The purpose of this paper is to provide some considerations that may help priests and everyone else involved in pastoral ministry with the introduction of the new English translation of the third editio typica of the Missale Romanum (2002, reprinted 2008), the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite. This new, completely revised translation represents an important step in the process of liturgical reform inaugurated by the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium. It may even be said to constitute a far-reaching contribution to what then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI happily reigning, called “reform of the reform”.{{1}}

It is not yet clear when exactly this new translation will be introduced in the countless parishes and communities of the English-speaking Catholic world. The translation is in its final stages; all the texts have been approved by the various Conferences of Bishops in a long and sometimes arduous process. The recognition (recognitio) of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments is expected to be given some time after Easter 2010. How long it will then take to have the Missals ready for use is not certain; Advent 2010, the date preferred by the Congregation, is probably too early. A more realistic estimate would be some time in the year 2011.{{2}} It is a fair guess to say that the introduction of this revised translation will not happen without complications and requires an effort on the part of the Church’s Pastors, above all her Bishops, but also her priests, especially Parish Priests, because there are many changes in the liturgical texts that concern not only the celebrant priests themselves, but all the faithful, most notably the people’s response to the liturgical greeting “The Lord be with you” (for Dominus vobiscum), which will no longer be “And also with you”, but “And with your spirit” (for Et cum spiritu tuo). Moreover, far-reaching modifications have been made in the translation of the Ordo Missae, including the Confiteor, the Gloria, the Creed, and the Sanctus.

In order to appreciate this new translation, it will be useful, first to reflect in more general terms on the use of “sacred language” in divine worship;{{3}} secondly, I shall briefly sketch the role of Latin and of the vernacular in the liturgy since the Second Vatican Council; thirdly, I shall explain with the help of a few examples how the revised English translation achieves its aim at providing a “sacral vernacular” for the Church’s liturgy.

1. Sacred Language

Languages do not exist in a vacuum, but in the context of a structured system that is determined by a variety of factors (social, cultural, psychological, etc.). The languages used in the Church’s solemn public worship have obviously developed under certain specific conditions and circumstances that need to be considered to understand its particular characteristics. The Dutch scholar Christine Mohrmann, whose studies on the Latin used by early Christians are still indispensable, referred to the theory developed by Ferdinand de Saussure and other exponents of the Geneva school of linguistics, which claims that language should not only be seen as a means of social communication in ordinary life, but also as a medium of expression of persons in a comprehensive sense. Human speech is not just a utilitarian instrument that serves to communicate facts, and should do so in the most simple and efficient manner; it also provides the forms of expressing and interpreting the rich and subtle workings of the human mind, including the arts, philosophy and religion.{{4}}

Language is also the medium in which we express religious thoughts and experiences. We are conscious of the transcendence of the divine and, at the same time, of its presence – a presence that is both real and incomprehensible. There are extreme forms of expressing this experience: “speaking in tongues”, or glossalia, a phenomenon familiar to us from St Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, and “mystical silence”, as experienced, for instance, by Saint Augustine and his mother Saint Monica at Ostia.{{5}} “Sacred language” does not go as far as glossolalia and mystical silence in excluding human communication completely, or at least attempting to do so. However, it reduces the element of comprehensibility in favour of other elements, notably that of expression. Mohrmann proposes to see in sacred or, as she also says, “hieratic” language, and in particular in its vocabulary, a specific way of organising religious experience. She also argues that every form of belief in the supernatural, in the existence of a transcendent being, leads necessarily to adopting a form of sacred language in worship – just as a consistent secularism leads to rejecting any form of it.

Characteristics of sacred language: stability in liturgical texts

The characteristics of sacred language emerge from the early history of the Christian Eucharistic prayers. It is generally agreed that these were relatively fluid in the first three centuries. Their exact wording was not yet fixed, and the celebrant had some room to improvise. However, as Allan Bouley notes, “Conventions governing the structure and content of improvised anaphoras are ascertainable in the second century and indicate that extempore prayer was not left merely to the whim of the minister. In the third century, and possibly even before, some anaphoral texts already existed in writing”. Bouley speaks of an “atmosphere of controlled freedom”,{{6}} because concerns for orthodoxy limited the celebrant’s liberty to vary the texts of the prayer. This need became particularly pressing during the doctrinal struggles of the fourth century; hence this era saw the emergence of fixed Eucharistic prayers, such as the Roman Canon, the Anaphora of St John Chrysostom and others.

