Editor’s Note: For the next 4 weeks, we will be considering the changes to the Liturgy as we prepare to implement the third edition of the Roman Missal into our worship on November 27, 2011.
Since the turn of the millennium, the English-speaking bishops of the world have been working to establish a new English translation of the prayers of the Mass used throughout the globe. Beginning next month, on November 27th to be exact, this new translation will be put into effect. This weekend, and for the next four weekends, I would like to reflect with you on the ultimate goal of our weekly celebration, some the principles that guide our communal worship, some of the changes to the words and some of our gestures that we use in worship, the reasons for the changes, and finally my hopes for this new way of expressing what we believe as a community of our Catholic faith.
Toward the end of the last century, Pope John Paul II had noted throughout his extensive travels that many of the prayers he used in various English-speaking countries were not the same and, in fact, oftentimes did not reflect the common foundation that they were to have in the Latin prayers of the Universal Church. Because ours is a universal faith, he charged English-speaking bishops with the task of evaluating their translations against the Latin, authoritative, original text and, once deficiencies were found, to correct them so that the prayers of every unique language would still reflect the common language of our faith, rooted in Scripture and tradition, striving to be common among all of the faithful.
So, for the last decade or so, the bishops have been doing just that. In order to accomplish this great task, they ran into one key question whose answer would form the method by which they would consider translation. When considering the translation of Latin to English, how should the translation be established, using dynamic equivalence, as was done after the Second Vatican Council—giving us a fluid, interpretive sense of the original Latin; or using a formal equivalence—giving us a more strict, formal sense of the Latin words in their romanticism. The latter was chosen, so that while our language would be more formal and maybe a bit strange to our contemporary ears, we would nevertheless be able draw relationship between our words and the words of Sacred Scripture, between our prayers and the faith that we profess…the beliefs we hold, and the divine romance in which we are invited to dwell.
And here, now, is one of the principles of liturgy: “what we pray should reflect what we believe.” So, for example, our belief about the divine union of the Father and the Son has been expressed for over 1,600 years as “in the Father and with the Father, the Son is one and the same God”. Now in our current English liturgy we state that Jesus is “one in being with the Father”. This current translation appears correct; however, it lacks expression of the dynamic yet constant movement, correlation and ongoing romance of the two in their Oneness. Our new translation will replace the phrase “one in being with Father” with the single word “consubstantial”, that is: being of the same substance, the same essence, the same nature…always and constant. Now, I am among the first to admit, that is probably the most challenging change for us to hear and adopt…and while it doesn’t sound romantic, that one word reflects all of our faith the first two persons of the Holy Trinity. So let’s take another example that might help drive this point home, that “what we pray should reflect what we actually believe”.
In the third Eucharistic Prayer, we currently say to God the Father, “from east to west / a perfect offering may be made to the glory of your name”. In the new translation, we will pray instead, “from the rising of the sun to its setting / a pure sacrifice may be offered to your name.” Now at first glance the two may be so similar that the difference escapes our notice, but in the current phrase, we express the belief that God is glorified in all places by our offering of a perfect sacrifice. Yet, we exist not merely in a particular place, but in a particular time we live, and move, and have our very being. Because God exists beyond all time and space, yet joins us in our time and space, our prayer ought to reflect this reality, thus the new translation calls these truths to our lips: “from the rising of the sun to its setting…”, thus linking time and space together…the sun rises in the east and then moves to set in the west…both time and space are expressed as dynamic, moving realities that exist under God’s care, and it is within these combined realities that we offer maybe not perfect praise, but we strive to offer a pure sacrifice to God. This new text actually presents nothing new for our consideration: it brings to mind the ancient Scriptures word for word, so that our imagination is drawn to a richer biblical image.
An additional principle of liturgical worship that we should consider is the principle that we are one when we gather as a body of the faithful. Because Christ is one, and because we share in His being through baptism, each one of us then is called to unite ourselves with other members of His Body so that our expression of His presence among us is singular, is complete, is united. Thus, although we are many members, we are all parts of the One whole and as we worship in union, our worship is then common, united, singular and collective. Our gestures, our words, our postures…all of these are now shared with one another so that our offering of our whole selves as a singular body is then in deep concert…in other words, none of us stands out, none of us is greater or lesser…we are all in harmony, in common-union, in community as we engage in the corporate—or bodily—worship of God. So, we all follow our ritual gestures in common; we all do the same actions that are prescribed to give God a unified worship. In another sense, our corporate, unified actions and words can now reflect a growing peace and authentic harmony that flows from God’s own life. Called together from our distinct and wonderfully unique lives, the worship of God thus unites us as one singular people with one sole purpose: praising the glory of God.
And finally, it may serve us well to consider the means by which we achieve this great unity in worship, in giving glory to God as His singular and manifold people. The Second Vatican Council guides us well. In the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, we are all presented with the challenge to participate in this divine worship to a very high degree. We are not simply “to attend” or “go to Mass”; instead we are to engage ourselves in a participation in the liturgy that is full, active and conscious. And here is where I believe our new translation could have a tremendous affect on us.
With changing vocabulary and once-common phrases; with new gestures of highlight and significance; of punctuated responses that evoke the heights of our imaginations; with all these, we will be in constant motion—our minds, hearts, or bodies…or all three. New words will bring to the imagination new images and insights; new movements will highlight things that have always been so important to our faith yet now seem dull, presumed or merely overlooked; new musical settings, chants and silence will now punctuate our active selves, along with our contemplative selves…drawing us, God-willing, into a deeper union with God and with the Church.
As a way of allowing this deeper, common-union…in order to foster full, active and conscious participation, I invite each of you take home with you, one of the booklets that have been placed in the pews. A few thoughts: first, we designed these for our parish and we did so at a significant expense. Still, because worship is so important in our Catholic life and faith, I want you to be able to “borrow” a copy for this week. Please read it and consider the changes that will be taking place in one month’s time. You’ll note on the back cover that it should not be taken from the Church…you can ignore that, but only for this week. Please return it next Sunday as we’ll begin to refer to it during our future reflections on this new Roman Missal.
As you read through the notes presented inside, please consider one final principle and a most valuable one…one that I’ll reflect on next weekend. When we accept well the invitation from God to worship and adore Him, we are asked to present ourselves as a sacrifice; in other words, to submit ourselves to something greater than ourselves. This requires a kind of humility or docility…something that many of us—myself included—find very difficult. So, as you peruse this simple guide during the week, avoid the temptation to judge it or critique it for now…just simply absorb the information and the changes noted within. And by all, means, let us leave this place nourished with Christ’s own presence, that we might be a people of great peace and joy this week and always.