John Hunwicke awaits the arrival of the new English translation of the Roman Mass and considers the various options it will place before priests and people in many Anglo-Catholic parishes

Later this year, or else some time in 2008, a set of difficult decisions will have to be made by priests and people in those Catholic Anglican parishes which are substantially Roman Rite. This will result from the authorization by Rome of a new English translation of the Roman Rite Mass to replace the translation which has been in use since the early Seventies.

By the early Nineties, it had become clear that this version was unfit for its purpose: it was so free a translation of the Latin original, and it was so disfigured by the appalling poverty of its English idiom and the accompanying theological concepts. Everybody was agreed that it should be replaced, and so the organization responsible, ICEL [International Commission for English in the Liturgy], produced a new translation into decidedly better English.

Unfortunately, this happened at a time when fashionable English-speaking liturgists, especially in America, had fallen victim to advanced political correctness, and particularly to feminism. So the new draft translation, marred by these errors, had to be dumped by Rome, which then followed through with a root and branch restructuring of ICEL and a replacement of its leading personnel. It is this new incarnation of ICEL which has produced a new English version of the 2000 Third Edition of the Roman Missal, which is likely soon to be authorized by Rome.

Dramatic changes

This creates a problem for some of us, because the new texts of the Order of the Mass will be strikingly different from those with which we have hitherto been familiar. In particular, texts such as the Gloria and Credo will be different; so will the dialogues between priest and people. The most obvious example will be the response And with your spirit. Anglican parishes which use the current English version of the Roman Rite will have broadly three possible options.

First. Some are likely to adopt the new rite hook, line and sinker. If they do so, they will find themselves using a fine Catholic English liturgy. Their problem will be that they will be using a rite which will be more strikingly different from what the rest of the Church of England will be using than has been the case for more than a generation. For example, the current ICEL texts such as the Gloria are largely the same as those in Common Worship, while And also with you has been common to both the English Roman Rite and to CW. This overlap will disappear.

Second. Some may continue to use the present English Roman translation. This, however, will put them into the odd position of trying to be ‘Roman while using texts which Rome has specifically banned, quite apart from the fact that those texts are rightly discredited for their inaccuracy and their dreadful Seventies demotic American English. It is also possible, incidentally, that (particularly in America) rebel liberal feminist Roman Catholics will wage guerrilla warfare against Rome by continuing to use this horrible old translation. Do we really want to be associated with such people?

Third. I would like to suggest a different way ahead. For the Order of the Mass we could use a Common Worship Order but with these changes: the addition of one or two formulae omitted from CW, such as the Orate fraters (in the new authorized version) and the correction of any forms mistranslated by CIV for apparently doctrinal reasons, such as the invitation to communion; and the replacement of the Common Worship Eucharistic Prayers by the newly authorized English Roman Catholic ones.

Possible solution

It may naturally be wondered why the Catholic movement should wish to follow such an eccentric liturgical proposal. But in fact this proposal already has behind it the authority of Rome herself.

Former Anglican groups in America which have secured group reconciliation with the Holy See have been given as their liturgy the Book of Divine Worship. This consists of the (1979) ECUS A Book of Common Prayer, quite amazingly unchanged, except for the insertion of Roman Eucharistic Prayers, to replace the American Anglican ones.

I do not think we should all rush out to buy copies of this American Book of Divine Worship, for the American prayer book on which it is based had diverged quite considerably from our English Anglican liturgies, and thus their BDW would unnecessarily foist upon our congregations minor but irritating differences in texts to which they are accustomed.

We would, I think, also want a much richer and more Catholic provision of Propers than BDW provides, as well as much from the new ICEL English Roman Catholic translation. What exactly fits our needs, however, is the formative principle of BDW, in other words, take the previously familiar Anglican Order of the Mass and catholicize it by replacing its Eucharistic Prayers with Roman ones.

Catholic unity

There could be important ecumenical advantages in this procedure. Whenever Catholic Anglicans raise with sympathetic Roman Catholics the possibility of a uniate solution (that Anglicans reconciled with Rome should have their own distinct ecclesial structures), the reply is always, ‘Yes, there is no objection to this in principle; Rome already has within its fold many groups which have a distinct liturgical patrimony and a distinct hierarchical structure to sustain it. But you lot seem dead set on using precisely the same liturgy as the English RC church just down the road from you. What exactly is this rich and distinct liturgical tradition which you wish to bring into unity with us?’

The procedure which Rome has already authorized in America with regard to the Anglican Usage of the Roman Rite, and which I have outlined above, gives us an answer to this question. And, to use Aidan Nichols admirable term, it could ‘repatriate’ to the Catholic Unity, in a purified form, a tradition of spirituality and worship sanctified by the holiness and learning of Andrewes, Laud and Charles I, of Cosin, Ken and the Non-Jurors, of Pusey, Keble and Neale, Mascall and Thornton, not to mention millions of God’s holy common people. Why should all this be spilt upon the ground and wasted?