Publishing the English translation of the new Roman Missal is a once-in-a-generation undertaking that has drawn the assistance of a record number of seven publishers across the United States.

The most significant change to the text of the Mass since the Second Vatican Council has been years in the making. 

“It’s a little bit daunting,” said John Thomas, director of Liturgy Training Publications, which is owned by the Archdiocese of Chicago.

For all but two of the publishers — Catholic Book Publishing Corp. and Liturgical Press — this is the first time they have come out with an English edition of the altar Missal. The text was the same for all, but each publisher added distinctive features, from artwork to the layout, poring over every detail in a book they say is unlike any other they have ever published. One publisher compared the construction of the Missal to a cathedral. Another said his company treated the book like an icon.

“Every publisher involved has taken this project very seriously,” said Peter Dwyer, director of Liturgical Press.

The altar Missal is a one-of-a-kind project for any book publisher, Dwyer said, because of the numerous tabs and ribbons, two-color text, and the need for a durable book that will be made of high-quality materials — at approximately 1,500 pages, to boot. Add to all that a ream of formal requirements from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Divine Worship — such as the mandate that the pagination be the same for all editions and that all publishers include a minimum of 15 illustrations — and the project became that much more complicated, publishers said. 

For some publishers, the task was an unprecedented undertaking that consumed most, if not all, of their staff’s time and talents.

Aside from the altar Missal itself, World Library Publishers developed 17 musical settings for the Mass, which were all done in the space of two years — a remarkable achievement, given that it normally takes up to a year and a half just to do one music setting, according to Jerry Galipeau, associate publisher at World Library Publications, which is a division of the J.S. Paluch Company, Inc.

“It has been an unbelievable two years,” said Galipeau. “It’s amazing to see what we’ve done.”

World Library Publications is also re-publishing any of its hymnals and missalettes that had the text of the Mass in it. “We went back to square one on everything. Everything that contains the text of the Mass has been redone,” Galipeau said.

Distinctive Features

Most publishers are coming out with pew cards and aids to assist with the faithful’s understanding of the new English translation of the Mass. Liturgy Training Publications’ Thomas said that the company came out with a total of about 120 resources, including book titles as well as pew cards, to help with the implementation and understanding of the new translation. 

The text for all the editions may be the same, but each publisher said it added distinctive features that set theirs apart from the others. “It really is the art that distinguishes the book, for the most part. We think that we have the most distinctive art,” said Dwyer. Liturgical Press commissioned 15 original pieces of art by Benedictine Brother Martin Erspamer, a liturgical illustrator and artist.

Other publishers adorned their Missals with art that is more traditional. World Library Publications, for example, used 16 classic Christian artworks from the Vatican Apostolic Library. USCCB Communications, the publishing arm of the bishops’ conference, filled the book with images from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.

The Midwest Theological Forum drew 49 full-color Renaissance and Baroque illustrations from museums and other collections around the world — ranging from The National Gallery in London to the Museo del Prado in Madrid and the Sistine Chapel in Rome. One 18th-century fresco of the Immaculate Conception by Italian painter Giovanni Battista Tiepolo is paired with the text for the corresponding feast day. The painting Christ on the Cross by the Baroque Spanish painter Diego Velázquez is next to the First Eucharistic Prayer.

Magnificat, one of the other publishers, has a spectrum of traditional and modern art — from a fourth-century fresco of Christ healing the hemorrhaging woman on the Catacomb of Sts. Peter and Marcellinus to images from the John Nava tapestries in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles. “We have a range of images because that’s what the Catholic faith is about. It’s not about one period. It’s a continuity,” said Romain Lize, the deputy publisher at Magnificat.

He said the heavy emphasis on art — 64 full-color pieces plus 100 images in black and white — is intended on drawing the priest celebrating Mass into prayer.

The various editions of the Missal also vary in the kind of materials that were used for the bindings. Magnificat used Spanish leather and turned to Lego — an Italian company that Lize describes as “probably the best Missal makers in the world” — to do the work.

Liturgical Press, on the other hand, used synthetic materials and makes a point of noting that its Missals were printed in the United States. “The problem with leather is that it breaks down much faster than synthetic materials. Because it’s organic, it’s much more susceptible to the oil in people’s hands,” Dwyer said.

No detail was too trivial for the publishers. The Catholic Book Publishing Corp. switched from red drop caps (capital letters at the start of sentences that drop down two or more lines into the text) in its second edition of the Missal to full-color drop caps, which are included in an estimated tally of 300 full-color illustrations.

Lize said Magnificat editors and production designers concentrated on achieving the most aesthetically pleasing layout. “We tried to get some kind of harmony in the layout … because beauty usually comes from something in harmony,” Lize said.

Liturgical Press took care to only stamp the spine of the book with the title “Roman Missal” out of reverence for the context in which the book would be used, Dwyer said. “In the ritual space, these sacred objects don’t need that kind of identification,” he said. “They are icons themselves.”

Deeper Appreciation

In the process of poring over the text of the Mass, several publishing company officials and their staff came to a deeper appreciation of the Mass, they said, something they hope spreads to parishes across the country when the new English translation is used for the first time later this month.

“It’s not just about learning new texts. While we’re at it, why don’t we work at learning to understand what we’re doing,” Dwyer said. “We think it’s that kind of approach, and we’re hearing parishes respond to that message.”

“The whole process has been spiritually amazing,” said Lize.

For Lize, the most spiritually moving part was his work on the Proper of Saints. “It was really a kind of communion-of-saints story. We are putting ourselves in the line of people who have, in a big way or a little way, built the Church,” he said. “How many people in one generation are given a chance to build a Missal? We took that as a great gift.”

Register correspondent Stephen Beale writes from Providence, Rhode Island.