Liturgy: Translation and Much More

On July 24, 2010, the Apostolic See of Rome confirmed the proper calendar, texts and adaptations for the dioceses of the United States of the third edition of the Roman Missal in the English language. The parishes of this and other dioceses in our country will begin using this missal on Nov. 27, 2011, the first Sunday of the liturgical season of Advent.

What does this decree mean? First of all, it means that a translation project begun 10 years ago to bring from Latin into English the third edition of the official missal for public worship in the church is now complete. The book will soon be in the hands of the publishing companies.

Secondly, it means that information about the new translation will have to be given in a systematic way, because much of the information found so far in various articles and news stories has been incomplete and sometimes erroneous. The priests who celebrate Mass here, both archdiocesan and religious order priests, will come together on Oct. 19 for a full day of study. Other opportunities will also be available for the priests and deacons; and the Office for Divine Worship, under the direction of Todd Williamson and with the help of many trained in liturgy, will put on workshops for the laity. We should be somewhat familiar with the text by the time we begin to use it for public worship.

This third edition of the Roman Missal includes new Eucharistic prayers, prefaces and feast days. The text will sound somewhat different than what we have become used to in praying with the second edition, now in use. Some sentences will be longer, but no longer than the sentences used in Polish and Spanish for the past 40 years. The English vocabulary will be richer, and the tone will be more expressive of our humility before a God who is so merciful that he gives us the power to address him in prayer.

The translations have been made with singing them in mind, so there should be more music in the Eucharistic celebration. Liturgical musicians have been working on adaptations and new melodies for the Mass chants. Postures, gestures and symbols will remain what they are now, because we are already using the General Introduction to the Roman Missal to regulate our movements at Mass. But we can renew our appreciation of these instructions, with special attention to the symbols used at Mass and the unity of the rites. They were simplified in the liturgical renewal after the Second Vatican Council so that their meaning would be more evident to all.

Thirdly, however, the time spent preparing to receive and use this new text can be a long moment to look again at what the Mass is, at what we are doing to participate fully and actively in its celebration, and how the liturgy connects us to the life of the entire church for the sake of the conversion of the world. This next year and a half can be a blessed time for us, bearing good fruit in our life of prayer and service, if we take the time to deepen our understanding of ourselves as a priestly people, a Eucharistic assembly. It is evident to me, as I go from parish to parish, that the archdiocese has worked hard in the last 40 years to implement the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council. The results are not entirely uniform, but good effort is made everywhere. The most important results, however, show up outside the texts and gestures and actions, in the hearts and minds of those who pray the liturgy and in the activities in which they engage to transform the world.

When I was a young seminarian, one of my favorite spiritual authors was Catherine de Hueck Doherty, a Russian noblewoman who came to live in this country and in Canada and who was very conscious of the connection between the church’s worship and the church’s mission. In 1938 she wrote: “The daily sacrifice, fully participated in, will open to us the mind of Christ, and we will radiate him in our lives. And then we shall be able to go forth and fight the good fight of Christ against poverty, misery, injustice. Participation in the Mass will teach us the full understanding of the Mystical Body of Christ, leading us to a Christian sociology which is the cornerstone of the Christian social order and which alone can save our mad world from destruction.”

We begin now a time of preparation, together. It should be a joyful time, preparing us to sing a joyful song to the Lord, together as his people.

Sincerely yours in Christ,
Francis Cardinal George, OMI
Archbishop of Chicago

Francis Cardinal George, OMI

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Cardinal Francis George is the Archbishop of Chicago.

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