Roman Missal

Explaining the history of the Roman Missal

The Roman Missal is the book containing the prescribed prayers, chants, and instructions for the celebration of Mass in the Roman Catholic Church.  Published first in Latin under the title MissaleRomanum, the text is then translated and, once approved by the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, is published in modern languages for use in local churches throughout the world.

In 2002, Pope John Paul II introduced a new edition of the MissaleRomanum (editiotypicatertia, the “third typical edition” [since the Second Vatican Council]) for use in the Church.  Soon after, the complex work of translating the text into English began.  As the Church in India and throughout the English-speaking world prepares to introduce the new edition of the Missal, so does the Church in other countries as the MissaleRomanum, editiotypicatertia is translated into other languages.  The process of implementing a new edition of the prayers of the Mass is not new, but has occurred numerous times throughout the history of the Church as the Liturgy developed and was adapted to particular circumstances to meet the needs of the Church.

In the earliest centuries of the Church, there were no books containing prescribed liturgical prayers, texts, or other instructions.  Because the faith of the Church was (and still is) articulated in liturgical prayer, there was a need for consistency and authenticity in the words used in the celebration of the Liturgy.  Collections of prayers developed gradually for use in particular locations and situations such as for a particular monastery, for the Pope, or for other local churches.  Such collections were contained in libelli (“booklets”) which over centuries were drawn together into larger collections of prayers.

Eventually larger, more organized collections of prayers were assembled into “sacramentaries” (liber sacramentorum or sacramentarium), which contained some, but not all, of the prayers of the Mass.  The earliest of these sacramentaries were attributed to Pope Leo I, “Leo the Great” (440-461), and Pope Gelasius (492-496), but surviving versions of those sacramentaries date from centuries later.  Other early manuscripts (such as the OrdinesRomani) contained detailed descriptions of the celebration of the Mass with the Pope in Rome.  Those written accounts may have gradually served as instructions or rubrics for the celebration of Mass in other settings.  Liturgical books grew as they passed from one community (a local church, a diocese, a monastery, etc.) to another, often with prayers added in margins or in blank spaces.  The process of sharing text was by copying by hand.  This was a laborious task that at times led to inconsistencies and errors.

The first true liturgical books, which could be called “missals”, were found in monasteries beginning around the 12th and 13th Centuries.  A missalecontained not only the prayers but the biblical readings, the chants, and the rubrics for the celebration of Mass.  It is difficult to trace exact origins of the first missal.  The first book bearing the name MissaleRomanum appeared in 1474, perhaps not coincidentally in the same century as the invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg (1440).  But it was not until after the Council of Trent that Pope Pius V, in 1570, promulgated an edition of the MissaleRomanum that was to be in obligatory use throughout the Latin Church (except in cases where another rite had been in place for at least 200 years).  This marked the first official attempt at uniformity in the celebration of the Mass in the history of the Church.

Since that time, to accommodate the ongoing evolution and development of the Liturgy, new editions of the MissaleRomanum were promulgated by Popes for use in the Church:

  1. 1604 – Pope Clement VIII
  2. 1634 – Pope Urban VIII
  3. 1884 – Pope Leo XIII
  4. 1920 – Pope Benedict XV
  5. 1962 – Pope John XXIII
  6. 1970 – Pope Paul VI
  7. 1975 – Pope Paul VI
  8. 2002 – Pope John Paul II

In addition, there were a number of other minor revisions to the text, published as “reprints” which incorporated minor changes.  The most recent of these were in 1957 after Pope Pius XII’s revisions to the rites of Holy Week and the Sacred Triduum in 1955, and in 2008, when Pope Benedict XVI incorporated a number of additional prayers, included those for recently canonized saints as well as for the celebration of an extended Vigil for Pentecost.
The Vatican has formally approved a new English translation of the Roman Missal — a translation that will change some of the words with which Roman Catholics have worshiped throughout the English-speaking world for the past 40 years.

On November 27, 2011, Catholics in India will see a new Missal on the Altar for Masses celebrated in English. Our Episcopal Conference has decided that this revised translation of the Roman Missal will be used from the first Sunday in Advent in all churches in the country.

Blessed Pope John Paul II promulgated the third revised edition of the Roman Missal in 2002, and the English translation of it was formally approved last March. After over a year of preparation, the Roman Missal will shortly be available and ready for use.

After the Second Vatican Council permitted Masses in the vernacular, an English translation was hurriedly prepared. While we had some parts of the Mass already in 1970, the first complete English translation appeared in 1973. Several Roman documents gave directions for the translation, and the latest one according to which this translation has been completed is LiturgiamAuthenticam, the fifth General Instruction on the Vernacular Translation of the Roman Liturgy.

Much consultation has taken place and much work has gone into this translation. After the initial draft was prepared under the direction of the International Committee for English in the Liturgy (ICEL) – an eleven-member Committee of Bishops representing English-speaking episcopal conferences – the text was sent to these episcopal conferences for their suggestions. In India, Archbishop Dominic Jala SDB, Archbishop of Shillong, the then Chairman of our National Liturgical Commission, and our representative on ICEL, organised a small body of experts who met regularly, generally in Mumbai, to examine this draft. These experts included a liturgist, a theologian-bishop, a canonist and Latin scholars. Cardinal Osawld Gracias Archbishop of Bombay himself joined the group several times during the discussions. After getting the approval of the Episcopal Conference (CCBI), these suggestions were sent to ICEL which modified the texts after receiving comments on the draft translation from all over the world.

A revised text was then circulated to the member countries of ICEL which, with the assistance of experts, once again studied this second draft of the translation even more carefully. The comments of these experts were presented to the Plenary Assembly of the CCBI, which voted on this translation. It was decided that if more than five Bishops (out of the over hundred bishops participating) had reservations about a particular translation, it would be brought back to the house for a detailed discussion and a fresh vote. After all the texts were formally approved by the Episcopal Conference, the material was sent to the Roman Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments for approval. The Congregation studied these texts and took the advice of the Vox Clara Committee, a Committee comprising “senior bishops from the English-speaking world” that carefully studied these texts. We were eleven Bishops on this Committee, coming from USA, Canada, Great Britain, Africa, Asia, Australia and West Indies. It involved very tedious work, going through each text, examining suggested amendments, and taking the advice of eminent experts who assisted us: specialists in liturgy, patrology, a rotal judge, as well as Officials from the Roman Congregation. After a discussion among ourselves, a vote was then taken on each text. The Congregation then studied our suggestions.

On May 27, 2010, a Decree officially approving the revised translation presented by us was issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship. The Holy Father met the Vox Clara Committee and thanked them for its work, hoping that the publication of this new translation would be a “moment of grace” for the Church.