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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Welcoming the New Translation of the Roman Missal

Welcoming the New Translation of the
Roman Missal

          We are at the beginning of a new calendar year, and many people are focusing on their New Year’s resolutions.  At the beginning of the Church year about a month ago, we were all afforded a wonderful opportunity for a resolution – to deepen our experience of the Mass.  I am speaking, of course, of the implementation of the new translation of the Roman Missal.
          We are not adopting a “new Mass.”  All that has happened is that the Missal, which we have been using for over 40 years, has been newly translated for the English language.  Why was this done?  The translation we adopted after Vatican II was called a dynamic equivalency translation.  In other words, it stayed faithful to the thoughts that are presented in the original Latin, but was lacking in some literal translations.  English was the only major language to use this type of translation, and it was not bad.  The bishops have not decided that the translation we have been using was somehow defective, only that a closer translation to the original Latin would be desirable.
          For one thing, the Mass is saturated with Scripture, and some of those references are brought out much more clearly in the new translation.  Also, there is some imagery that had been lost and is restored with the new translation.  Another important benefit is that it is more precise on certain theological points.
          As we adopt this new translation, we can resolve to enter more deeply into the prayers of the Mass and renew our worship, while enhancing our experience.  Over the next few weeks I will pick a few of the new translations of prayers and responses and give a reflection on them.  I, of course, am not qualified to fully explore them, so I would encourage further study.  Although some of the thoughts will be my own, I will try to be faithful to the intention of the bishops.  Also, I will be drawing heavily from the work of Dr. Edward Sri, which I have found most helpful, and would recommend your checking out some of what he has produced for a more comprehensive reflection than what I will be offering here.  I have included a product link to a book of his and Lighthouse Catholic Media has produced a CD on this very topic.
          At the very beginning of the Mass, when the priest greets us, we now respond not with, “And also with you,” but rather, “And with your spirit.”  Of course this is what we’ve been saying at Latin Masses all along (“et cum spiritu tuo”) but now we say it in English as well.  What does it mean?
          First of all, when the priest says, “The Lord be with you,” he is not wishing us a good morning.  In Scripture when this phrase or variations of it are used, it is a blessing or promise to someone who is about to do something profound (Moses, Joshua, Mary, etc.).  When the priest says it to us, we too are about to do something profound.  We come to Mass to worship God, our highest act as human beings.  He says it again at the beginning of the Liturgy of the Eucharist, when Jesus will become present on the altar and we will receive Him.  And again at the end of Mass when he sends us forth to bring the Lord we have just received to a world that is starving for Him.
          When we respond “And with your spirit,” we are acknowledging something very important.  At this Mass, the priest has a very special role, and it is a spiritual role.  He is going to do something at the Mass that the rest of us can not do.  And he is able to do it by virtue of a spiritual gift he received at his ordination.  Our response is an answer similar to the greeting the priest has given us, but acknowledging the incredible gift he has from which we will all benefit.
          Later in the Mass, after this exchange, the priest says, “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God,” and we now respond with, “It is right and just.”  The notion of justice with regard to God is an important one.  Justice means giving to someone that which he is due.  Sometimes we can develop the mistaken notion that because we come to Mass weekly or even daily, we are doing something extraordinary and that God really owes us a debt of gratitude for our faithfulness.  Faithfulness surely will be rewarded, but we are, as St. Paul says, “unprofitable servants.  We have done no more than we were obliged to do.”  God deserves our worship.  When we come to Mass, we are giving Him His due, nothing more.  It is profitable for us to reflect on the fact that though we receive so much from God at Mass, it is also our solemn obligation and an act of justice toward Him to attend, at least weekly.
          Also at the beginning of Mass we have the Penitential Rite, during which we examine our consciences and express sorrow for our sins in order to prepare ourselves to celebrate the Sacred Mysteries.  The new translation has brought back the “mea culpas.”  We will beat our chest as we proclaim that we have sinned “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.”
          Why is this important?  One of the greatest flaws of our age is that by and large we have lost a sense of sin.  Even those of us that acknowledge sin often fail to recognize the gravity of sin.  God has given us everything, benevolently.  We would not have life without Him, let alone the promise of eternal life.  He is pure goodness and yet we often respond to Him with disobedience, perhaps even scorn.  It is important for us to recognize that even venial sins are offenses against Pure Love and we should not dismiss them without at least acknowledging our guilt and offering contrition.  Mortal sins, of course, require sacramental Confession before we receive the Eucharist.
          If I hurt my wife deeply, I mean really hurt her feelings or cause her real pain, I would not just in passing tell her, “Hey, sorry about that.”  It is important for me to acknowledge that I have wronged her, to show her that, and sincerely ask forgiveness.  God may not have the same needs as my wife does, but it is still important that I not dismiss my sins, but truly acknowledge them, sincerely ask forgiveness, and gratefully accept it.
          Over the next few weeks I will be reflecting on some of the other changes in translation.  Many of them are small and grammatical, so I will not touch on everything, but there are many that are soaked with meaning.  May this new year find us meditating more deeply on the profound nature of the Mass so that through it we may come closer to Jesus Christ.