Casual observers of the Roman Catholic Church often remark that it hasn’t changed in 2,000 years. Actually, just like any living institution, it is constantly changing. Over the centuries, where and when the Mass is celebrated, how saints are chosen, and the method of electing popes are some of the ways the Church has adjusted its traditions and policies.
Now come changes to the Roman Missal, the book containing the prayers for the Mass. For years, the Church has been working to more accurately translate those prayers from the Latin in which the original Missal is promulgated into modern languages, including English. Msgr. Kevin Irwin, dean of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at The Catholic University of America in Washington, says those alterations were necessitated by two factors.
“First, the Committee charged with the English translation of the Roman Missal issued the post-Vatican II translations very quickly,” he notes, referring to the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. “They realized, after a few years’ use of the Missal, that some translations should have been more accurate. Second, some feasts have been added to the Church’s liturgical calendar in recent years, for example, St. Padre Pio’s. Those Latin Masses need to be translated into English.”
Peter Finn, associate director of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL), compares the changes “to the cleaning of an old painting whose images are brought to clearer light in the cleaning process. …The translations have sought to achieve a suitable balance between the word-for-word, literal meaning of the Latin and the demands of good proclamation, style and intelligibility.”
One of the most significant changes, Msgr. Irwin says, involves the familiar phrase, “And also with you,” which the congregation recites after the celebrant of the Mass says, “The Lord be with you.”
He explains that “the congregation will now say, ‘and with your spirit.’ This places the English translation in line with most other languages. The response is not to the person of the priest but to the Spirit of God, who ordained him to permanent service in the Church. It is an acknowledgment of the ‘spirit’ and grace which is in him.”