Archbishop Leo Cushley heads to Washington today as part of a week-long stint at the International Commission of English in the Liturgy (ICEL).

“I go three times a year for week-long meetings, and it’s very much ‘9 to 5’ work," he said. "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!”

On behalf of its members' Bishops’ Conferences, ICEL translates all manner of liturgical books from Latin into modern English. This includes rites Catholics will be familiar with, such as baptism and penance, through to ordination and even the blessing of statues.

It is a mixed commission of Catholic Bishops’ Conferences from countries where English is used in the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy according to the Roman Rite.

This can include countries where English is not the “first” language learned by local people, including India, Pakistan and the Philippines.

Looking at language

Archbishop Cushley is part of the Editorial Committee, a group of a dozen or so experts from all over the English-speaking world.  “It’s a bit like a hidden engine room on a big ship”, he said.

“Our Editorial Committee takes the work of a base translator and thoroughly reviews it from start to finish. 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 20thcentury. 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.”

Getting involved

Archbishop Cushley was invited to join ICEL in 2013, shortly after being appointed Archbishop of St Andrews & Edinburgh.

He helps the team using his experience as the former Head of English Language Section at the Holy See’s Secretariat of State and 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.”