There is another important aspect of this development: the freedom to improvise existed only in a framework of fixed elements of content and style, which was, above all, biblically inspired. In a recent study on improvisation in prayer, Achim Budde analyses three oriental anaphoras used over a considerable geographical area, the Egyptian version of the Anaphora of St Basil, the West Syrian Anaphora of St James and the East Syrian Anaphora of Nestorius. With his comparative method, the German liturgist identifies common features of structure, style and rhetoric. Budde argues that these patterns and stable elements go back to the pre-literary history of these Eucharistic prayers and that they was studied and even memorised by priests in the early Church.{{7}} As noted by the Norwegian exegete Sigmund Mowinckel, known especially for his work on the Psalms, rapid development of fixed forms of prayer corresponds to an essential need and constitutes a fundamental law of religion.{{8}} Budde’s methodological approach is an important supplement and corrective to that of Bouley, who would appear to underestimate the significance of memorisation in an oral culture.{{9}} The formation of stable liturgical texts can thus be ascertained from early on as a strong force in the process of handing on the Christian faith.

In the Western tradition, the freedom to improvise remained for a longer time than in the East, especially in certain liturgical prayers, such as the introductory part of the Eucharistic prayer we now call “preface.”{{10}} This is the reason why there is such a great variety of prefaces in the early Roman sacramentaries. Mohrmann concludes that it is “this system which leads to a marked traditional prayer style.”{{11}} A similar phenomenon can be observed in the earliest Greek epos: the freedom of individual singers to improvise on the given material led to a stylised language. In the liturgy, the early tradition of oral improvisation in prayer helped to create a sacred style.

Stylistic features of sacred language

Mohrmann introduces a useful distinction between sacred languages of a “primary” and a “secondary” kind. “Primary” sacred languages were formed as such from the beginning; for example, the language of the Greek oracles that was close to the stylised language of the Homeric epos. “Secondary” sacred languages have come to be experienced as such only in the course of time. The languages used in Christian worship would seem to fall under this category: Greek in the Byzantine tradition; Syriac in the Patriarchate of Antioch and the “Nestorian” Church of the East with its missions reaching to India and China; Old Armenian; Old Georgian; Coptic; Old Ethiopian (Ge’ez); Church Slavonic; not to forget the Elizabethan English of the Book of Common Prayer{{12}} and, of course, the Latin of the Roman Rite and other Western liturgical traditions.

There are stylistic features in all these liturgical languages that separate them from the ordinary languages of the people. In the first place, since the language of divine worship is the medium of expression not just of individuals, but of a community living according to certain traditions, it is handed down from generation to generation and shows tenacity in holding on to archaic linguistic forms. Secondly, foreign elements are introduced in order to associate with ancient religious tradition; a case in point is the Hebrew Biblical vocabulary in the Latin use of Christians. Augustine makes pertinent observations on this in his De doctrina christiana:

“In some cases, although they could be translated, the original form is preserved for the sake of its solemn authority (propter sanctiorem auctoritatem)”, such as “amen” and “alleluia”. Other words “are said to be incapable of being translated into another language. … This is especially true of interjections, which signify emotion, rather than an element of clearly conceived meaning”; the example he provides “osanna” and “raca” (the expression of anger mentioned in Matthew 5:22).{{13}} Thirdly, sacred language uses rhetorical figures that are typical of oral style, such as parallelism and antithesis, rhythmic clausulae, rhyme, and alliteration.{{14}}

For these reasons, one cannot but describe as misleading the comments made three years ago by Donald Trautman, Bishop of Erie and then-Chairman of the United States Bishops’ Conference Committee on Liturgy, at a liturgical conference that “scholars have pointed out that the celebration of the Eucharist always followed the language of the people. There was no such thing in East or West as a sacred language”.{{15}}

In fact, already in Christian antiquity the language used in worship was at some distance from the language of the people. This distance was not just the result of linguistic developments in the common language that were not adopted in the liturgical language because of its conservative nature. The language of Christian worship was, above all, inspired by the Sacred Scriptures, which have their origins in a remote corner of the Roman Empire with a Semitic language and culture that had to be translated in order to evangelise the peoples of the Mediterranean. The Biblical idiom introduced first into Greek and then, even more so, into Latin contained many elements of vocabulary and syntax that were experienced by native speakers as unusual, remote or even arcane. Thus Biblical Greek and Biblical Latin helped to create a “hieratic” or “sacred” style that shaped the language of the liturgy.

