New prayers, same Mass

A new translation of the Roman Missal is coming in Advent 2011. Here’s what that means.

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By Mitch Finley

Changing the prayers of the Mass is not something Catholics take lightly. Parishes throughout the English-speaking world are now in the process of coming to grips with a new translation of those very prayers. In 2009, after several years of work, the bishops of the United States approved a brand new English translation. As a catechist, you may find yourself called upon to help youngsters understand these changes and why they were made. Here then are some insights you might find helpful.

Translating from Latin to English
There are various approaches to trans­lating, and each has advantages and disadvantages. The scholars who worked on the new English translation of the Roman Missal had to decide first which method would best suit the project they were assigned.

One method results in a “dynamic equivalence” translation, which is a technical term for paraphrasing. In this method, translators are free to use words that get across what they believe to be the intended meaning of the orig­inal Latin text. A paraphrase may also include an attempt to make a transla­tion more natural to the listener’s ear in a particular place and time.

This approach may sound good, but dynamic equivalence translators often must choose between vari­ous possible meanings of a word or phrase. When they finally settle on a particular paraphrase, for all its ad­vantages, it can still obscure or even eliminate other real meanings pres­ent in the original text.

Here is one familiar example of a dynamic equivalence translation from the 1975 English translation: “Lord, I’m not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.” The meaning of this prayer before Holy Communion seems clear, but it’s really a paraphrase of the original Latin text. As a result of the paraphrase, the scriptural roots of the prayer are no longer obvious. Indeed, some Catholics today may have no idea that the prayer has scrip­tural origins.

Here is the new English transla­tion of the prayer before Holy Com­munion: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” Drawn from words spoken to Jesus by the centurion in Matthew 8:8 and Luke 7:6, the prayer’s scrip­tural origins are obvious to anyone familiar with these gospel narratives. This kind of translation is called a “di­rect equivalence” because it’s as close as possible to a word-for-word trans­lation of the Latin prayer in the 2000 edition of the Roman Missal.

Greeting and response
Another example of a paraphrased translation in the English Mass prayers used since 1975 is a familiar liturgical greeting and response.

Priest: The Lord be with you.
And also with you.

Here is the new translation:
The Lord be with you.
And with your spirit.

This new translation is, in fact, a literal, word-for-word rendering into English of the Latin in the Ro­man Missal. By us­ing this more direct translation of words in the Mass that go back many, many cen­turies, we can truly say that when speaking these words, we are using the same words used by our ancestors in the faith.

Finally, the shift from saying “And also with you” to saying, “And with your spirit” has important theologi­cal overtones. The latter phrase is an acknowledgment of the profoundly spiritual character of the prayerful dialogue that goes on between as­sembly and priest from the beginning of the Mass until its conclusion.

A change in the creed
Another change that most will notice right away affects the Nicene Creed, which we pray following the Prayers of the Faithful during most Masses on Sundays and holy days. We are used to beginning the creed with “We be­lieve….” The new translation returns to a literal translation of the Latin, “credo,” which means “I believe.” Again there are spiritual and theological implications here. As important as community is to the life of faith, we acknowledge that ultimately each per­son makes a faith commitment stand­ing before God in the solitude of his or her own heart.

Prayers at the end of Mass
In some instances, the new missal gives not only a new translation but several alternative prayers where be­fore there was but one. A good ex­ample of this is the Dismissal, the last words spoken by the priest at the end of Mass. For many years the missal offered only, “The Mass is ended, go in peace.” Now, however, there will be four options, thus:

Go forth, the Mass is ended.
Or: Go and announce the gospel of the Lord.
Or: Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.
Or: Go in peace.

Give it a chance
You may, for a while, find it a bit awkward to use the latest “new and improved” English translation of the Mass prayers. However, you will probably find it rewarding to cultivate an open mind and an open spirit and this will help you to better share these changes with those you teach. Explain to them that it may take a while to get used to the new wording, but it’s still the same Mass. Share with them, too, that because of this new translation, we are using the same Mass words as people all over the world.

For further information, click here to visit the USCCB page regarding the new Roman Missal.

Mitch Finley

Mitch Finley is the author of more than 30 books for Catholic readers. He lives in Spokane, Washington, with his wife, Kathleen, and together they are the parents of three grown sons. You can visit his website at