UPDATED with some other sites telling this same story: Fr Z (Fr. John Zuhlsdorf), Pray Tell, The Telegraph,…
A rumour has been growing about a possible review of the Roman Catholic missal translation, but no one anticipated the announcement of a New Ecumenical English Missal Project, which will mean that the words for the whole Eucharist will be the same across a number of significant English-speaking denominations.
Pope Francis, ever taking people by surprise, in only the second year of his papacy, pointedly, on the feast day of a woman saint, St Theodora (April 1), is formally signing the declaration that he has the agreement of significant English-speaking churches and ecclesial communities to work towards a new Ecumenical English Missal.
Real dissatisfaction with the recent English-language missal translation has been present from the start.
In January this year the Irish Association of Catholic Priests and an article in the Tablet said that a review of the Missal translation has been promised. Fr. Paddy Jones has just finished 21 years directing the national liturgy office in Ireland, and in the office’s bulletin New Liturgy he has an editorial on the topic. “A review is promised, though the mechanism of such a review is not known”, wrote Fr Jones.
Like other surprise announcements of Pope Francis, this one goes totally beyond expectations. In the document entitled (still surprisingly in Latin!) Aprilis Stulte ‘Dies (translation of the Latin here), the pope reveals that a board will oversee a commission of English-language liturgical, linguistic, and musical experts.
Four people will form this board. The four are (left to right in the photo above) Bishop Susan Johnson (National Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada), Pope Francis, the Most Rev. Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori (Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church), and the Most Reverend Justin Welby (Archbishop of Canterbury). The gender and church-background mix is seen to be no accident.
One of the strongest criticisms of the current English Language Missal Translation is its gender-exclusive language. Prior to this current translation many texts were shared ecumenically. This new work, however, will move beyond a few shared texts. The whole text will be usable by English-language liturgical churches. Insiders predict that the commission will start by trying to bring together the best of the rejected 1998 translation and The Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer.
Only dioceses and churches that wish to take up the Ecumenical English Missal will do so. In the Roman Catholic Church it will be used as a third “form”. Alongside the Ordinary and Extraordinary Form will be an “Ecumenical Form”. Other denominations will be able to use it however their particular decision-making bodies allow. The work will be copyright-free.
Last but not least is the explanation that the time has come to move from ecumenical dialogue through which so much has been achieved, to increasing shared action. Pope Francis who recently called a Pentecostal pastor a “bishop brother” is just the sort of person to move us on to that next step.