2. Latin and the Vernacular since Vatican II

Early use of Latin

Originally, the Roman liturgy was mostly celebrated in Greek. The transition to Latin happened gradually and was largely completed by the middle of the fourth century. At the end of the fourth century, Saint Ambrose of Milan quotes extensively from the Eucharistic Prayer he uses, which is an earlier version of the Canon of the Mass.{{16}} In the centuries to follow, the great Sacramentaries were compiled, containing also the variable prayers of the Mass. It is clear from these sources that the prayer language of the Roman rite in late antiquity was already at some distance from the language of the people. In other words, the Romans did not speak in the style of the Canon or of the collects of the Mass. As soon as Greek was replaced by Latin in the Roman liturgy, a highly stylised medium of worship was created.

The Protestant challenge

In the course of the Middle Ages, Latin as the language of the liturgy became more and more removed from the language of the people, especially because of the formation of national languages and cultures in Europe. This problem became acute in the early modern period: the Protestant Reformers attacked the use of Latin in the liturgy; their idea of divine worship being essentially a proclamation of Word of God made them conclude that using a language that was not intelligible to the assembly was contrary to the Gospel. Martin Luther was happy to allow for some Latin, as far as it was understood by the people, and this custom was followed for some time in Lutheran communities. John Calvin, on the other hand, categorically rejected the use of Latin in worship.{{17}}

The measured response of Trent

At the Council of Trent, the question of liturgical language was much debated, and the arguments produced by the Protestant Reformers were considered very seriously. The Decree on the Sacrifice of the Mass of the Council’s 22nd Session in 1562 contains a carefully worded doctrinal exposition on the subject, stating that it did not seem expedient to the Fathers that the Holy Mass should be celebrated in the vernacular, although they recognise the value of the texts of the Mass for the instruction of the faithful. However, pastors should preach frequently about what is read at Mass, especially on Sundays and feast days.{{18}} Moreover, canon nine of the same Decree on the Sacrifice of the Mass declares anathema anyone who says that the vernacular language must be used in the celebration of Mass; again, the subtle wording of this conciliar text is to be noted.{{19}}

Liturgical Movement prior to Vatican II

The question of Latin and the vernacular in the Church’s liturgy continued to be discussed in the centuries after Trent, and it came to the fore especially with the Liturgical Movement of the first half of the twentieth century. The process of liturgical reform initiated by Pope Pius XII included concessions for countries to use the vernacular for the proclamation of the readings at Mass and, to some extent, for the celebration of other sacraments.

Vatican II

The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council Vatican addressed the question of the language of worship in a comprehensive way and granted a significant extension of the use of the vernacular in the Catholic liturgy. The primary motive for this was to promote “fully conscious and active participation” of the people in the liturgy.{{20}} The relevant article of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, no. 36, strikes a balance that was reached after some debate on the Council floor, asserting in the first paragraph that “the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rite” (§1), and then, secondly, granting that the use of the vernacular may be extended, which “will apply in the first place to the readings and directives, and to some of the prayers and chants.” (§2) Thirdly, “the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority”, which ordinarily would be the Conference of Bishops, is to decide “whether, and to what extent, the vernacular language is to be used.” (§3) Article 54 of Sacrosanctum Concilium specifies that in “Masses which are celebrated with the people, a suitable place may be allotted to their mother tongue. This is to apply in the first place to the readings and ‘the common prayer’, but also, as local conditions may warrant, to those parts which pertain to the people.” At the same time, however, “steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them.”

It is obvious from the relevant articles of Sacrosanctum Concilium that the Fathers of Vatican II did not envisage a general introduction of the vernacular, let alone a replacement of Latin as the liturgical language of the Roman rite with the mother tongue. Regarding the Divine Office, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy stipulated in article 101 that the Latin language was to be retained by clerics, although exceptions were possible (§1), while nuns and other groups should pray the Liturgy of the Hours in their native tongue (§2). Moreover, when the Council approved the use of the mother tongue in the Roman liturgy, it made clear that vernacular texts had to be translations of the Latin liturgical books and that these translation had to be approved by the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority (art. 36 § 4).

