In most parishes, Ash Wednesday is one of the most highly attended Mass days of the year. Even this year, in which everything is different, many parishes are still preparing for long lines of Catholics who’ve come to “get their ashes” before heading off to work — even if work is only a morning Zoom call.

One difference, for Americans, is that priests are asked this year to sprinkle ashes atop people’s heads, instead of tracing the sign of the cross on the forehead. Sprinkling is the common method of distributing ashes in many parts of the world, and is an ancient custom.

On Feb. 17, 2021, Ash Wednesday, the words of the Mass will change too — or, at least, revert to what they once said, before a mis-translation changed things. 

The U.S. bishops’ conference issued a memo last week explaining that the “collect,” one of the opening prayers of the Mass, has been mistranslated since Mass translations in English were first published after the Second Vatican Council.

The Pillar answers your questions:

How many words are changing?

What word is changing?

Here’s what’s happening:
The “collect” is a prayer that concludes the opening rites of the Mass. The collect ends with an invocation to Christ, which includes mention of the Father and the Holy Spirit, and ends, in Latin, with “…Deus, per omnia sæcula sæculorum.”

In English this has been translated as “one God, forever and ever.”

A particular collect might conclude, for example, “Through our Lord, Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.”

But here’s the thing. In Latin, the prayer doesn’t say “one God.” It just says “God.”

And the prayer isn’t meant to be an affirmation of the oneness of the Holy Trinity. Instead, it is meant to affirm that Christ is God — because of the pervasiveness of the Arian heresy, which taught otherwise, in the centuries in which the prayer first came into being.

Why is this changing?
In May 2020, Cardinal Robert Sarah, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and Sacraments, wrote to English-speaking bishops’ conferences pointing out the error, and asking them to change it. The U.S. bishops voted to make a change to their official English translation of the Mass, as have episcopal conferences in England and Wales, Canada, and Ireland.

Were Masses celebrated with a mistranslation invalid? Illicit?
No. The words of the collect are not the central words of consecration in the Mass, and do not affect the validity of the Masses celebrated with them, either.

Full story at The Pillar.