Minor adjustment to opening prayer of Mass has deeper significance

November 29th marks the start of a new liturgical year for the Church with the celebration of 1st Sunday of Advent.  It is also the date where a very subtle alteration to the translation of the Mass comes into effect; a change that has deeper significance of meaning and theology.

In a decree dated November 9th the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales have said that the word ‘one’ is to be omitted from the doxology at the end of the opening prayer (Collect) of the Mass.  At present article 54 of the English translation of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal allows for the Collect to end in one of three ways each of which have rendered the Latin phrase “Deus, per omnia sæcula sæculorum”  as “one God, for ever and ever.”

The decree addresses a concern raised by the Congregation for Divine Worship (CDW) that the addition of the word one “construed as mistaken or problematic”.  So what is so problematic with the term “one God”?

Firstly anyone who understands Latin can see the original text simply says “God, for ever and ever”.  The change will reflect the original text more faithfully.  But the concern expressed by the CDW goes deeper as the Bishops explain:

“The addition of “one” could be construed as mistaken or problematic. On the one hand, it could serve to undermine the statement of the unique dignity of the Son within the Trinity which the Latin formulae so strongly convey. On the other hand, it could be interpreted as saying that Jesus is “one God.” … The “one” risks suggesting that Jesus became a god independent of the Blessed Trinity and is one god among many. Contrary to the Arian heresy, Jesus Christ, who is God, did not become God. He is God from all eternity, and taking human flesh at his Incarnation, became man. According to the ‘lex orandi,’ what we pray needs to express what the Church believes, requiring that, in liturgical formulae, we uphold the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity.”

The Arian heresy sprang up in the Church back in the fourth century, where the priest Arian denied the eternal divine nature of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity.  Arianism believes that Jesus did not exist from all eternity and the he was begotten in time by the Father therefore becoming God at a set point in time; something we do not believe as Catholics.

The forthcoming change will also see the translation come into line with other parts of the world.  Other English speaking territories such Scotland and Ireland have omitted the term “one” in their translation whilst the other major language groups simply refer to “God” respectively.  Up until know our use of “one God” has diverged from the the wider Church.

It is astounding that a simple three letter word can change the meaning of our belief.  The work of translating the Liturgy from Latin to English is often a very lengthy and tricky task that often takes years. The International Commission for English in the Liturgy (ICEL) is a body of both lay and clerical experts that works to provide a common translation of the Liturgy for the English speaking world. Eleven Conferences of Bishops are currently full members of ICEL. They are: Australia, Canada, England and Wales, India, Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Philippines, Scotland, Southern African, and the United States of America.  Our own Archbishop George Stack is the representative Bishop for England and Wales.  Current ICEL projects include the new translation of the Roman Lectionary (the readings we use at Mass).