09 February 2017, The Tablet

Strong language: The new Mass translation introduced in 2010 has few admirers


The new Mass translation introduced in 2010 has few admirers. Reports that Pope Francis has established a commission to revisit the controversial document that inspired it have raised expectations of a more intelligible and prayerful missal

When I was ordained to the priestly ministry, I could carry on conversations in Latin, compose Latin poetry, and had won the medal in Latin at the University of Melbourne. But it was a huge relief when the change to the vernacular came and I could celebrate Mass in the language of the people. Hearing and using their own language encouraged what the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) wanted – full and active participation in the liturgy by all the faithful.

The change came when I was living in Germany. Translations from the Latin texts into good, vernacular German were prepared by liturgical experts and approved by the bishops. It was a great joy to proclaim the liturgy with people in language that they found intelligible and religiously engaging. They could pray easily in the proper German of their everyday life.

Meanwhile, the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (Icel) had, by 1972, prepared a translation of the new Latin Missal, which had been issued by Pope Paul VI in 1970. This new English missal was a workable and clear translation. But revisions were needed, especially for the opening prayers or collects. From 1981, Icel set itself to revisit this missal.

Icel worked in the light of guidelines on translation provided by the Vatican and published in 1969 in six languages. The document was known by the opening words of the French version, Comme le prévoit. It identified the issues and offered advice to those translating the new liturgical texts into vernacular or local languages. Comme le prévoit did not interfere with the situation in which conferences of bishops appointed commissions for their different languages. Icel and the other commissions were to report to the respective episcopal conferences.

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