by Most Reverend Edward J. Burns

If you have been reading recent articles in the Catholic press and especially in The Southeast Alaska Catholic, you are probably aware that changes are coming in the translation of the Roman Missal (sacramentary) that we use at Mass. On Sunday, November 27, 2011, the First Sunday of Advent, we will begin using the new English translation of the Roman Missal.

To begin our preparations for these changes I will be joining Archbishop Roger Schwietz, Anchorage and Bishop Donald Kettler, Fairbanks, as well as by the priests, deacons and lay ministers of our three Alaskan dioceses, to learn in depth about the new English translation, about the changes to the texts we pray at Mass and about how to most effectively prepare our people for them.

I recently received a press release on new catechetical resources that can be used in preparation for the new Roman Missal from my friend Msgr. James Moroney, Executive Director of Vox Clara. (Vox Clara [Clear Voice] is an international committee that was established by the Holy Father in 2002 to oversee the translation of liturgical texts for the universal Church.) In an attached letter by the Chairman of Vox Clara, Cardinal George Pell, Archbishop of Sydney, Australia, the cardinal noted:

“ …the Church now stands on the verge of implementing a flowing vernacular text suitable to the rhythm of popular prayer which has been translated integrally and in the most exact manner”[Liturgicam Authenticum, no. 20]. Yet, as the Council Fathers [at the Second Vatican Council] presciently reminded us, “it would be futile to entertain any hopes of realizing this unless the pastors themselves, in the first place, become thoroughly imbued with the spirit and power of the liturgy, and undertake to give instruction about it” [Sacrosanctum Concilium no.14]. This is why each one of us, bishops, priests, deacons and lay faithful alike, must devote ourselves to the opportunities for liturgical, spiritual and pastoral renewal provided by the occasion of the publication of this new Missal.

By way of background, the Roman Missal is the book containing the prayers of the Mass that we use for Sunday and weekday Masses throughout the Church year. The original and guiding text of the Missal is in Latin as are all of the liturgical texts and other official documents of the Roman rite of the Catholic Church. After the Second Vatican Council, the Latin texts of the Roman Missal were revised and an initial translation from the Latin was prepared for English speakers around the world. That was almost forty years ago. This new translation has been revised to more accurately and fully reflect the meaning and style of the original Latin.

This process of translation has taken years. The final text, once approved by the bishops, was submitted to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in Rome. In August 2010, Rome sent back the approved text so that the new English translation of the Roman Missal would be available this coming October.

Why is the Church doing this? As the first document of the Second Vatican Council, The Sacred Constitution on the Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium) so eloquently declares: “…the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; it is also the fount from which all her power flows.” The entire liturgy and especially the Eucharist are at the very center of the life in Christ that we share together. To grow and deepen in faith with our brothers and sisters throughout the world, we need to be faithful to the wording and style of the original Latin. The universality of our Church adds to the spiritual and theological depth we experience in our Catholic faith.

At the same time, our challenge is to prepare so we can make these changes in a smooth and orderly way. Between now and the beginning of Advent we will be doing catechesis on the Mass in general and on changes in the words that we pray, in particular so that we will be able to make the transition as seamlessly as possible.

Pope Benedict XVI recently said, “Many will find it hard to adjust to unfamiliar texts after nearly forty years of continuous use of the previous translation. The change will need to be introduced with due sensitivity and the opportunity for catechesis that it presents will need to be firmly grasped.”

It is my hope that the preparation and catechesis will help alleviate the frustrations that will come with these liturgical changes. I urge you to enter into these changes with an open heart and as an opportunity to deepen your relationship with the Lord in the Eucharist. As we move closer to the First Sunday of Advent, you will hear more from me and your pastors about the changes in the Roman Missal. In the meantime, let us continue to grow in appreciation for the Universal Church and in love with our Eucharistic Lord.