Slowly but surely: new liturgical books on the way.


Now that the new English translation of the Roman Missal is in place, five newly translated liturgical texts are moving through the process of revision and approval.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Martin Foster, Director of the Liturgy Office of England and Wales, to learn more about these documents and the process that will bring them into use in years to come. The Liturgy Office is small and Martin is a very hands-on director; he not only oversees the whole process of helping the Church in England and Wales follow the liturgical guidance of the bishops but also leads courses on liturgy and personally maintains the large website of the Liturgy Office ( The focus of the Liturgy Office is on implementation of texts that have been approved and promulgated.

Martin is also Assistant Secretary to the Department for Christian Life and Worship of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. In this role he has the important responsibility of shepherding proposed translations through episcopal review.

He was generous with his time and highly knowledgeable about liturgy and about the complex process of translation, review and promulgation.

Liturgiam Authenticam directed that “integral translations” of all of the liturgical books were to be prepared “in a timely manner” (§77). The Roman Missal was first, of course. The following documents are now in fairly advanced stages of revision:

  • The Order of Confirmation
  • The Order of Celebrating Marriage
  • The Order of Dedication of a Church and an Altar
  • Exorcisms and Certain Supplications
  • Supplement to the Liturgy of the Hours

The first two are the most advanced; they are called “Gray Books”, meaning that they have already been reviewed once by the bishops of English-speaking dioceses. The latter two are “Green Books”, because this is the first year in which the bishops have been given an opportunity to review them.

“The mills of God grind slowly”, wrote Longfellow, “yet they grind exceeding small.” The revision process is slow as well. The “Gray book” documents will not be ready for public use until, at minimum, late in 2014; the “green book” documents perhaps a year later. This assumes that everything goes to plan; if not, the schedule could slip.

The process is, roughly, as follows:

  1. A Bishops’ Conference is responsible for creating an initial translation of every book. For English-speaking regions this task is entrusted to ICEL, the International Commission on English in the Liturgy. ICEL produces a draft that is typically sent to the Bishops’ Conferences early in the year, as a “Green Book”. Hence the Order of Confirmation and the Order of Celebrating Marriage went to the bishops early in 2012; the other three texts arrived in the spring of 2013.
  2. Both the “Green Books” and “Gray Books” have Latin on the left facing page, English on the right, so that the bishops who review them can make easy comparisons. Each bishop can ask others for advice, but ultimately must form his own view. In England and Wales, the bishops send their comments to the Bishops’ Conference in the autumn.
  3. Where a bishop is unhappy with a text, he is expected not only to comment but also to propose a revised translation. Staff at the Bishops’ Conference  collate the bishops’ responses. They will indicate where a proposed change is unlikely to be accepted by ICEL; in many cases this is because it clashes with the principles of Liturgiam Authenticam. A bishop can nonetheless insist that his comments and proposals be sent through to ICEL: it is the bishops, not the staff, who decide. The Conferences generally send their collective and individual comments to ICEL toward the end of a given year.
  4. ICEL then reviews the bishops’ comments and produces a “Gray Book”, which goes back to the bishops in March or April of the following year. Once again, each bishop may ask for advice and has an opportunity to comment. At the end of the year, the bishops vote. An individual bishop can insist on presenting a dissenting view with the final submission, but the goal is that each conference speaks with a single voice; and, ideally, that most bishops in the English-speaking world assent to a single translation.
  5. The bishops’ conferences submit their work to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (CDW). I asked Martin about the Vox Clara Committee. He stressed that – if Vox Clara was to be involved – it would simply play an advisory role to the CDW in reviewing the bishops’ submissions. I found his view on the Vox Clara difficult to square with a press release issued by the Committee in 2011, saying that they had “approved plans for several future publications on behalf of the Congregation, most notably an interim edition of the Roman Pontifical, including new translations of several pontifical texts drawn from the Roman Missal.”
  6. Eventually, the CDW produces a final text, publication arrangements are agreed between ICEL and local publishers, catechetical materials are prepared and the new book launched. The whole process can take a long time, especially because it does not operate to a fixed timetable. For example, the Order of Mass was issued as a “Green Book” in February 2004, but a second “Green Book” was issued a year later. The “Gray Book” appeared in 2006, but the official approval (recognitio) did not arrive from the CDW until June 2008. Even then, the Missal, which incorporated a lot more than the Order of Mass was not put into service until Advent, 2011.

The bishops can propose amendments – changes to a translation, such as the suggestion that et cum spiritu tuo continue to be rendered as “and also with you”. The example is unlikely though, because the system discourages going back on translations already in use. Sections in the draft documents drawn directly from the new Roman Missal (e.g. the response “and with your spirit”) are marked “RM” as a reminder to the bishops that Roma locuta est.

Beyond amendments, the bishops can also propose adaptations specific to a language grouping or region. In most cases these adaptations are optional. The Missal, for example, allows the priest (“or a Deacon, or another minister”) the option in the Penitential Act to use “another invocation”. Sample invocations for the Penitential Act are buried in Appendix VI of the weighty book. But these sample invocations differ between Britain and the United States – a local, optional adaptation.

Other adaptations are mandatory in particular regions; we will see examples in subsequent articles.

Further documents are in the revision queue beyond these. Martin indicated that the next Green/Gray book sequence will cover RCIA and Baptism; the one after that will cover Ordination and the Ceremonial of Bishops.

Thus far I have focused on where the texts are going; let’s take a moment to look at where they have come from. All of these texts derive from the Rituale Romanum and Pontificale Romanum. As far as I can determine, a typical edition of the preconciliar Pontificale was last promulgated in 1962 and of the Rituale in 1957.

Neither the Rituale nor the Pontificale has been revised as a whole since Vatican II. Rather, official Latin editions have been published of specific sections – Confirmation, for example. Part of the old Rituale emerged as De Benedictionibus, with the latest Latin edition in 1990. I believe that the latest English version, The Book of Blessings, dates from 1989.

The Rite of Exorcism from the Rituale was revised and promulgated in 1999 as  De exorcismis et supplicationibus quibusdam (Exorcisms and Certain Supplications); I will look further at this in a later article. To date, it has not been released in English, so the Green Book version now under review represents its first official translation out of the Latin.

I asked Martin whether the different sections would ever be stitched back together into a single Rituale and Pontificale. He doubted it; “those would be very large and unwieldy books.” ICEL’s website ( nonetheless groups the books (other than the Roman Missal) as follows:

The Roman Ritual
Baptism of Children
Religious Profession
Initiation of Adults
Reception of Baptized Christians
Anointing and Pastoral Care
Commissioning Special Ministers
Holy Communion
Book of Blessings

The Roman Pontifical
Consecration to a Life of Virginity
Institution of Readers and Acolytes
Blessing of an Abbot or Abbess
Blessing of Oils, Consecrating the Chrism
Admission to Candidacy for Ordination
Dedication of a Church and an Altar

The Liturgy of the Hours

Ceremonial of Bishops

The Roman Martyrology

The Ritual and Pontifical could be hefty volumes indeed! But, if the Roman Missal is any indication, the authorities aren’t particularly concerned with the size and weight of liturgical volumes. The Church has yet to come to terms with the possibility of an iPad on the altar.

*  *  *

I hope that this discussion of the process for bringing out new books has been interesting and not too geeky. I welcome factual corrections and will update the post as they are received. Let me close by thanking Martin Foster for an interesting and informative discussion.

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1 Response to Slowly but surely: new liturgical books on the way.

  1. Frere Rabit says:

    Powerful stuff… It is all too complicated for a rabit of small brain. Why did God stop handing over a couple of stone tablets when an important revision was needed?


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