ICEL's New Translation of the Roman Missal

Perhaps some of you are aware of the most current task being taken on by the English-speaking bishops of the Roman Catholic Church. This undertaking, namely the retranslation of the Missal (i.e. parts of the Mass) from the original Latin into English, is finally nearing completion. Headed by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL), the responsibility of translating such a massive amount of text has been a daunting one. However, after nearly five years of work, the end is in sight and hopefully, English-speaking Catholics around the world should be rejoicing; the new translation from the Latin will render the sacred and ancient prayers of the Mass much more faithfully to the tradition of the Church, replacing some of the ‘sloppy’ prayers we have now with more profoundly meaningful ones. Here are a few examples…

Latin: Dominus vobiscum. R. Et cum spiritu tuo.

Actual Translation: “The Lord be with you. R. And with your spirit.”

Current Translation: “The Lord be with you. R. And also with you.”

Clearly, there is a divergence from the Latin text now that isn’t necessary; the prayer is intended to express a profound wish of God’s presence in the innermost recesses of the human person, not simply his presence “with you.” Another example would be the prayer just before communion, said by the faithful…

Latin: Domine, non sum dignus ut entres sub tectum meum, sed tantum dic verbo et sanabitur anima mea.

Actual Translation: “O Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be made well.”

Current Translation: “O Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.”

Again, the profundity—although easily overlooked at first glance—is much more clearly expressed in the Latin text; there is a sense personal relationship with Jesus that is not expressed in the current English translation. In fact, this prayer is the one uttered by the centurion in the Gospel, who was ashamed to have Christ himself enter his house to cure his servant. In its original form, it expresses something much more meaningful than simply “receiving” Jesus, but rather welcoming him into the house of our very body in the Eucharist.

This small sample is only a glimpse at the huge project that we await with great hope. The work of ICEL has been to make note of these important distinctions of the Latin text and transfer them—as seamlessly as possible, but with strict regard to their magnitude—into English. Thus, Catholics around the world should be glad to know that the sacred prayer of the Mass will soon be dignified by even more beautiful language, which will enable us to enter into the age-old prayer of the Church more fully and completely than in the recent past.

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    # by Anonymous - November 7, 2007 at 9:55 AM

    We often talk about body, soul and spirit and yet the integrated person created by God is all of these things. If the body was not important, Jesus would not need to have risen bodily. It is only a poor understanding of what a "you" is that makes the current translation incomplete. "With your spirit" may be a better translation of the Latin, but not necessarily a better translation.

    Mary from Iowa

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    # by Andrew Haines - November 8, 2007 at 3:32 PM


    Your point is well taken. First and foremost, proper catechesis needs to establish the idea of the integrated human being before any deeper reality can take hold. However, after this occurs (principally outside the context of the liturgy), we are called to experience something unique in the exchange between priest and congregation at Mass. In other words, the et cum spiritu tuo of the Latin was put there precisely to convey something distinct; et tecum ("and with you") would have also been a possibility in Latin, but was not used.

    I'm not a liturgist, but my tendency would be to think that simply saying "with you" does not capture the fullness of depth that "with your spirit" does. True, both appeal to the human person, but one appeals specifically to the immaterial depths, wherein the Holy Spirit dwells, while the other is relatively ambiguous (although, perhaps, more 'integral' on the whole). Ultimately, I think the choice of words in the Latin simply emphasizes the spiritual character of the Mass which, unfortunately, is often lost by an over-emphasis of the physical, human aspects, and a minimalizing of the transcendence of God, the Holy Trinity.

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    # by Anonymous - November 8, 2007 at 7:30 PM

    Thanks, Andrew, for taking time from your busy studies to reply.


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    # by palaeologos - August 27, 2009 at 6:42 PM

    It's a mistake to assume that "et cum spiritu tuo" entails a body-spirit divide. I think that may be analyzing too closely. In any case, it's what the Latin original says, and what every other translation of the Mass says. Translators are supposed to translate, not edit.

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    # by Andrew Haines - August 27, 2009 at 6:46 PM

    Who said anything about a body-spirit divide? You can make a distinction without asserting a division. And that was the nature of the replies.

    Unless you are referring to something that I did not detect.