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Preparing for the Roman Missal, Third Edition: Why a New Translation?

No doubt you have heard that a new translation of the prayers at Mass has been completed by our bishops and confirmed by the Holy See.. The whole Church in the English-speaking world will be preparing for the reception of this great new gift which will probably go into effect later this year. But why is the Church re-translating her sacred liturgy?

Full participation

The vision of the popes of our day, from Pius IX to Benedict XVI, has been to encourage “that full, conscious and active participation in the Liturgy,” which the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council called the goal to be considered above all others. For the participation in the liturgy is participation in the perfect sacrifice of praise which our blessed Lord offered on the altar of the cross. In the celebration of the Mass, the source and summit of our lives, we join our spiritual sacrifices to the perfect, holy, and living Sacrifice of Calvary.

Participation in such a sacrifice is full when we fully give of ourselves: when we place the joys and the struggles, the victories and the sadness es of our lives upon the altar. Participation in such a sacrifice is conscious when we understand with our minds and embrace with our hearts the rites and prayers which have been handed down to us: an inestimable inheritance of faith and praise. Participation in such a sacrifice is active or actual when it is celebrated not only with our minds and our hearts, but by the way we act and the way we live our lives.

Participation in the sacred liturgy, then, demands an understanding of the mysteries we celebrate . One of the ways in which the Church fosters such participation is by the translation of the Latin prayers of the sacred  liturgy into vernacular languages. What a privilege we have experienced in our lifetime to have been a part of a liturgical reform which has sought to help us to understand the meaning of the prayers which have defined our Church for well over a millenium.

However, while the translation of the sacred liturgy into English has been a great blessing, it has been forty years since the first attempts were made to render these sacred Latin texts into English.

Beautiful, memorable, meaningful

Much has been learned in the past forty years about how to achieve a translation which is at once beautiful, memorable, and authentically expressive of the meaning it attempts to convey. Thus has the Church spent the past fifteen years studying the best way to achieve the best translation of these sacred texts.

A proper understanding of these prayers and a popular appropriation of their meaning is essential if their full spiritual and doctrinal effect is to be experienced by the whole Church. Defective translations result in defective understandings of  what we believe, while more authentic translations result in a more authentic renewal of the sacred liturgy and a healthier life of the the Church.

The lessons learned by academia and the Church over these past forty years have now been applied to the soon to be published revised translations of the prayers at Mass. Through these more precise, beautiful, and memorable translation “Christ will be made present and active in the midst of his people” (Pope Benedict XVI, March 25, 2010)

Deeper understanding

So why is the Church re-translating her sacred liturgy? Because after 40 years she realizes that a fuller participation in the liturgy is facilitated by a deeper understanding of her liturgical texts. Such an understanding allows us to hear”the voice of the Church” as she joins her voice with her Lord’s in every generation and in every place.

For the voice of the Church is the voice of Christ in perfect praise of his heavenly Father. It is the voice which proclaims our salvation from the wood of the cross and which is offered as a perfect sacrifice of praise. It is the voice which proclaims Christ and the mysteries of his saving love for us. It is the voice of him who is priest and victim, altar and sacrifice, giver and gift.

It is the voice which proclaims who the Church is by what she prays, lex orandi, lex credendi: a voice which defines the Roman Rite and the faith she has received. It is the most beautiful of all voices which has been sung throughout the ages and which will be joined with angelic choirs on the last day in an eternal hymn of praise.

It is the voice of the person who knows how much he needs God, and in his littleness seeks to praise the majesty of the One in whose image he has been created. It is the voice which is the source of every Christian virtue and the summit of every Christian life.

That is why the Church seeks to translate her immemorial liturgy in a way which is authentic, beautiful, memorable, and precise. For there is simply no voice more important to hear, no song more important to sing, and no word more important to understand.

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