New missal translation is theologically richer

Deacon Agnoli

By Deacon Frank Agnoli

In my last article, I reviewed four qualities of the new Missal that will hopefully lead us to a fuller, conscious and active participation in the liturgy. In this article, I outline four more.

5) Most prayers in the Missal are addressed to Deus, Latin for “God.” In the texts we are using today, that word is translated as “Father.” The new translation will use the more literal, “God.” While still working within the ground rules given in Liturgiam authenticam, the U.S. bishops have also tried to be attentive to ways to use less exclusive terms when all of humanity is being referred to in a text. The new translation, while probably not addressing every concern, will be much more “inclusive” in its language than our current book.

6) The new translation is also theologically richer. For example, a number of our current prayers fall flat, and seem to be more about us than about God. Noted liturgist Father Paul Turner, when speaking to the clergy and liturgical ministers of our diocese in November, mentioned the example of the collect (opening prayer) for the Fourth Sunday of Lent:

Father of peace, we are joyful in your Word, your Son Jesus Christ, who reconciles us to you.


Let us hasten toward Easter with the eagerness of faith and love.

The new translation makes it clear that we are not talking about ourselves but are addressing God, and that the good we do flows from divine grace:

O God, who through your Word are accompanying in a wonderful way the reconciliation of the human race, give the Christian people strength, we pray, to hasten with keen devotion and eager faith toward the solemn celebrations to come.

In addition, the Latin prayers (especially those used after Communion) tend to end with an eschatological or teleological emphasis — a focus on our final goal of eternal life with God. In some places, our current translation changes the word order to make the English flow more naturally and, as a result, ends up losing that emphasis. The new translations, by consistently reclaiming the original Latin word order, will bring that emphasis back. For example, on the First Sunday of Advent, the current translation of the Prayer after Communion is:

Father, may our communion teach us to love heaven. May its promise and hope guide our way on earth.

The proposed new translation makes God’s agency clearer and concludes with an emphasis on ultimate things:

May the mysteries we have celebrated profit us, we pray, O Lord, for even now, as we journey through the passing world, you teach us by them to love the things of heaven and hold fast to what will endure.

7) The new translation better connects us linguistically to Catholics around the world. Our English translation will more closely match the translations made by other groups. A simple example is the greeting. In response to, “The Lord be with you” we will say, “And with your spirit” instead of “And also with you.” The major language groups have been using their equivalent of “And with your spirit” all along; now we will all share that in common.

8) Finally, with the new Missal we gain a golden opportunity for catechesis and for the renewal of liturgical life. While I would never argue that we should re-translate texts just for the novelty of it, the reality of a fresh translation means that we will be able to encounter the texts anew. Sometimes, familiarity breeds, if not contempt, at least rote recitation. The work of learning a new translation means that these texts will become our own.

As Bishop Arthur Serratelli, chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Divine Worship, mentioned at the bishops’ meeting in November, the liturgy will never be perfect until we worship before God face-to-face.   But the new Missal is the next step in our church’s long history of seeking how we are to worship God in our particular time and place. We have the privilege of being the generation to receive the gift of a new Missal. I hope that we can do so with gratitude — and with patience and charity.

Next time: We begin looking at specific texts…

(Deacon Agnoli is director of liturgy for the Diocese of Davenport.)

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