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Teaching About the New Roman Missal
by Msgr. Anthony F. Sherman
What is the Roman Missal?
What is the Roman Missal?

After the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), the rite of Mass was revised. The purpose of this revision was to enable people to more fully, consciously, and actively participate in the celebration of Mass. After the changes were completed and the prayers that would be part of the celebration of Mass were determined, a book was issued in 1969 by Pope Paul VI called the Roman Missal (Missale Romanum). This book in Latin was the text that was to be translated by every country of the world.

Any group that is alive and dynamic always faces change. With time, the Church proclaims new saints who enter into the calendar of celebrations. Each saint has particular prayers, usually composed in Latin, that must appear eventually in the Missal. This means a necessary update to the Roman Missal. So in 1975, there was a second edition of the Roman Missal and in 2002 a third edition. Each edition needed translation into English and we are now gradually concluding the translation of the third edition of the Roman Missal.

The Challenge of Translation

If you have ever studied a foreign language you know how difficult it can be to communicate the exact meaning in a translation. Think for a moment of how challenging it could be to explain to a friend whose first language is not English the meaning of the following sentence: “I took out my boom box and played heavy metal music.” One can imagine the look of mystery on the face of your friend. How would you answer his question: “Why is the metal so heavy?”

The challenge of communicating the message becomes even harder when we go from one language to another. It is for this reason that translations can always be revisited to make sure all of the original content has been drawn out.

The use of one’s own language (vernacular) started after the Second Vatican Council. Translators, using early guidelines, worked as quickly as possible to translate the original Latin texts into English so that the text could be used at Mass. Many men and women gave hours of their time and experience to produce a text that people could pray and be inspired by. The International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) is responsible for initial translations for eleven English-speaking countries.

The Catechist’s Role in Preparing for the Roman Missal

Catechists can help students and other school officials prepare for the third edition of the Roman Missal. They can provide the background on the revision in 1969 of the Rite of Mass and the Second Vatican Council’s mandate to encourage people to actively participate in the liturgy. Catechists can teach students how to delve more deeply into the meaning of the Eucharist. Finally, catechists can prepare their entire community for the practical aspects of celebrating a new translation of the Mass.  

* Assign Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship as a reading. Divide the class into groups and have each group present for discussion a part of the text that demonstrates everyone’s role in the sung part of Mass.
* Study the Eucharist and its impact on Church life with the essays in Book of Readings on the Eucharist. Use the reflection questions or create your own to encourage students to connect the celebration of Mass with daily life.
* Share changes in the Parts of the People in the Revised Order of the Mass with students (, click on Assembly). Lead a discussion on the practical implications of changes on the parish and point out that parishes will begin using new responses in about a year.
* Review the section titled “And With Your Spirit” in the “From the Newsletter” section of Explain in a simplified form the new response.
* Relate the translation of Behold the Lamb of God to the Scriptures by reading John 1:29, where John points out Jesus to his followers. Review the story of the centurion and Jesus as it appears in Matthew 8:5-13 and Luke 7:2-10. This explains the use of the expression “under my roof.”

Msgr. Anthony F. Sherman is the Executive Director of the Secretariat of Divine Worship of the USCCB. All titles mentioned are available from USCCB Publishing,

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