Post-conciliar developments

The post-conciliar developments soon went beyond the limited scope of the Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. Among the landmarks in this process was Pope Paul VI’s Motu proprio Sacram Liturgiam of 25 January 1964, just one and a half months after the promulgation of Sacrosanctum Concilium. With this Motu proprio, Paul VI permitted the use of the vernacular instead of Latin in the recitation of the hours. He defined the norm that the translated version should be drawn up and approved by the conferences of bishops and submitted to the Holy See for due approval, that is, confirmation.{{21}}

In the same year on 26 September, the Consilium for Implementing the Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, issued the Instruction Inter Oecumenici, which among other things provided criteria for vernacular translations. Inter Oecumenici made it clear that: (a) “the basis of the translations is the Latin liturgical text”; (b) the work of translations should involve institutes of liturgy or persons who are experts in Scripture, liturgy, the biblical languages, Latin, the vernacular, and music; (c) where applicable, “there should be consultation with bishops of neighbouring regions using the same language”; (d) “in nations of several languages there should be a translation for each language”.{{22}}

Vernacular expressions of the one Roman rite

In an address to translators of liturgical texts given on 10 November 1965, Pope Paul VI presents the basic principles of liturgical translations. The Pope emphasised that translations of liturgical texts “have become part of the rites themselves” and that for this reason they need the approval by the local authority and of the Holy See for liturgical use. The introduction of the mother tongue in worship does not mean that the Church has instituted new liturgical families. They are rather the vernacular expressions of the one Roman rite. Paul VI also declared that the type of language to be used in the liturgy “should always be worthy of the noble realities it signifies, set apart from the everyday speech of the street and the marketplace”. This requires that translators “know both Christian Latin and their own modern language”, and, given that the liturgy should above all be chanted, the translated prayers need to be constructed in such a way that they can be sung according to the rules of music that obtain in different cultures. The challenge for translators is to “make also clarity of language and dignity of expression shine forth in the vernacular translations of liturgical texts.”{{23}}

The influence of the 1969 Consilium instruction: “dynamic equivalence”

The most important document guiding the post-conciliar translations of liturgical texts was the Instruction of the Consilium Comme le prévoit of 25 January 1969. This document is in many ways an elaboration of Paul VI’s address 1965, which I have just quoted. However, Comme le prévoit has a number of irregularities: the document was published in six major languages, but not in Latin, the official language of the Holy See; moreover, it bears no official signature and it was not published in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, the official organ of the Holy See.{{24}}

The Instruction Comme le prévoit endorsed a translation theory known as “dynamic equivalence”. This methodology was developed by Eugene Nida for the purpose of Biblical translation and aims at rendering justice to the fact that a translation of a text is a difficult undertaking, because a text is a complex reality.{{25}}A word-by-word translation from the source language into the receptor language often does not make sense and fails to communicate the message of the text. This difficulty is felt particularly when it comes to translating Latin liturgical texts, many of which stem from late antiquity, into contemporary languages. Any translation must naturally aim at translating the spiritual and doctrinal content of these ancient prayers in a way that renders justice to the rules and conventions of the receptor language; that is, it must aim at producing “good English” or “good German.”

However, the theory of “dynamic equivalence” goes much further, in that it abstracts the content of the text from its linguistic and cultural form and no longer aims at a translation that would reproduce the formal structure of the original as closely as could reasonably be done in a modern language. Rather, the purpose of this approach is to identify the message contained in the original text apart from its linguistic form, which is considered a mere vesture that can be changed according to different cultural contexts. In the process of translation, a new form is to be created that would possess equivalent qualities by means of which the original content can be adequately expressed. By means of this new form, the translation intends to create in a reader or audience of the receptor language the same informative and emotive effect that the text in its source language would have had in its original context. This was the main principle according to which the Missale Romanum of Pope Paul VI was translated by the International Committee on English in the Liturgy (ICEL).

Displacing “dynamic equivalence”

Comme le prévoit has now been replaced by the Instruction Liturgiam authenticam, issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in 2001 and published in Acta Apostolicae Sedis.{{26}} The very title of this instruction indicates its official character: it is the “Fifth Instruction for the Right Implementation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council” and thus stands on a par with the first of these instructions, Inter Oecumenici of 1964. Liturgiam authenticam refers on its title page to article 36 of Sacrosanctum Concilium on the use of the vernacular in the Roman liturgy, which has already been discussed. With this Instruction, all previous norms on liturgical translation are superseded, with the exception of those presented in the Fourth Instruction Varietates legitimae of 1994 concerning difficult questions on the Roman Liturgy and inculturation.{{27}} According to Liturgiam authenticam, all the translations of the liturgical books in use since Vatican II are to be examined and revised. In order to consider the revised translations as authentic, they need the recognition (recognitio) of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.

