Praying Anew | A look at the new translation of the Roman Missal, Third Edition

Lisa Johnston

In less than six weeks, the Church will draw to a close another liturgical year and start anew on the first Sunday of Advent, Nov. 27.

But what will be different this time is that the faithful will experience a new way in which we pray at the Mass. On that weekend, parishes here and other English-speaking parishes around the world will, for the first time, implement the new English translation of the Roman Missal, Third Edition.

While it's the first significant change in the Mass since the norms laid out by the Second Vatican Council in the 1970s, the new translation does not signify an actual change in the way the Mass is celebrated, according to Father Jason Schumer, an archdiocesan priest who was studying in Rome when Church authorities were working on the framework for the new translation.

"There's been a lot of sensationalism in the secular media about what's going to happen," said Father Schumer, ordained in 2010, and who holds a licentiate in liturgical theology from the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome and is a professor of liturgical theology at Cardinal Glennon College. "You hear things like the Mass is changing, and people have these memories of Vatican II," which he said can often conjure up memories of the varied catechesis leading up to the reform of the Mass at that time. "But the fact of the matter is here and now, to say the Mass is changing, is really not accurate at all."

What's going to be different is a translation of a number of the prayers, offered by both the priest and faithful, during the Mass. The goal in mind: To make our prayers as close to the original Latin text of the Roman Missal as possible, and in the process, will display a certain respect and reverence for the history of generations who have come before us in the celebration of the Mass.

The translation took nearly a decade to develop, and included consultations with the U.S. bishops, the International Commission on English in the Liturgy and the Vox Clara Committee, which advised the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments on English translations. Vox Clara often met at the Pontifical North American College, when Father Schumer was living there as a student.

Over the next five weeks, the Review will explore several reasons why the translation is a gift to the Church, as explained by Father Schumer. Ultimately, the priest explained that what we are about to experience in the Church is "a great opportunity to pray the Mass anew — “to listen to the beauty of these prayers, some of them over 1,000 years old, and to hear them once again in a new way."

The Mass, put simply, is a prayer — the ultimate prayer that the faithful lift up to God.

"And that prayer means that we say those words and those words transform our hearts. (This) can help people think about what is the prayer saying? What are we asking for? What does that mean in my life? What do I need to do to draw closer to God? What is God calling me to?"

Part One: A reflection on the history of the Mass

The Roman Rite, the manner in which Mass in the Western world is celebrated, is the most common way of celebrating the Mass in the entire perspective of Christianity. It was developed, by an organic process, over time and dates back to the time of the New Testament.

The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke and in First Corinthians all include the Institution narrative, in which Jesus, on the night before he dies, takes the bread and wine, and transforms it into his Body and Blood.

"It is that which is the core of the Mass," said Father Schumer. "And that is what is the core of liturgical worship that is the Holy Eucharist. From that, you begin to see a development around that core of what becomes the Roman Rite of the Mass."

Sts. Peter and Paul were the apostles who took that rite to Rome, and from there, it was inculturated into the Roman way of worship. Similarly, the other apostles, who traveled to other parts of the world, incorporated rites that are now known as Maronite or Byzantine, for example.

By the year 150 A.D., St. Justin the Martyr, an early Christian apologist, in his first Apology, describes a fundamental structure of the Mass, said Father Schumer, which includes a gathering on Sunday, a reading from the Word of God, an explanation of those readings, now known today as a homily, a kiss of peace or greeting, a prayer of thanksgiving and transformation of the bread and wine.

"This sounds familiar, because already you see in 100 years, in one century, around that core of worship that Jesus gave us, around that institution narrative grows up what is the Holy Mass," he said.

By the first half of the third century, this sentiment is once again affirmed through the Apostolic Tradition, an early Church document from which the second Eucharistic Prayer had been derived. That prayer, said Father Schumer, takes as its basis a text that was believed to have been written by St. Hippolytus, a third-century theologian from Rome.

Coming into the fourth century, St. Ambrose, bishop of Milan and one of the original doctors of the Church, describes certain prayers, including the Roman Canon, or the Church's first Eucharistic Prayer. For St. Ambrose to write such a commentary, that means those prayers were well known, most likely including the time before Christianity became legal.

"What that tells us is that the first Eucharistic Prayer was prayed by the people of Rome in the Catacombs," said the priest. "That should give us pause to realize the centuries and centuries of Christians who have gone before us and prayed these prayers. These prayers grew up in their hearts, inspired by Scripture, inspired by their experiences of living Christianity in what would have been (a time of) great persecution in Rome."

So many of the prayers that we currently use in the Mass, including the opening prayers, the prayers over the gifts, and the prayer after Communion, also come from the Veronese Sacramentary, and later the Gelasian Sacramentary, both of which were developed over the fifth, sixth and seventh centuries.

By the eighth century, the emperor Charlemagne takes those texts and distributes them across Europe – for the purpose of unification, explained Father Schumer.

"He wants to unify the empire, and he wants to do it through the liturgy, through the way the Christians worshipped," he said. "Those texts go to those places and become inculturated. So those Roman texts go into what is now France and Germany and take a French and German character."

By the second millennium, those texts find their way back to Rome, and this time, they're filled with symbols and elements representative from all over Europe. Eventually, that leads to the Council of Trent (1545-63) in which the Church fathers decide on having one Roman Missal in order to create a sense of unity in the Church.

The first Roman Missal, which was published for use in nearly every western Catholic Church, was promulgated in 1570, following the Council of Trent, said Father Schumer.

"And that missal is there and stays almost untouched until 1962," the time of the Second Vatican Council.

Second Vatican Council: A time of great reform

And then it happened.

