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Scots clergymen at the heart of translating the Roman Rite

A Scottish bishop and archbishop returned from the United States last weekend after attending a commission responsible for translating Latin liturgy to English

Archbishop Leo Cushley of St Andrews & Edinburgh and Bishop Hugh Gilbert of Aberdeen, pictured, returned from the International Commission of English in the Liturgy (ICEL), held in Washington DC, on Sunday January 12.

“I go three times a year for week-long meetings, and it’s very much nine-to-five work,” Archbishop Cushley stated.

“I enjoy it because I have a passion for the liturgy, and I have many good friends among those at ICEL. The work of translation can be laborious and slow, so it takes patience—and the list of things to be translated is a long one!”




ICEL translates various liturgical books from Latin to modern English, including rites Catholics will be familiar with, such as Baptism and Penance, blessings and ordinations.

The commission is comprised of members of bishops’ conferences in countries where English is used when celebrating the Sacred Liturgy according to the Roman Rite, including countries where English is not the main language, such as Pakistan, the Philippines and India.

Archbishop Cushley is part of the ICEL Editorial Committee, comprised of around 12 people from across the English-speaking world.

The archbishop describes the Editorial Committee as ‘a bit like a hidden engine room on a big ship.’



“Our Editorial Committee takes the work of a base translator and thoroughly reviews it from start to finish,” he explained.

“Every word and its background is examined from linguistic, liturgical, scriptural and historical points of view.

“Latin in the fourth century is different to Latin in the 11th or 16th or 20th century. There are uses of words and phrases which are quite distinct and difficult to reconcile.

“The English language is not only used in different ways in different countries today, it is also changing every day, and we have to be conscious of that too. So our role is to ensure the best possible translation from the Latin for the English liturgy.

“The translation needs to be accessible, while being faithful to what it actually says in the books, no matter how complex it is in its original language.”



Archbishop Cushley joined ICEL in 2013 shortly after being appointed as leader of St Andrews & Edinburgh Archdiocese.

Formerly the head of English Language at the Holy See’s Secretariat of State, Archbishop Cushley uses his experience to assist the team, as well as his qualifications in Liturgy and Canon Law.

He said: “I’m happy to make whatever contribution I can along with a group of people who are very distinguished in their fields. Scotland is one of the member Bishops’ Conferences of ICEL, the chairman presently being Bishop Hugh Gilbert of Aberdeen.

“I’m very happy to see the Church in Scotland contribute, in spite of our small size and limited resources, to the important work of keeping the Roman Rite in good modern English.”

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