Passing on the patrimony of the Roman rite

Liturgiam authenticam notes that the rich spiritual and doctrinal patrimony which is contained in the Latin liturgical texts of the Roman Rite is to be preserved and passed on through the centuries. In order to achieve this goal, “it is to be kept in mind from the beginning that the translation of the liturgical texts of the Roman Liturgy is not so much a work of creative innovation as it is of rendering the original texts faithfully and accurately into the vernacular language.” (art. 20) The different methodology that this Instruction requires of translators is made very clear: “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. Any adaptation to the characteristics or the nature of the various vernacular languages is to be sober and discreet.” (ibid.)

The contents of the liturgical texts should be “evident and comprehensible even to the faithful who lack any special intellectual formation”; for this reason “the translations should be characterised by a kind of language which is easily understandable.” At the same time, however, liturgical translations need to preserve the “dignity, beauty, and doctrinal precision” of the original text. The aim set for liturgical translation is indeed a high one: “By means of words of praise and adoration that foster reverence and gratitude in the face of God’s majesty, his power, his mercy and his transcendent nature, the translations will respond to the hunger and thirst for the living God that is experienced by the people of our own time, while contributing also to the dignity and beauty of the liturgical celebration itself.” (art. 25)

Liturgical language and inculturation

Liturgiam authenticam also addresses the often poorly understood question of inculturation in a reflected and balanced way. Liturgical translation should communicate the Church’s perennial treasury of prayer “by means of language understandable in the cultural context for which it is intended”; however, “it should also be guided by the conviction that liturgical prayer not only is formed by the genius of a culture, but itself contributes to the development of that culture. Consequently it should cause no surprise that such language differs somewhat from ordinary speech. Liturgical translation that takes due account of the authority and integral content of the original texts will facilitate the development of a sacral vernacular, characterised by a vocabulary, syntax and grammar that are proper to divine worship, even though it is not to be excluded that it may exercise an influence even on everyday speech, as has occurred in the languages of peoples evangelised long ago.” (art. 47) This important passage shows an awareness of the complex relationship between faith and culture that takes account of the characteristics of “sacred language” in the Christian tradition.

When reading Liturgiam authenticam, one cannot but be impressed by the high standards that are demanded for the translation of liturgical texts. No doubt, translation is a difficult undertaking, and it is made even more arduous by the particular nature of the texts in question. The task of reproducing the beauty and dignity of the Canon of the Mass or the ancient orations of the Missale Romanum in the vernacular would require translators as gifted in their mother tongue, as Miles Coverdale or Thomas Cranmer were in the sixteenth century. None other than Martin Luther wrote that one would need poets to create a popular liturgy.{{28}}

3. A Tale of Two Translations

In the third part of this paper, I shall compare the 1973 ICEL version of the Roman Missal, which is still in use, with the new translation that will be implemented before long. Parts of the Ordo Missae in English received the recognitio of the Congregation for Divine Worship in 2008 and are already available in their definitive form for study purposes.{{29}} Because of the limits of space, I have chosen to comment briefly on a few examples from on the First Eucharistic Prayer, the Roman Canon; I hope to treat this subject more extensively in the near future. The differences between the two translations emerge clearly from the table provided in the text box below.

The <em>Te Igitur</em> compared (click to expand)

Missale Romanum 2002 (2008)

Te igitur, clementissime Pater, per Iesum Christum, filium tuum, Dominum nostrum, supplices rogamus ac petimus, uti accepta habeas et benedicas, haec dona, haec munera, haec sancta sacrificia illibata.

Unde et memores, Domine, nos servi tui, sed et plebs tua sancta, eiusdem Christi Filii tui, Domini nostri, tam beatae passionis, nec non ab inferis resurrectionis, sed et in caelos gloriosae ascensionis: offerimus praeclarae maiestati tuae de tuis donis ac datis hostiam puram, hostiam sanctam, hostiam immaculatam, Panem sanctum vitae aeternae et Calicem salutis perpetuae.

ICEL 1973

We come to you, Father, with praise and thanksgiving, through Jesus Christ your Son. Through him we ask you to accept and bless these gifts we offer you in sacrifice.

Father, we celebrate the memory of Christ, your Son. We, your people and your ministers, recall his passion, his resurrection from the dead, and his ascension into glory; and from the many gifts you have given us we offer to you, God of glory and majesty, this holy and perfect sacrifice: the bread of life and the cup of eternal salvation.