Through the efforts of the Second Vatican Council, a new Roman Missal was issued, in which a new order of the Mass was laid out.

"The council fathers at Vatican II gave the opportunity, the possibility, of that missal being translated into vernacular languages," said Father Schumer. "Up until this point, the liturgy would have been all in Latin."

Translating the Latin text into various languages would prove difficult.

"You're talking about some texts which are from the second, third and fourth century ... now translating them into a modern language."

Using a theory called dynamic equivalence, the translation occurred by reading the prayer in the original Latin and expressing, using modern languages, what the prayer meant. These translations occurred after Vatican II.

"The problem with this type of translation is that it lends itself to a certain subjectivity across languages," said Father Schumer. So what happens is from one language to another ... you get very different translations."

And that's exactly what Blessed John Paul II observed himself as he traveled the world during his pontificate. By the late 1990s, he proposed a new translation, and by 2002, a new Roman Missal, in Latin and called the Third Edition, is released. It is from that Missal that the work begins on a more accurate translation into the vernacular.

For the Christians living in the third century Rome, who often lived in hiding, afraid for their lives because of their faith, those original prayers very well might have communicated something entirely different than how we as Christian Catholics might understand the prayers today, said Father Schumer.

"It's good to account for every word, every phrase, every meaning in a more objective way, so that we can enter into the prayer of Christians who have gone before us," he said. While we all come to the Mass and participate, and we all offer Mass in union with the priest ... in some ways, these prayers are not totally ours.

"To know and to translate it so that we hear the prayers that are in a way that is closest possible to the way people have heard for two millennium is a beautiful thing," said the priest.

The new English translation respects and reveres that history of the Mass.

Examples of the new translation

The Greeting

At the beginning of Mass, immediately after the Sign of the Cross, the celebrant extends one of three different liturgical greetings to the people. The one that is perhaps most commonly used is “The Lord be with you.” It is a familiar line that will remain unchanged with the new translation.

Our new response will be the first major change in the Order of Mass. Instead of “And also with you,” we will say, “And with your spirit.” This new response will be made at the four other times during Mass when this dialogue occurs: at the reading of the Gospel, at the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer, during the Sign of Peace and at the conclusion of Mass.

“And with your spirit” is the proper translation of the original Latin text: “Et cum spiritu tuo.” By correctly expressing this dialogue in English, we are aligning our translation with that of all the other major language groups, which have long been translating the Latin properly. For example, in Spanish, the response is “Y con tu espíritu.”

The recovery of the word “spirit” also carries Scriptural meaning. One form or other of “The Lord be with you” appears multiple times in the Bible, including the greeting given by the Archangel Gabriel to Mary at the Annunciation: “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you” (Luke 1:28). Then, in the Pauline epistles, multiple
variations of “The Lord be with your spirit” are employed as parting words to different church communities. Understood together, this liturgical dialogue in the Mass is an exchange whereby all present – both priest and congregation – ask that the Holy Spirit (whom we call “the Lord, the giver of life” in the Nicene Creed) establish a stronger communion among us.

For the congregation to answer the priest, “And with your spirit,” is a theological statement about what Catholics
believe regarding ordained ministers. No. 367 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of how “spirit” can refer to an elevation of the soul, whereby the soul “is raised beyond all it deserves to communion with God.” Through Holy Orders, Christ has forever configured the priest’s soul to Himself in a special way, by the power of the Holy Spirit. By specifically referencing the priest’s spirit, we affirm this transformation and pray for his ministry.

The Gloria

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal describes the Gloria as “a most ancient and venerable hymn by which the Church, gathered in the Holy Spirit, glorifies and entreats God the Father and the Lamb” (no. 53).

Much of the text of the Gloria comes from Scripture: the first lines are derived from the Angels heralding the glad tidings of Christ’s birth in Luke 2:14 – “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” The opening words (“Glory to God in the highest”) also correspond to the Latin, “Gloria in excelsis Deo” – a phrase universally familiar from the popular Christmas carol, “Angels We Have Heard on High.”

There are substantial differences between the new text and the Gloria translation that we have been using. The current text reads, “peace to his people on earth,” which the new text expands to “on earth peace to people of good will.” It helps to know that some versions of the Bible render Luke 2:14 as “on earth peace, good will
toward men.” The new translation of the Gloria is a richer reference to the fact that the Messiah’s coming brings the world a higher order of divine peace that only the incarnate Son of God can bestow. Those who live in accordance with God’s will and receive His grace shall experience the fullness of this peace.

Turning to the second sentence of the new Gloria, we notice something striking – the new translation recovers phrases that were left out of the current translation. Currently we sing, “we worship you, we give you thanks, we
praise you for your glory.” However, the Latin text of the hymn offers five successive ways in which we should pay homage to God: “We praise you, we bless you, we adore you, we glorify you, we give you thanks for your great glory.” It is true that these all convey the same idea of worshiping God, but liturgical prayer is enhanced by poetic repetition. These five descriptions of worship hold subtle distinctions. Together, they combine to express the extent to which it is our Christian duty to give “glory to God.”

The addition of “Only Begotten Son” recovers a key phrase from the Latin text — “Fili Unigenite.” This is a venerable title of Jesus Christ, which speaks of the fact that the Son of God omes forth from the Father, yet is no less an eternal Person of the Divine Trinity.

The new text includes two lines (rather than one) that begin with “you take away the sins of the world,” thereby
reflecting the Latin text. By regaining this line and an additional “have mercy on us” in the next line, the new translation features a classic threefold structure of supplication: “have mercy on us… receive our prayer… have mercy on us.” We also see this sort of structure in the Kyrie and Lamb of God.

This commentary was provided by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. More commentary on the newly
translated Roman Missal can be found at

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