By Cardinal Justin Rigali

With the beginning of Advent, we are reminded that one year from now we will receive the new English translation of the Roman Missal. We take this preparation as our topic this week.

The liturgical concept of time
As we begin the liturgical season of Advent, preparing for the coming of Jesus at Christmas, we may ask ourselves how we can prepare for an event that has already occurred in time. The answer to this question lies in the timelessness of God, and in the reliving of the events of our salvation in the Church’s Liturgy.

This concept comes to us as part of the heritage received from our Jewish brothers and sisters, who had a deep awareness of reliving the events in their history as the Chosen People by their celebration of feasts. As Christians, celebrating the fulfillment of the Covenant made with our ancestors in the faith, we too relive the events our salvation in time. This occurs throughout our celebrations of the liturgical seasons and, most especially, in the Holy Mass.

“The Eucharist is the memorial of Christ’s Passover, the making present and the sacramental offering of his unique sacrifice, in the liturgy of the Church, which is his Body. In the liturgical celebrations, the events of our salvation become in a certain way present and real. When the Church celebrates the Eucharist, she commemorates Christ’s Passover, and it is made present: the sacrifice Christ offered once for all on the cross remains ever present” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1363, 1364).

Having briefly reviewed our concept of liturgical time, reminding ourselves that we are truly preparing for the coming of Christ once again at Christmas, we can now reflect on the fact that, just as we are preparing to receive Jesus when He comes again this Christmas, we are also preparing to receive the new translation of the Roman Missal, the liturgical text for the celebration of the Eucharist, on the First Sunday of Advent next year.

What is a Missal?
In the first centuries of the Church, there were no set books used for the celebration of the Liturgy. For one thing, printing, which made books much more readily available, would not be invented for another 1,500 years or so. Also, the early Church prayed and worshiped within the living memory of the Apostles and those who had learned from them and so had their teachings fresh in their minds. Likewise, the persecutions of the first three centuries of the Church’s history did not allow for set places of worship and organized schedules for liturgical celebrations.

During these early centuries, the Eucharistic Liturgy consisted of: readings from Scripture, often recited from memory; the Eucharistic Prayer, within which the sacrifice of Jesus is renewed and He is made present; and short prayers, “collecting” in a concise and sober manner, the prayers of the believing Church.

There is a very important principle of the Liturgy, which developed during the earliest ages of the Church, and which will be important in our brief reflection this week and throughout this year of preparation to receive the new translation of the Roman Missal. It is summed up in the ancient Latin phrase: lex orandi, lex credendi, “the rule of prayer is the rule of faith.” In other words, the liturgical and public prayer of the Church expresses the Church’s belief. That is why the Church has taken such care that her public prayer accurately reflect the faith she has received.

This is also why the Popes, up to our very day, have repeatedly reminded us that the Liturgy of the Church is not the product of inspanidual bishops, priests or members of the lay faithful, but the public expression of the received faith of the Church.

With this principle in mind, along with the spread of the Church and her freedom to worship publicly being acknowledged by the Roman Emperor in the year 313, prayers and liturgical formulas began to be written down. This was generally done at the level of local churches, which came to be known as dioceses, and for specific monastic communities.

Under the care of the early Popes, these written formulas were gathered into larger books, called sacramentaries. To put this phase into the context of a time-line, the earliest sacramentaries we know of are those attributed to Pope Leo the Great (440-461) and Pope Gelasius (492-496). There were other important books, which described the liturgical celebrations of the Church in Rome. These books and practices acquired great influence in the development of the Liturgy, because of the dignity of the Roman Church, presided over by its Bishop: the Pope. However, for the first 1,200 years or so of the Church’s history, there was not one single book containing all the prayers, chants, scriptural readings and liturgical directives for worship.

During the 12th and 13th centuries, we find the first complete collections of everything needed for the celebration of the Liturgy collected into one book, called a Missale. Hence our English word: missal. The dignity of the Church of Rome is reflected in the fact that, by the 1400s, this book is called the Missale Romanum, or Roman Missal.

With the coming of the Protestant Reformation, there was a desire to guarantee the orthodoxy of the Church’s Liturgy for the sake of the faithful. This, along with the invention of the modern printing press, led to the promulgation of one Missal, to be used by the entire Latin Church, except for those usages which were two hundred years old or more.

This was the Missale Romanum, promulgated by Pope Saint Pius V, in 1570. This Missale did not create a new Liturgy, but rather codified usages already in place. This Missal, with additions to the Calendar and some changes in rubrics, remained in universal use until the promulgation of the New Order of Mass by Pope Paul VI in 1969.

The work of translation
Until this time, there was not a great problem of translations of liturgical texts into modern languages because for most of the Church’s history, the public worship of the Latin Church was celebrated in the Latin language. While hand missals for the use of the faithful contained translations to assist in their participation, these were not official texts to be used publicly in the worship of the Church.

With the promulgation of the New Order of Mass by Pope Paul VI, the question of translations into the various languages of the world was immediately addressed, because from this time on it was foreseen that much of the Latin Church’s Liturgy would now often be celebrated in the vernacular; the language of the people. It is at this point that we reflect on two overall guidelines for liturgical translations, which have affected the vernacular style which we have used up until now and which will affect, in a different way, the style of language we will be using beginning with the First Sunday of Advent, 2011.

In anticipation of the promulgation of the New Order of Mass, a document was issued in early 1969, which contained directives for future translations. “The guiding principle of the document was ‘dynamic equivalency,’ which means to translate basic thoughts rather than words. Those who use this principle say that they are aiming for a transfer of the same meaning from the original to the receptor language. The original words and form are important only as a vehicle for the meaning; therefore, it is the meaning alone that is truly important in the translation” (‑timeline).

While this directive had its advantages, and we have been praying with its results for the past forty years or so, concerns eventually arose which prompted a change in direction from the Holy See. The speed with which the meanings of words change, and the fact that the style of speech of one period in time can quickly change, along with a concern that basic liturgical and doctrinal concepts were not always being expressed and maintained while using the dynamic equivalency principle, led to the document Liturgicam Authenticam of 2001. This is the other important directive that concerns us in our very brief study.

This document directed translations to be made using the principle of formal equivalency. The document states that “while it is permissible to arrange the wording, the syntax and the style in such a way as to prepare a flowing vernacular text suitable to the rhythm of popular prayer, the original text insofar as possible, must be translated integrally and in the most exact manner, without omissions or additions in terms of their content, and without paraphrases or glosses.”

This directive has been the guiding force of the new translation of the Roman Missal, which has been carefully prepared and which has received the approval of the Holy See. I will address this in greater detail in the future, and your own parishes will transmit a great deal of information to you in order to help with this transition.

The Latin Rite Bishops of Pennsylvania have just written a letter to all our priests inviting them prayerfully to study and prepare for the reception of this new translation. At this time, I invite all the faithful to make use of this time of Advent, preparing for the coming of Jesus once again at Christmas, to also prepare our hearts and minds to receive the new translation of the Roman Missal.

2 December 2010