An Ordinary Viewpoint

Liturgical Cogitations - I


From time to time it is well to take some time to reflect seriously about the most important things in life. For us Catholics and for our Catholic Church the most important of things is the sacred liturgy, and in a special way, the sacrifice and sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, which is the core of the liturgy. Although, as the Second Vatican Council teaches, “the sacred liturgy does not exhaust the entire activity of the Church; nevertheless the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed. At the same time it is the fount from which all her power flows. For the aim and object of all apostolic works is that all who are made children of God by faith and Baptism should come together to praise God in the midst of His Church, to take part in the divine Sacrifice, and to eat the Lord’s Supper.”

The Council goes on to say, “The liturgy in turn moves the faithful, filled with the paschal sacraments, to be one in holiness. It prays that they may hold fast in their lives to what they have grasped by their faith. The renewal in the Holy Eucharist of the covenant between the Lord and our humanity draws the faithful into the compelling love of Christ and sets them afire. From the liturgy, therefore, and especially from the Eucharist as from a fountain, grace is poured forth upon us, and the sanctification of men in Christ and the glorification of God, to which all other activities of the Church are directed as toward their end, are achieved in the most efficacious possible way. But, in order that the liturgy may be able to produce its full effects, it is necessary that the faithful come to it with proper dispositions, that their minds should be attuned to what they are saying or singing, and that they should cooperate with divine grace lest they receive it in vain (2 Corinthians 6:1).”

Renewed Translation

Another reason, albeit a less important one, to reflect on the sacred liturgy particularly in the present time is that within another year or two a new English translation of the liturgical prayers for the Mass will be forthcoming, requiring some adjustments in the words that are used in the public worship of the Church, when done in our native tongue. For about 1700 years, after the change from the Greek, the Latin language was what was used in the liturgy in the entire Western Rite of the Catholic Church. It was the intention of the Second Vatican Council that, in large measure, this should be continued, since the Council proclaimed, “Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin Rites.”

However, the Council also decreed, “Since the use of the mother tongue, whether in the Mass, the administration of the sacraments, or other parts of the liturgy, frequently can be of great advantage to the people, the limits of its employment may be extended.” The translations into the vernacular languages, the Council decreed, like all matters liturgical, may be done only by those whom God the Holy Spirit has raised up to shepherd the flock of Jesus. “Regulation of the sacred liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church, that is, on the Apostolic See and, as laws may determine, on the Bishop. Therefore, no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority.”


During the Second Vatican Council, on October 17, 1963, the Bishops of the English speaking countries in the world present there in Rome, including the United States, agreed that English is generally an univocal language and that there should one English language version of the liturgy for all the English speaking lands on earth. In April of 1964, at the behest of the Holy See, they formed the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) to assist them in the work of translation from Latin into English. In the meantime, the “Concilium”, a body of Bishops and scholars established by Pope Paul VI to implement the Constitution on the Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council, issued a document in French to guide all translations from the Latin into modern languages. It was called from its first words “Comme le Prevoit”. It basically provided for what was called “dynamic equivalence” or free translation as a guiding principle, so that a modern idiom might be used, and words, phrases, style, etc. of the original text could be freely altered or omitted by the translators.

Widespread discontent with the imperfections, errors, and other problematic items seen over the past 40 years in all translations, especially in the English, caused Pope John Paul II to issue in March-May 2001, a new and definitive guide to translation work in liturgical matters, entitled from its first words in Latin “Liturgiam Authenticam”, supplanting “Comme le Prevoit”. This new document of the Holy See rejects “dynamic equivalence” and now requires the liturgical translations from the Latin to be done in “formal equivalency”, that is, to be verbally exact without omissions or additions and without any paraphrases or glosses.

New Missal Edition

After the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council in April of 1969, Pope Paul VI approved and issued a new Roman Missal to replace that of Blessed Pope John XXIII (which dated from 1962). Pope Paul VI then issued in 1975 another revised Roman Missal. In the Year of the Great Jubilee (2000), Pope John Paul II issued yet another and the latest Roman Missal (called in Latin the “Editio Tertia Typica” of the Roman Missal). Unlike the two Missals issued by Pope Paul VI, this newest Roman Missal has been translated into English by the ICEL people according to “Liturgiam Authenticam” and now has been approved in that form by all the hierarchies of the English speaking countries. It awaits the approval (“recognitio”) of “Vox Clara” (a group of English speaking prelates from around the world appointed by the Pope to help the Holy See in this kind of work) and of the Holy See itself. This is foreseen to be forthcoming shortly, and then the publishers within a year should have the new English language Roman Missal ready for use (most likely by Advent of 2011), when we all should be able to use it after receiving some appropriate instruction and catechesis about the new words and expressions that we will experience. The book will be called again The Roman Missal. The previous (and current) use of the term “Sacramentary” has been shown to be inaccurate and incorrect.

This effort should significantly help implement what the Second Vatican Council taught: “Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that full, conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy. Such participation by the Christian People as a ‘chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people set apart’ (1 Peter 2:4-9) is their right and duty by reason of their Baptism.”

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