What is Happening?
You may have heard a lot in various Catholic news sources about the new translations of the Missal. These are not just rumors! After many years of translating work and revision (and passing drafts back and forth between the bishops' conferences and the Vatican), the new translations will go into use in America in Advent of 2011. As a Catholic, you need to be aware of this change and hopefully do a little homework so you are prepared when it happens. The more we stay informed as individual parishioners, the smoother the transition will go for everyone.
What is the Missal?
Ok, so the Missal is changing...what is it, anyway? The Missal is the official ritual text for the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church. Check the "Liturgy and Music 101" link for more information on what a 'rite' is. Basically, the Missal contains the directions for how to celebrate Mass, along with the words to use during Mass. When the Church makes changes to the liturgy, these are published in a revision of the Missal.
Vatican 2 asked for a revision of the liturgy, which the Church began working on immediately. The council closed in 1965, and the new edition of the Missal was published in 1970...in Latin. Since Latin is the official language of the Church, official documents are published in Latin first, and then translated into various languages. There were a variety of transitional English translations, for people to use during and directly after the council, when English was officially permitted in the Liturgy. The translations of the Order of Mass and people's parts that we use now have been basically the same since the new Missal came out in 1970. The translation job was finished by 1973, when the prayers for the priest were ready and approved.
Why a New Translation?
The first translations after the Council were intended to be transitional - they would give the Church practical experience with vernacular liturgy, to prepare for a more permanent translation. The International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) is the group responsible for the English translations. The committee officially began work on a second translation in the late 80's. To make a long story short, ICEL and the various national bishops conferences and the Vatican have been passing drafts and revisions back and forth for almost 20 years now! Part of the reason most Catholics don't believe we will get a new translation in 2011 is that the process has taken so long. There have been some false warnings before. The important thing is that the Vatican and US bishops have finally agreed, and the new translation will be used starting in Advent of 2011.
What will be Different?
You won't notice a lot of the changes, since they are to the prayers the priest says during Mass. On a technical level, the Vatican has asked for English translations that more accurately reflect the Latin original. The 1973 translations are more of a paraphrase of the original, while the new translations will be closer to the Latin on a word-for-word basis. But again, unless you are a Latin scholar or a Liturgy buff, you will probably not notice the changes in the priest's parts.
What you will certainly notice is changes in the Mass Ordinary. The Ordinary is the parts of the Mass that are used every week. For example, the priest will have a particular opening prayer on the feast of Christ the King - he will have prayers that are 'proper' to that day. The Ordinary is what stays the same every week - the Kyrie, Gloria (except during Lent), Creed, Sanctus ('Holy, Holy'), and Agnus Dei (Lamb of God). Since you say or sing these at every Mass, you will immediately notice a change. Also, the words are different enough that the music will have to change as well (since there are different numbers of syllables for the composer to set to music). That's where the homework comes in - take some time to look at the links below, especially the U.S. Bishops' website. Over the next year, become familiar with the new texts so that you are ready to use them when the time comes.
Some Good Links for Further Reading
Official USCCB Page For the New Translations
In case anyone thinks this is still just rumor, send them to this page. It is a very helpful page with lots of resources. It also gives you the new translations side-by-side with the old ones, for the Ordinary of the Mass. You can see exactly what changed and what stayed the same.
ICEL Official Site
If you are interested in learning more about the International Commission for English in the Liturgy, this is their official site. Among other things, you can get a feel for their history and who has served on the commission since Vatican 2.