Question by Fr. Sebastian Oppong:

My Lord, I read an article that stated that there is now a change in the formula used to conclude the Collect at Mass, i.e., “Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever”. The article stated that instead of “one God” in the conclusion, we should say “God”, omitting the “one”. Is that correct, and what is the reason for the change?

Answer by Bishop Joseph Osei-Bonsu:

Fr. Sebastian, what you read is correct, and you must be one of a few Catholics in Ghana who are aware of this change! Let me give an example from the current Roman Missal for the Solemnity of Easter Sunday. For the Collect (Opening Prayer), you will find the following:

“O God, who on this day, through your Only Begotten Son, have conquered death and unlocked for us the path to eternity, grant, we pray, that we who keep the solemnity of the Lord’s Resurrection may, through the renewal brought by your Spirit, rise up in the light of life. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever”. We should take note of “one God” in the concluding formula.

On 17 May 2020 a letter was written by Robert Cardinal Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, to the presidents of English-speaking episcopal conferences which are members of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL).

This letter addressed a concern about the English translation of the conclusion of Collects in the Roman Missal. The Cardinal observed that in the conclusions to Collects, the Latin words “Deus, per omnia sæcula sæculorum” had been rendered in English as “one God, for ever and ever”.

Cardinal Sarah pointed out that there is no mention of “one God” in the Latin, but simply “God” (Latin: Deus). Cardinal Sarah called for the change, asking the bishops to alter the wording of the conclusion used for the Opening Prayer (Collect) for most days of the year.

This alteration changes the conclusion of the prayers from being simply an affirmation of the Holy Trinity (“in the unity of the Holy Spirit”) to being also an affirmation of the divinity of Our Lord, Jesus Christ (“God, for ever and ever”’).

The Cardinal’s letter added that English hand missals that preceded Vatican II did not have “one” before “God”. However, when the post-conciliar texts were published in English, the word “one” was added. He also pointed out that “Deus” in the Latin text refers to Christ. In his letter, Cardinal Sarah noted that the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments had, for some time, seen the addition of the word “one” as problematic and mistaken: “On the one hand, it can serve to undermine the statement of the Son’s unique identity within the Trinity, which the Latin formulas so strongly convey and, on the other hand, it can also be interpreted as saying the Jesus Christ is ‘one God’”. Cardinal Sarah added: “This is of particular import in this time when many people see Jesus simply as a good man or moral teacher, akin to Socrates or the Buddha, but they fail to recognise him as the incarnate Son of God and Second Person of Trinity”.

A decree signed on 9 November 2020 by Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster and Fr. Christopher Thomas, the president and general secretary, respectively, of the English and Welsh Bishops’ Conference, noted that “until now” in the three formulae of conclusions to Collects, “the Latin words ‘Deus, per omnia sæcula sæculorum’ are rendered in English as ‘one God, for ever and ever’”. The bishops of England and Wales voted “that these formulae should be adjusted according with the removal of the word ‘one’ from the conclusion of the Collect”.

According to the decree, the addition of ‘one’ before ‘God in the conclusion of the Collects could be construed as mistaken and problematic. ‘Deus’ here refers to the earlier mention of ‘the Son’ and is a Christological, anti-Arian affirmation, and not directly Trinitarian in this context.

The explanatory note stated that the addition of “one” before “God” “could serve to undermine the statement of the unique dignity of the Son within the Trinity,” or “could be interpreted as saying that Jesus is ‘one God’”. “Either or both of these interpretations is injurious to the faith of the Church”.

The note added that the trinitarian doxology that concludes the collects “emphasises the divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, who as the Incarnate Son, intercedes on our behalf to the Father … thus, the Son’s role of priestly mediation is made clear”.

The explanatory note says the phrase was adopted in the fourth century “as a means to combat the Arian heresy”, which held that Jesus Christ became God, rather than having been God eternally.

An explanatory note added that the decision was “in harmony” with the bishops’ conferences in Scotland and Ireland, “as well as with other English-speaking territories”. Moreover, the note adds, “one” is not used in the translations of the conclusion in French, German, Italian, Spanish, or Portuguese.

The English translation has, therefore, diverged from those of other major language groups.

The correction took effect in the dioceses of England and Wales from 29 November, 2020, the First Sunday of Advent. The most common formula, used when a collect is addressed to the Father, now reads: “Through our Lord Jesus Christ your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever”.

In the United States, following Cardinal Sarah’s letter, the Latin rite bishops voted to amend the country’s version of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal to reflect the change. A note sent on 4 February 2021 from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Divine Worship said the correction would take effect in the dioceses of the United States from 17 February 2021, Ash Wednesday, and indeed it did.

The New Zealand Catholic Bishops’ Conference in like manner recommended this change to be implemented at all Masses from 1 August 2020 onwards, or earlier if priests prefer.

To my knowledge, the National Liturgical Commission and the Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference have not taken any action in response to Cardinal Sarah’s directive. I am sure that before long we will hear something from these respected bodies. In the meanwhile, following the lead of all the other English-speaking episcopal conferences that have effected the change, I think that in celebrating Mass in English we can safely drop the “one” and simply say “God”. What do we do when it comes to our local languages? Can we simply drop the equivalent of “one” in the prayer? I think it will be important for the various Provincial Liturgical Committees and the Provincial Episcopal Councils to discuss this matter and make concrete proposals.

For further explanations or enquiries, you may contact the author, Most Rev. Joseph Osei-Bonsu, Catholic Bishop of Konongo-Mampong, on this number: 0244488904, or on WhatsApp (with the same number).

Authored by the Most Reverend Joseph Osei-Bonsu