VATICAN CITY — After three years of painstaking work, the end is in sight for completing the new translation of the Order of Mass.

Over the last two months, the bishops’ conferences of the United States, Canada, England and Wales, Scotland and Australia have all approved a final text — a crucial step in the translation process.

Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, Australia, chairman of Vox Clara, the committee of English-speaking cardinals and bishops who advise the Vatican on the translation of the Roman Missal, called the development “encouraging.” Since the re-translations started, he said, he has closely monitored the work of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL), the body charged with devising a new text.

“I know the quality and excellence of the translation,” said Cardinal Pell. “The new single translation for all the English speaking world captures the theological richness of the original Latin, and the English is clear, dignified and accessible. Catholics will quickly get used to it and come to love it.”

The Order of Mass contains the prayers recited every day at Mass, including prayers for the penitential rite, the Gloria and the Creed and the four main Eucharistic prayers. It does not include the Scripture readings or the prayers that are specific to a certain Sunday or feast day.

Liturgical translations must be approved by two-thirds of the members of a bishops’ conference before they can proceed to the next step of verification.

It is now up to the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments to scrutinize and review the texts, known as a “white book,” that have been approved by the bishops’ conferences.

The initial ICEL draft, called a “green book,” was sent to English-speaking bishops and members of Vox Clara for comment. The final ICEL draft, called a “gray book,” was sent to all members of English-speaking bishops’ conferences for final action, which may include amendments and changes specific to their country.

Liturgium Authenticam 

Once the congregation receives a “white book” from each of the conferences, its work will chiefly focus on ensuring that the translations are in conformity with Liturgiam Authenticam (The Authentic Liturgy), the 2001 Holy See instruction on the faithful translation of liturgical texts. In May, Cardinal Francis Arinze, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, reiterated to Vox Clara members his “unwavering intention to assure the implementation” of Liturgiam Authenticam, which called for faithful translation of texts from the original Latin.

The 2001 instruction also called for specific changes in the English Mass translations, such as the congregation’s response “And with your spirit,” to the priest’s proclamation, “The Lord be with you.”

Currently, “And also with you” is the standard translation used in English-speaking countries. But, in Rome’s judgment, that phrasing fails to express the sense that it is the Holy Spirit, manifested through the priest, that is being recognized in the congregation’s response, not simply the priest himself.

Many bishops, including Bishop Donald Trautman of Erie, Penn., chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy, had expressed reluctance to changing texts now in widespread use during Mass. In response, Cardinal Arinze insisted fidelity to the original Latin text must be given precedence over preserving texts in use only since the Second Vatican Council.

Throughout the process of reviewing the “white books,” the Congregation for Divine Worship will consult regularly with the Vox Clara committee. The committee will next meet July 17-20, at which time its members will get a first look at all the texts approved by the bishops’ conferences.

Congregation officials expect to complete the review over the next few months, during which time they can reject a text and send it back to the bishops’ conferences, stating their reasons for revision. If a conference has made changes to the text that are found not to be in accordance with Liturgiam Authenticam, it will “complicate things” and cause delays, according to a Rome liturgical expert who has been involved in the process.

However, although this happens fairly often with other liturgical texts, it’s less likely to occur this time, thanks to the English-speaking bishops’ concerted efforts to ensure that their “white books” conform to Liturgiam Authenticam, liturgical experts say.

Once approved, the Congregation for Divine Worship will confer recognitio (official juridical status) to the final translations, formally completing the approval process for the translations under review.

But since the Order of Mass prayers are just part of the Mass, and the entire Roman Missal still needs to be translated, no changes will be evident in churches until that is also completed. ICEL is aiming to complete all translations of the Mass by the end of 2007, so no text is likely to be implemented before 2008.

“It’s a long process and although relatively straightforward, it’s not necessarily simple,” said the Rome liturgical expert. “But there’s now light at the end of the tunnel.”

Said Cardinal Pell, “Finally we are seeing the fruits of years of hard and hidden work. The new translations will give a considerable boost to prayers, worship and sound teaching. They will be a blessing for the Church.”

(CNS contributed to this story.)

Edward Pentin

writes from Rome.