From 3rd/4th September 2011 things changed in the way we celebrate Mass together – principally in the words we hear and say. This was completed at the start of Advent with the publication of the new Missal.
Anyone under 45 has been used to the same way of celebrating Mass in English from their earliest memories. Very little has changed since 1974.
Prior to 1964 Mass was celebrated entirely in Latin, with a dialogue usually between priest and server alone, sometimes with the choir, sometimes even the people too. When the decision was made to introduce the “vernacular” language ( the usual language of the people in each country), there was a huge amount of work to do. Translations that did exist had not been produced for speaking by the congregation, and the revision of the Roman Missal after the Second Vatican Council introduced many new elements too.
That period of ten years saw an amazing amount of work by very dedicated people to produce the English translation of the Roman Missal that has endured until now. It was a unique experience for all concerned, and has indeed served our praying communities very well. We need to be very grateful to all who laboured so intensely in that work, which also had considerable ecumenical dimensions. Sharing texts across the churches has no doubt had incalculable effects.
With the passage of time, the Church across the world has begun to review the translation into all of our modern languages and to see how it meets the needs of our people today. One element that has emerged as a dominant theme is how we translate from the original Latin prayers into the words we use in the vernacular. The translations that we now use were made using a principle called “dynamic equivalence”. This asked linguists to express the Latin in English words which gave the meaning in a more generic way than a literal form. Here, much was left more to be understood and presumed than expressed directly.
More recently, Rome has asked that the English text should reflect more precisely the content of the Latin words. This is indeed a real challenge as every language has its own style and form. Over the last decade the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) has produced draft texts of the entire Missal for consideration by the bishops of eleven of the English-speaking Episcopal conferences (such as England and Wales, the USA, Australia etc). Now, having incorporated the many comments received, the final text of the Roman Missal is ready for us in our worship, although some final tweaking is inevitable.
We were very fortunate that Fr Paul Turner came to us from the USA to present a series of meetings on the new translation in November 2010, and we welcomed him back in October 2011. His presentations were much appreciated for their honesty and depth of knowledge. He helped us to see how it will not be an easy journey on which we have embarked. .
We have had to leave behind the familiar texts in much of what we say as we pray, while still retaining much of what we use now. We are used to being able to respond as priest and people without looking at books or texts, and that has changed for a while, until we have restored our familiarity with the words. The style of some of the language has been unfamiliar too, so will require adjustment.
These months of familiarisation are hopefully a time for us all to enter into the liturgy with renewed commitment as the source and summit of our Christian life.
Monsignor Kevin McGinnell
Chair, Liturgy Commission