ICEL 2008

To you, therefore, most merciful Father, we make humble prayer and petition through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord: that you accept and bless these gifts, these offerings, these holy and unblemished sacrifices, …

Therefore, O Lord, as we celebrate the memorial of the blessed Passion, the Resurrection from the dead, and the glorious Ascension into heaven of Christ, your Son, our Lord, we, your servants and your holy people, offer to your glorious majesty from the gifts that you have given us, this pure victim, this holy victim, this spotless victim, the holy Bread of eternal life and the Chalice of everlasting salvation.

Latin rules of composition and liturgical texts

Liturgical prayer is a form of public speech, and hence the Canon, as well as the collects of the Mass, was formed according to technical rules of composition. In Latin prose texts, the placing of the various parts of a sentence can be very significant. The Post-Sanctus part of the Canon begins with the striking form of address Te igitur, clementissime Pater. The 1973 version renders this rather blandly as “We come to you, Father”; thus the emphasis has already shifted from God the Father, to whom the prayer is addressed, to our action (“we come”). By contrast, the 2008 version attempts to reproduce the unusual beginning of the Latin prayer with “To you, therefore, most merciful Father.” The force of the Latin igitur has long been debated among liturgists; it has been argued that this refers back to the preface, in which we thank and praise God for his wonderful work of salvation. Since the Sanctus came in at a later stage in the development of the liturgy, it would seem plausible that igitur originally connected the petition to make our offering acceptable to the initial act of praise; however, it can now be construed to take up the acclamation of the Benedictus: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosana in the highest.” Note that the 2008 version has the superlative “most merciful Father” as in the Latin.

Moreover, while the 1973 version leaves out Dominum nostrum, the new version renders the phrase integrally: “through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord.”

The choice of the 1973 version “We come to you … with praise and thanksgiving … we ask you” is curious, because the Latin Canon only reads “supplices rogamus ac petimus” at this point. Eamon Duffy suggested that the old ICEL translation would reflect an opinion current among liturgists in the post-conciliar period that the Roman Canon was somehow deficient because it gave priority to the elements of petition and intercession over those of praise and thanksgiving. The translators may have tried to remedy this by letting the prayer begin with the words they chose.{{30}} Be that as it may, the 1973 version does not take into account the formula rogamus ac petimus, which is characteristic of Roman euchological style. Here we observe the typical use of consecutive synonyms or near-synonyms. The doubling of the verb increases the force and intensity of the expression. In the 2008 version this is translated as “we make humble prayer and petition.”

Cumulative language style in liturgical prayer

There are other examples of the use of nearsynonyms, such as accepta habeas et benedicas (translated in both versions as “accept and bless”) and haec dona, haec munera, haec sancta sacrificia illibata. In this latter phrase there is an impressive climax from the simple expression of “gifts” to a word that implies “what is due” and can literal mean “tributes,” to “sacrifices.” The 1973 version opts for a more paraphrasing translation “these gifts we offer you in sacrifice,” not communicating the idea that these sacrifices are indeed sancta and illibata, whereas the 2008 version does justice to the three different terms and also renders the rhetorical movement of the phrase into English: “these gifts, these offerings, these holy and unblemished sacrifices.”

In the anamnesis prayer after the consecration Unde et memores there are several outstanding stylistic features, above all in the clause offerimus tibi … . The asyndeton hostiam puram, hostiam sanctam, hostiam immaculatam, with three near-synonymous adjectives is once again characteristic of Roman prayer style. Whereas the 1973 translation reduces this to “this holy and perfect sacrifice”, the 2008 version retains the original’s rhetorical force: “this pure victim, this holy victim, this spotless victim”. In the older version, there is a remarkable tendency to leave out certain qualifying adjectives: beatae passionis is rendered as “his passion” (new: “the blessed Passion”), in caelos gloriosae ascensionis as “his ascension into glory” (new: “the glorious Ascension into heaven”), plebs tua sancta as “your people” (new: “your holy people”) and Panem sanctum vitae aeternae as “the bread of life” (new: “the holy Bread of eternal life”). In this prayer there is also an example of the earlier translators’ decision to change the respective forms of addresses for God used in the prayers of the Roman rite (Deus; Domine; Pater; Domine, Deus noster; Omnipotens aeterne Deus, etc.). There are many examples of this decision in the collects of the Missal. In the Unde et memores prayer Domine was translated as “Father”, no doubt to highlight the fact that this prayer is addressed to the God the Father, while shortly before in the Memorial Acclamation and shortly afterwards Dominus is used to refer to the Son. However, it would seem that in the original Canon Dominus is used deliberately for both the Father and the Son to underline that both are “Lord” and thus equal in divinity. Moreover, in the context of the prayer it is clear that the address Domine refers to the Father, whereas Domini nostri (which is left out in the 1973 version) means Christ, his Son.

