What’s a Roman Missal?
The Missal is the collection of the prayers that are used during the course of the Mass. We call it Roman because they are the prayers that are used during the Mass of the Roman Catholic Church. [This is to differentiate it from say, the Maronite Catholic Church, which has a Missal of its own.] So, in short, it’s a book. It’s also called the Sacramentary because it helps us to celebrate the Sacrament of the Eucharist.
Why the new translation?
First, a brief history. For the first 300 years following Jesus’ death, it was illegal to be a Christian (read, a Catholic). So, when it was time to gather for the weekly Mass, it would be celebrated in people’s home or in secluded places (like the catacombs of Rome). Two books of the Bible describe these meetings: Acts of the Apostles and Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians. The Masses seem to be the same, but it’s argued that because of the secrecy and wide swath of homes used, there was little uniformity to the way we prayed.
In the 300s when Constantine made Christianity legal and cathedrals and churches started to spring up, certain geographic areas started writing down the prayers they used during their Masses. Well, needless to say, the variety was great. As the Church began to grow though and the Spirit began to reveal for us the common ties that bind us together, it was discerned that we should all pray the Mass in a universal way. After all, when the Nicene Creed was drafted in 325 we professed that we were, “one, holy, catholic and apostolic church”.
So, in the 1500s, the Pope collected all the prayers from the various places in the Catholic world (mostly Europe) into one book and he called it a Missal. And because the Catholic Church was a huge cultural, religious, economic and political influence in the world, the book was written in a language that educated men and priest could read and understand- Latin.
The Catholic Church, all around the world, prayed the same Mass in the same language. No matter where you were, or what language you spoke, if you were away from your home you could at least understand the language when you went to Mass.
(There’s a lot missing here: only educated men and priest could speak/read/understand Latin. Women, children, slaves, illiterate, etc. wouldn’t have been able to understand/read/speak Latin. This is a topic for another time.)
The Church prayed in Latin for almost 500 years until 1964 when the Pope, guided by the Holy Spirit, decided that Mass should now be prayed in the language of the particular land, the vernacular. So, if you were in Germany, the Mass was prayed in German; France, in French, and in the US, English, etc. This was a huge innovation!
So, to answer the question: why the new translation?
In the 1960s when the decision was made to switch to the vernacular language, the translation from the Latin into English was done very quickly and it was known that, eventually, it would have to be done again. But, they rushed the job, and as a result, the English was a good, but not a great, translation of the Latin.
In 2001, Pope John Paul II asked for a new translation from the Latin to English. 10 years later, in 2011, it’s ready! We will begin using a new translation of the Roman Missal, first written in the 1500s, on the First Sunday of Advent, November 27, 2011.
This new translation will give us an opportunity to rediscover the fathomless depths of our Catholic Mass: the great mystery and miracle that is performed and celebrated on our altar; the vast reality of God’s Triune nature, his Incarnation in Jesus Christ and the redemptive act of Jesus’s Life, Death and Resurrection.
It will give us more opportunities to pray in a different way, knowing that we are united with, even more closely, our fellow Catholics all around the world. It’s our unity that makes us strong! We celebrate our Unity, our Faith, Hope and Love every time we offer the Eucharist- a perfect sacrifice of praise!
More to come.