Missal Timeline





By Rev. Robert Osborne

Louisville, Kentucky


Bishop Maurice Taylor, in a wonderfully written booklet, It’s the Eucharist, Thank God, combines a beautiful teaching on the Eucharist with a unique personal view of that time period when nothing seemed to be happening. The author is bishop emeritus of the Diocese of Galloway in Scotland. Ordained in 1951, he received a doctorate in sacred theology in 1954, after which he was a seminary teacher and rector. He was ordained a bishop in Galloway in 1981.

For more than 10 years, Bishop Taylor represented Scotland on the English speaking Episcopal Board of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) and was elected its chairman in 1997, and he held that position until 2002, the period described in his booklet.  He retired in 2004.

Perhaps the following timeline will help you to become more aware of the hard work done by ICEL and by the English speaking Episcopal Board before their rejection by the CDW in Rome.  This timeline gives only a sketch of events as personally related by Bishop Taylor. The inside story of this period has not been told before, which makes his fuller account an interesting historical document.

His booklet may be purchased through Decani Publications in England, which can be reached at  http://www.decanimusic.co.uk/acatalog/Decani_books.html. You can also read the chapter which gives more details about the facts described below at http://www.theway.org.uk/endeanweb/lttaylor.pdf.


1963       Vatican II’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy urged translations of the Latin texts, especially for the Mass, into vernacular as soon as possible.

1965       Bishops of English speaking countries, repesentative of 11 English speaking bishops’s conferences, formed International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL), composed of scripture scholars, liturgists, linguists, theologians, to work on translations.

  • Vatican II had opened the path to translations of the liturgy into vernacular languages without specifying how far this should extend (SC 22).
  • In 1967 Paul VI gave permisssion for “the territorial Bishops” to take full responsibility in his directive titled (in French) Comme le prevoit.

1973       The first translation of the missal into English was approved by English speaking bishops of the world and confirmed by Rome. It was a hurried translation in the hope of making imrovements later.

1982       ICEL began work on another English translation by scholars from around the English speaking world to improve the 1973 translation.

1998       The new translation of the mass was approved by all of the English speaking bishops conferences. A two-thirds majority vote was required in each conference.  The translation was sent to Rome for the needed recognitio.

  • The approved translation remained in the Vatican without  a recognitio and without any explanation, until it was finally rejected.
  • About this rejection of more than 16 years of scholarly work, Bishop Taylor asks: “Who exactly made that decision? A native English-speaker employed at the CDW? Whom did he consult?  We are not told.”

Meanwhile, in Rome . . .

1996       Cardinal Medina Estevez of Chile, was appointed to be the new prefect to head the CDW by John Paul II. Estevez does not speak English.

1997       Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Prefect of Congregation on Sacred Doctrine) withdrew the Vatican’s imprimatur of the English tranlation of the Book of Psalms that was to have been used in the revised liturgy.

1998       Cardinal Francis George of Chicago represented the American bishops on ICEL Episcopal Board. At his first meeting with the board after having been made a cardinal, he brought a message from Rome stating that, unless  ICEL changed radically, it was finished.

1999       Cardinal Medina wrote a “peremptory and draconian” letter to Bishop Taylor as chair of the ICEL. Taylor asked for meeting with the CDW, but received an “icy” reply. Ultimately, he was told to clear out the entire ICEL staff and translators, and also to sever the ecumenical contacts that ICEL had cultivated for over 40 years.

2000       In January, the ICEL Episcopal Board attempted to reconfigure ICEL in the way demanded by Cardinal Estevez and the CDW.

2000       Later that year, Bishop Taylor asked for and got the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to host a meeting of presidents of the 11 conferences of English speaking bishops in Washington DC to discuss ICEL’s situation.

  • Subsequently, the conference presidents went twice to Rome for meetings with CDW and Congregation for Bishops.
  • The meetings produced no effective results.

2001       The English speaking Bishops wrote to Rome, reminding the Vatican that they were  responsible for translations into the vernacular, as required by Vatican II, and noting that an ecumenical council is more authoritative than any congregation in the church’s bureaucracy.

2001       But the Vatican was secretely preparing a document called  Liturgiam Authenticam (Authentic Liturgy), which called for an extremely literal translation instead of a “dynamic equivalent” of the Latin, as called for in Pope Paul VI’s directive, Comme le prevoit.

2001       An official body called Vox Clara (Clear Voice) was set up by the Vatican to make a new translation of the Roman Missal into English following the principles laid out in Liturgiam Authenticam. It was composed of a newly constituted ICEL and other scholars chosen and approved by the Congregation on Divine Worship.

2008       The Vox Clara translation was approved by the CDW and Pope Benedict XVI, but it continued to make further changes afterwards.

2010       The English speaking bishops approved the Vox Clara translation of the missal, with the US bishops giving their approval in April.

2011       The Third Edition of Roman Missal is in the hands of the printers, and implementation has been mandated for the First Sunday in Advent.

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