4. Conclusion

From a historian’s perspective, it would seem obvious that the introduction of the vernacular, especially in the Liturgy of the Word, was a necessary step of liturgical reform. However, I should also like to note that what the postconciliar development has gone far beyond the provisions of Sacrosanctum Concilium. Today we find ourselves in the situation that many Catholics can hardly sing the Ordinary of the Mass in Latin or pray the Pater noster together. It is ironic that this should be the case in an era characterised by globalisation and unprecedented mobility. A common liturgical language provides a bond of unity between peoples and cultures. For that reason a relecture of the conciliar documents is required according to the “hermeneutic of continuity”, which Pope Benedict XVI presented in his epochal discourse to the Roman Curia of 22 December 2005 and which he has since then put into practice in word and deed.

While every effort should be made to revive the unique spiritual and cultural heritage, which we have in the Latin liturgy, we must also work to develop a vernacular “sacred language” that is worthy of its name. The new English translation of the Missale Romanum of 2002 (2008) is a decisive step on this way. This new translation unlocks the treasury of the Latin liturgical tradition and priests should do everything they can to help the faithful entrusted to their pastoral care to become familiar with it and to appreciate its richness.

[[1]]See above all his résumé of the important 2001 Fontgombault meeting. “Bilan et Perspectives”, in J. Ratzinger, Theologie der Liturgie: Die sakramentale Begründung christlicher Existenz, Gesammelte Schriften 11 (Freiburg: Herder 2008), pp. 657-682, at pp. 673-677.[[1]]

[[2]]Current information on this is found in the newsletter and on the website of the Committee on Divine Worship of the United States’ Conference of Catholic Bishops. See also the regular contributions on this topic in Adoremus Bulletin.[[2]]

[[3]]These arguments are developed more fully in my article “Rhetoric of Salvation: The Origins of Latin as the Language of the Roman Liturgy”, in U. M. Lang (ed.), The Genius of the Roman Liturgy: Historical Diversity and Spiritual Reach: Proceedings of the 2006 Oxford CIEL Colloquium (Chicago: Hillenbrand Books, 2010), pp. 22-44.[[3]]

[[4]]Thus C. Mohrmann, Liturgical Latin: Its Origins and Character. Three Lectures (London: Burns & Oates, 1959), 1-26; cf. the same author’s Études sur le latin des chrétiens, 4 vols, Storia e letteratura 65, 87, 103, 143 (Roma: Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura, 1961-1977).[[4]]

[[5]]Augustine, Confessions, IX,10,25: ed. J. J. O’Donnell, Augustine, Confessions. Introduction, Text, and Commentary, 3 vols (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992), ad loc.[[5]]

[[6]]A. Bouley, From Freedom to Formula: The Evolution of the Eucharistic Prayer from Oral Improvisation to Written Texts, Studies in Christian Antiquity 21 (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 1981), p. xv.[[6]]

[[7]]A. Budde, “Improvisation im Eucharistiegebet. Zur Technik freien Betens in der Alten Kirche”, in Jahrbuch für Antike und Christentum 44 (2001), pp. 127-144, esp. p. 138.[[7]]

[[8]]S. Mowinckel, Religion und Kultus, trans. A. Schauer (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1953), p. 8.[[8]]

[[9]]Cf. Budde, Improvisation im Eucharistiegebet, p. 137.[[9]]

[[10]]Cf. C. Mohrmann, ‘Sur l’histoire de Praefari-Praefatio’, in Études sur le latin des chrétiens, vol. III, pp. 291-305 (originally published in Vigiliae Christianae 7 [1953], pp. 1-15).[[10]]

[[11]]Mohrmann, Liturgical Latin, p. 24.[[11]]

[[12]]Cf. F. E. Brightman, The English Rite: Being a Synopsis of the Sources and Revisions of the Book of Common Prayer with an Introduction and an Appendix, 2 vol. (second edition 1921, reprinted Farnborough: Gregg International, 1970).[[12]]

[[13]]Augustine of Hippo, De doctrina christiana II,34-35 (xi,16): ed. and trans. R. P. H. Green, Oxford Early Christian Texts (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995), 73. On the meaning of os(i)anna” there is an interesting exchange of letters between Pope Damasus and Jerome: Ep. XIX et XX: CSEL 54, pp. 103-110.[[13]]

