1963: Vatican II allowed the use of “the mother tongue” in the liturgy, entrusting bishops conferences with overseeing translations, which Rome would then approve. Bishops conferences throughout the English-speaking world established the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) to undertake the work of translation.

1973: ICEL’s first translation of the Missal was approved by Rome and put into service. The translators were guided by the Vatican document Comme le prévoit (1969). The document’s theory of translation is “dynamic equivalence,” whose goal is to convey the overall sense and meaning of a text in idiomatic English.

1998: After a long process of consultation and retranslation, ICEL completed a new translation of the Missal as part of its regular work. The bishops had asked for a richer translation that would hew more closely to the Latin without sacrificing clarity. The new translation fulfilled those criteria. All English-speaking bishops conferences voted to approve the text. When this translation was sent to Rome, however, it was not approved.

2001: The Vatican unveiled a new set of principles for translation in the instruction Liturgiam authenticam. Its theory of translation is “formal equivalence.” The document held that every Latin word must be accounted for, and vocabulary, syntax, punctuation, and capitalization patterns found in the Latin must be reproduced as much as possible in the vernacular. An extraordinary outpouring of criticism arose in response to this instruction.

2002: ICEL was reorganized so that it would answer to Rome and not to the bishops conferences. New personnel were appointed and a new constitution for ICEL was written. Another translation was started from scratch. A committee called Vox Clara was formed to advise the Vatican on the approval of English translations. Its members are bishops chosen by the Vatican. Vox Clara reports to the curia.

2008: After much discussion and over numerous objections, a translation prepared by the new ICEL following the new norms was approved by the English-speaking bishops conferences. Critics called this translation clumsy, difficult to proclaim, and confusing. Supporters praised the translation for its “elevated register” and fidelity to Latin. The text was sent to Rome for approval.

2010: Vox Clara introduced about ten thousand changes into the 2008 text. Critics’ concerns were not eased by the rewrite. The Vatican returned the revised text to the bishops for implementation. This text is scheduled to be introduced in the United States on the weekend of November 26–27, 2011.

Related: It Doesn't Sing, by Rita Ferrone

Published in the 2011-07-15 issue: 

Rita Ferrone is the author of several books about liturgy, including Liturgy: Sacrosanctum Concilium (Paulist Press). She is a contributing writer to Commonweal.

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