ICEL executive director speaks locally on missal changes

BRIGHTON -- Msgr. Andrew Wadsworth called the celebration of the Mass the place where Catholics are most obviously themselves as members of the Church.

"So anything that touches that experience, anything which affects it -- by way of change or development -- is immediately significant," he said.

Msgr. Wadsworth is the executive director of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL). The commission is made up of different bishops' conferences that use English in their Roman rite liturgies. ICEL prepares texts in English from the original Latin and is answerable to the Holy See.

Msgr. Wadsworth gave presentations on Sept. 28 about the upcoming changes in the English translation of the Roman Missal at the archdiocese's Braintree Pastoral Center and St. John's Seminary.

Taking place on Nov. 27, at the beginning of the liturgical year, the changes will be the most significant language adjustment to the English Mass since the implementation of the Second Vatican Council.

According to Msgr. Wadsworth, a recent survey that found 75 percent of Catholics still do not know that a missal change is approaching.

"We're poised at a very interesting, challenging and exciting moment in the Church's liturgical history," said Msgr. Wadsworth.

He said everyday use of English is different among English speaking countries, whereas the formal use of the language is held in common.

"If we're going to have one English version of the missal for the whole world, everywhere that English is used as a liturgical language, then perhaps it makes more sense to have a more elevated register of language," said Msgr. Wadsworth.

He said that the 1973 English translation of the missal, currently used at Masses, was only intended to be used for five to ten years; instead it has been in use for almost 40 years.

Using a handout, Msgr. Wadsworth compared a prayer in the daytime Christmas Mass from the source Latin, the 1973 English translations, and the upcoming English translations. He noted the rhythmic quality of the Latin and said it was an ancient prayer with balanced elements and mirroring ideas. He said that people respond naturally to beauty and truth when it's encountered.

"And that should be evident also in our celebration of the liturgy, so that the truth of the faith that we believe is evidenced by the beauty of the liturgical mystery that we celebrate," said Msgr. Wadsworth.

He said that the 1973 version had been "squashed" in its form, lacking the expansive merits of the Latin. However, he found the new English version to be "re-inflated," beautiful, and expressing the central idea of Christianity.

Msgr. Wadsworth also sought to debunk "urban myths" that he has encountered about the creation of the translation, such as that it was created by a few people and imposed on the rest of the Church.

He presented an eight step process of a translation migrating through different groups of evaluators.

Starting with a base translator -- thoroughly vetted by the Holy See for their knowledge of linguistics, theology, and liturgy -- a first draft was created. The text moved between different groups of English speaking bishops, at one point being presented to over 700 bishops of the 11 ICEL bishop conferences. These bishops could seek outside consultation and suggestions to the text were given to the ICEL offices.

Eventually, the text passed a two-thirds vote by the 11 conferences and final approval by the Holy See.

"So when people talk about a lack of consultation, one thing I've come to understand is most often they mean that they haven't personally been asked," said Msgr. Wadsworth.

The priest also shared that the new missal has more music in it than any other produced by the Church, and that all of the music is Gregorian chant.

"Nobody's saying you have to have Gregorian chant all of the time, but we could hold this in common as a musical patrimony and that would give us a form of singing the Mass that we share with all other English speaking Catholics throughout the world," said Msgr. Wadsworth.

After taking questions from attendees, Msgr. Wadsworth gave a fundamental approach to the new translation.

"So however we approach these texts, we must principally approach them as sources for prayer and meditation," he said.

He also noted that the 1973 translation had been a great inspiration to holiness, and that he prays and believes "the translations we're about to implement will also be a great source of grace and joy to the Church."

Msgr. Wadsworth's conferences were part of a series of several presentations and workshops offered by the archdiocese about the missal change that began in the summer of 2010 with a conference for clergy.

According to Father Jonathan Gaspar, co-director for the archdiocese's Office of Worship and Spiritual Life, the strategy was to educate clergy and parish leaders about the changes, so they in turn could equip the parishioners.

"It's just wonderful -- not just to talk about the changes -- but to give an opportunity for people to pray with these new texts outside of Mass and to give an opportunity for people to reflect on the words," said Father Gaspar.

For parishes that have not begun to prepare, Father Gaspar's office is available to help with the presentation. The office will also present additional workshops for music ministers toward the end of October and Father Gaspar will be presenting a Theology on Tap about the changes at Tommy Doyle's pub in Cambridge Oct. 12 at 7p.m.