[[14]]See C. Mohrmann, “The Ever-Recurring Problem of Language in the Church”, in Études sur le latin des chrétiens, vol. IV, pp. 143-159, at pp. 151-152.[[14]]

[[15]]D. Trautman, “A Pastoral Deficit”, in The Tablet of 3 February 2007, pp. 8-9, at p. 8.[[15]]

[[16]]Ambrose of Milan, De Sacramentis IV,5,21-22; 6,26-27: CSEL 73, pp. 55 and 57.[[16]]

[[17]]H. A. P. Schmidt, Liturgie et langue vulgaire. Le problème de la langue liturgique chez les premiers Réformateurs et au Concile de Trente (Analecta Gregoriana 53), Romae: Apud Aedes Unversitatis Gregorianae, 1950.[[17]]

[[18]]Council of Trent, 22nd Session (17 September 1562), Decree on the Sacrifice of the Mass, ch. 8: Etsi missa magnam contineat populi fidelis eruditionem, non tamen expedire visum est patribus, ut vulgari passim lingua celebraretur. Quamobrem, retento ubique cuiusque ecclesiae antiquo et a sancta Romana ecclesia, omnium ecclesiarum matre et magistra, probato ritu, ne oves Christi esurient, neve parvuli panem petant et non sit, qui frangit eis (Thren. IV,4): mandat s. Synodus pastoribus et singulis curam animarum gerentibus, ut frequenter inter missarum celebrationum vel per se vel per alios, ex his, quae in missa leguntur, aliquid exponent atque inter cetera Smi. huius Sacrificii mysterium aliquod declarant, diebus praesertim Dominicis et festis.[[18]]

[[19]]Canon IX: Si quis dixerit, Ecclesiae Romanae ritum, quo submissa voce pars canonis et verba consecrationis proferuntur, damnandum esse; aut lingua tantum vulgari Missam celebrari debere; aut aquam non miscendam esse vino in calice offerendo, eo quod sit contra Christi institutionem: anathema sit.[[19]]

[[20]]Second Vatican Council, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium (4 December 1963), art. 14.[[20]]

[[21]]Paul VI, Motu Prorio Sacram Liturgiam (25 January 1964), in Acta Apostolicae Sedis 56 (1964), pp. 139-144, English translation in Documents on the Liturgy 1963 – 1979: Conciliar, Papal, and Curial Texts (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1982), no. 20, p. 86.[[21]]

[[22]]Sacred Congregation of Rites, Instructio ad exsecutionem Constitutionis de sacra Liturgia recte ordinandam “Inter Oecumenici”, Acta Apostolicae Sedis 56 (1964), pp. 877-900; Documents on the Liturgy, no. 23, p. 96.[[22]]

[[23]]Paul VI, Address to translators of liturgical text (10 November 1965), in Acta Apostolicae Sedis 57 (1965), pp. 967-970; Documents on the Liturgy, no. 113, pp. 273 and 274.[[23]]

[[24]]Consilium, Instruction Comme le Prévoit (25 January 1969); French version in Notitiae 5 (1969), pp. 3-12; English in Documents on the Liturgy, no. 123.[[24]]

[[25]]See esp. E. A. Nida, Toward a Science of Translating, with Special Reference to Principles and Procedures Involved in Bible Translating, Leiden: Brill, 1964.[[25]]

[[26]]Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Fifth Instruction for the Right Implementation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council Liturgiam authenticam (28 March 2001), in Acta Apostolicae Sedis 93 (2001), pp. 685-726.[[26]]

[[27]]Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Fourth Instruction for the Right Implementation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council Varietates legitimae (25 January 1994), in Acta Apostolicae Sedis 87 (1995), pp. 288-314.[[27]]

[[28]]M. Luther, Formula Missae et Communionis, 1523: Weimarer Ausgabe, vol. XII, p. 218.[[28]]

[[29]]The text is available online.[[29]]

[[30]]See E. Duffy, “Rewriting the Liturgy: The Theological Implications of Translation”, in S. Caldecott (ed.), Beyond the Prosaic: Renewing the Liturgical Movement, Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1998, pp. 97-126 (also published in New Blackfriars 78 [1997], pp. 4-27).[[30]]

Rev Uwe Michael Lang Cong. Orat. is a priest of the London Oratory, and a Consultor to the Office for the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff. He teaches at the Università Europea di Roma/Ateneo Pontificio Regina Apostolorum.