By Msgr. Richard C. Antall
Monsignor Antall is pastor of Holy Name Parish in the Diocese of Cleveland. He is the author of The Wedding, (Lambing Press, 2019)
Every day since Ash Wednesday I have thought a little about a change in the liturgy of the ordinary form of the Roman Mass that has been described as “minor.”
This change was in what is called the doxology of the collect prayers in the Missal. Instead of saying, “Through Jesus Christ, Our Lord in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever,” the Committee on Divine Worship of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops instructed us to omit the adjective “one” before the name of the Deity.
I sent an email to one of my friends about the change, and she asked whether this had anything to do with Pachamama. That indicates the skepticism and even suspicion sometimes provoked by some official (and “unofficial” but coming from officials) pronouncements by institutional branches of the Vatican and the bishops’ conference.
There are some puzzling aspects to the change, but for me they have to do with why it took so long to figure out the official prayers were not only a bad translation but also incorrect grammar. The word “God” in the conclusion of the prayer always referred to Christ. An incorrect translation introduced a reference to the unity of the Trinity. Cardinal Sarah, the now retired (sigh) Prefect of the Congregation on Divine Worship, said that the Christological affirmation in saying, as the Latin did, that Our Lord Jesus Christ was God was important in the context of “the religious pluralism of today’s world.”
So why did this take so long to correct? The controversial history of the implementation of the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on the Liturgy is practically unknown to Catholics. The haste with which the liturgy was translated in the vernacular was probably less important than some of the changes that were vetoed by St. Paul VI himself, like the proposal of different words of consecration in the various Eucharistic prayers, something my liturgy professor told us, which is an instance that is still hard for me to believe. How could they be so cavalier about the words of consecration?
Why wasn’t this change of wording in every collect of every Mass in English put into the revised Missal which we began to use in 2011? The USCCB announcement said only, “It should be noted that when the translation of the Missal currently in use was in progress, ICEL pointed out the discrepancy to the Congregation in Rome, but was told to retain the use of “one God” in the new translation.”
What was not said in this gloss was that the head of ICEL who brought up the “discrepancy,” Archbishop Arthur Roche, is now working in the Congregation of Divine Worship in Rome. The directive from Rome was given in May of 2020, so it was almost a full year before we heard about the change. The USCCB notice of the change came two weeks before it was to take effect. The wheels of the bureaucracy grind slowly if not so finely, it seems.
I am very happy with the change, however, for three principal reasons and one more that is perhaps a bit tendentious.
First, the correction is a reminder that our liturgy is Roman and based on the Latin version of the prayers. (This does not apply to the various Oriental Rites, of course.) The Latin is a guarantee of the international character of the Catholic worship. Whatever language is used for the Eucharist, it is a translation of the Latin prayers.
That reminds me of the Anglican archbishop of Dublin, who held up a copy of the King James Bible and said to his clergy: “Never forget, gentlemen, that this is not the Bible.” It is said that there were gasps of astonishment at his words until he said, “This, gentlemen, is only a translation of the Bible.”
Our Missal in English is authorized, of course, but it is a translation. I have a book published by the Center of Pastoral Liturgy of Barcelona that compares the original Latin of the collects of the Mass with various translations in Romance languages. The differences in the wording are often striking. It would be interesting to read an analysis of the translations of our collects by Latinists and experts in English. Our liturgy is universal, and that is why translations are very important.
Secondly, the attention to words in a correction like this responds to a respect for clear thinking. Chesterton said, “What is the good of words if they aren’t important enough to quarrel over? Why do we choose one word more than another if there isn’t any difference between them? The Church and the heresies always used to fight about words, because they are the only thing worth fighting about.” A word in apposition should be translated as such. Not to do so affects the meaning of the sentence. Words are the way ideas get expressed and must be used carefully, especially when the ideas are crucial to belief.
Thirdly, I am happy each day as I say, “God, forever and ever,” because it has become clear to me that the doxology thus includes an affirmation in belief in Jesus’ divinity. That is not just important in our day, it in fact has been at least since the time of the Arian heresy. It pleases me to affirm Jesus as My Lord and My God right at the beginning of Holy Mass.
The fourth reason, which makes me guilty of something like Schadenfreude, is that I am not unhappy that the liturgical bureaucrats who rule so much of our life in the Church practice a bit of humility. Of course, no one ever has to apologize for mistakes in the translation, that would be asking too much. But it is quite rich that the liturgists in Washington now have to hark back to the translation in the old St. Joseph Missal of the 1950s to explain how they are correcting an error of more than a half-century. Excuse me for smiling.