An Ordinary Viewpoint

Liturgical Cogitations - II

Linguistic Array

The Bishop of Brooklyn, New York, once told me that on any given Sunday Holy Mass in the Roman Rite in his Diocese is offered in more than 30 languages. The Cardinal-Archbishop of Los Angeles went him even better and told me that in his Archdiocese on Sunday, Holy Mass in the Roman Rite is offered in more than 50 languages. (The Archdiocese of Los Angeles is numerically the largest U.S. Diocese with more than 5 million registered Catholics.) In our Diocese of Lincoln, here on the Great Plains of North America, we have far fewer language varieties. However, on every Sunday Masses are being offered regularly here in the Latin language (partly or entirely), and in the Spanish language and the Vietnamese language. Occasionally too Masses are offered here in French, Czech, and German, as well as in other tongues. We also have Masses in other languages in other Rites than the Roman Rite in our diocesan territory, (the Melkite and Ukrainian Rites, for instance), although these are not under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Lincoln, but rather under the authority of Bishops appointed by the Holy See to take pastoral care of those Eastern Rites.

These realities in our country alone confirm not only that the effects of the Babel event (Genesis 11:1-9) continue to remain with us on earth, but also that, in Christ and in the Church He founded, which is Catholic or universal, through the Pentecost event (Acts of the Apostles 2:6-12), the Babel disaster is beginning to be undone (an undoing that only will be completed at Weekthe Christ’s Second Coming at the end of time). Despite differences in the languages used, the Catholic Mass is the same everywhere, and, in the Roman Rite, all the Roman Missals used in these various languages have been translated from the official, standard Latin Missal by the Bishops of the respective countries where those languages are used (with subsequent approval by the Holy See).


Although there are various accents, pronunciation varieties, and differing slang and commonly used expressions throughout the English speaking world, our language is basically the same everywhere. This is why the Holy See, after the Second Vatican Council when the vernacularization of the Roman Rite liturgy began, strongly urged that the Bishops of the English speaking countries make a united effort to have one English language translation of the Roman Missal for the whole world. The result was the formation of the International Commission for English in the Liturgy (ICEL).

There are 11 countries (including the United States) which have English as the primary or exclusive language. There are an additional 17 countries which use English extensively together with their native languages. This is especially those countries, former British colonies, (such as India and Nigeria), which have a number of various official languages. Because of this difference (some countries in the 11 category and others in the 17 category) , there is a two tier voting system in the ICEL arrangements. Each hierarchy involved elects a Bishop to be a representative to ICEL. Since the enactment of the document “Liturgiam Authenticam” the Holy See exercises some control over who are named to be the staff members of that group.

Formidable Task

Translation work is always complicated and difficult, particularly when it involves going from Latin into English, because English is a very large language, (about one third larger than other modern languages). The use of contemporary English is widespread throughout the world and only Mandarin Chinese is spoken or used by more people on earth. Liturgical translation requires, of course, theological orthodoxy, accuracy, and precision. It also requires language which is comprehensible, noble, beautiful, “speakable”, and “singable”. When about one thousand English speaking Bishops from various countries are involved in translating or overseeing a translation, the task becomes huge, since selections of syntax, adverbs, adjectives, sentence structure, and synonyms can sometimes occasion quarrels even about taste and appropriateness.

In regard to the new Roman Missal (issued in the year 2000 by the Holy See in Latin), the ICEL staff, following the document “Liturgicam Authenticam”, did a draft of a translation section by section of the Missal. These drafts then were sent over the past several years to the Bishops’ Conferences for comments and amendments. These comments and amendments were returned to the ICEL staff from all the Conferences. This process went on back and forth over the past few years several times. Finally, ICEL, having taken into account as much as possible the Bishops’ views and having tried to reconcile the differences of opinions from one Episcopal Conference to the next, sent the final drafts to the Bishops’ Conference, which then voted on them. Now that all the English speaking Conferences have approved them, they have been sent on to the Holy See to obtain final approval (“recognition”) from there, so that the new Missal translated into English can be published soon. To help in this work of approval, Pope John Paul II had invented a group of English speaking prelates from various countries, headed by Cardinal Pell of Sydney, Australia, to help him and his successor along with the department of the Holy See concerned with these matters (Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments) in their duty of evaluation and oversight. This group is called “Vox Clara” and meets regularly in Rome.

New Missal

In the Preamble to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, we read: “When He was about to celebrate with His disciples the Passover Meal in which He instituted the Sacrifice of His Body and Blood, Christ the Lord gave instructions that a large furnished upper room should be prepared (Luke 22:12). The Church has always regarded this command as applying also to herself when she gives directions about the preparation of people’s hearts and minds and of the places, rites, and texts for the celebration of the Most Holy Eucharist.”

Southern Nebraska Register:

Ver noticias y columnas en español  
Southern Nebraska Register | 3700 Sheridan Blvd Suite 10, Lincoln NE 68506-6100 | 402-488-0090 | Email Clergy Resources


Site by Solutio