion (and even a few moments after Mass) foster devotion to Jesus in the liturgy. These and other spiritual practices will be beneficial when the new translation is implemented and can help you appreciate and enter into the new prayers even more.  Teaching your children ahead of time about the new Mass parts will be important to help them through the translation period. This also is a wonderful opportunity for them to learn more about the Mass itself and about the meaning of what we say and do in the liturgy.