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Theology for the common man


This year on the First Sunday of Advent, i.e. November 27, 2011, the third edition of the newly translated Roman Missal in the English language was introduced, an event of great importance to the entire English speaking Catholic population. This edition comes at the end of eight long years of closely translating certain parts of the missal from the original Latin into the English language. It took on the contemporary challenge of adapting the Pastoral Liturgy of the Catholic Church to an English speaking environ.

Origin of the Roman Missal
The Missal is a book containing the text which serves in celebrating the liturgy of the Mass. It came together gradually insofar as it was necessary to consolidate the various forms of Mass celebration which existed in different Christian communities throughout the East and the West. In the very beginning a book was not used in celebrating the Mass. Its ritual was dependent on the charismatic improvisation of the celebrants drawing inspiration from the scrolls of Sacred Scripture, from existing traditions and personal innovative creation. At times, however, for preservation of unified form and the avoidance of loquacious celebrants, individual synods demanded the local bishop’s approval of the text of the prayers. Thus arose individual formulae for the Mass, written down on loose sheets called levels, which later in the Middle Ages were gathered and combined in sets called Sacramentaries. In the 9th century, they began to consolidate the various texts into one book, which they called the Missal, and since it was used for the most part in Roman liturgical services, it was named the Roman Missal. It contained the text of various actions performed during the Mass in a fixed order. Our oldest Roman Missal is from the 12th century, yet only from the Council of Trent has the entire Catholic Church been bound to use a standardized Missal. It was approved by Pope Pius V in 1570, and later was revised by Popes Clement VIII and Urban VIII. It remained in force in the Church until Vatican Council II in 1965.

Three Post-conciliar Missals
Vatican Council II (1962-1965) paid special attention to the diverse cultures and languages of the people of God and communication with their God in the liturgy. In answer to this concern, the Council Fathers proposed the release of a new edition of the Roman Missal. Pope Paul VI gave his approval on the first Sunday of Advent, 1968. The first standard Latin edition appeared in 1970, and was followed in 1975 by another revised edition supplemented with new meaning. Within the so-called Missal of Paul VI were three new upgraded Eucharistic prayers, more forms of the Preface, and introduced as constant parts of the Mass were: the act of Contrition, the Homily and Prayer of the Faithful. This Missal began to be translated into the national languages of particular countries adjusting the translation to each country’s approach to life and its specific culture. The Polish translation of the second post-conciliar Missal did not appear until 1986 to which five Eucharistic prayers were added – three for Mass with the participation of children and two prayers for Reconciliation. In the year 2000, Pope John Paul II approved the third Latin edition of the Roman Missal, which was published two years later. For the first time, this Missal contained many texts with musical notation, a confirmation that now the entire liturgy of the Mass could be sung. The introduction of this Missal stresses in particular the roles of silence, music, song and an understanding of the attitudes and gestures in the celebration of Eucharist. In addition, this Missal contains numerous new formats and prayers such as every Sunday in Lent having its own prayer over the people. This Missal allows the use of the Apostles Creed in place of the current Nicene Creed and adds many new set-ups honoring contemporary saints. Thus the latest English translation of the Missal is part of this third Latin edition.

Why a new Translation of the Roman Missal?
The English post-conciliar translation of the Roman Missal according to the second adjusted Latin version appeared in 1985. Until Advent 2011, this version was used to celebrate the Mass in all English-speaking dioceses of the world including the USA, Canada, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Oceania, South Africa and Asia. In light of previous usage, one might ask why we need a new translation. Since ten years prior, a third Latin version was published which better corresponds to the mentality of contemporary man and to different specific nations and countries, it follows that it ought to be translated into the English language. Furthermore, among the many national languages, the English language holds particular importance today, since in practice English is the dominant language of the world. It is necessary, then, that there be an English ecumenical version that takes into account every possible way of understanding the original Latin text so that its meaning might be most faithfully presented in this modern language of the world.