The Impending Liturgical ' Reform' Re-Visited
I was moved to read in America Father Anthony Ruff's objections to the new translations for the missal. Like many ( I suspect the majority) of parish priests, I am not terribly enthusiastic about this so-called ' reform'. It seems to me more a kind of ' set back' and, in places, confusing. Some of the new translations appear crudely archaic, in an attempt to render the original Latin word order. The Nicene creed now reads: " One in being with the Father.. by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary". The proposed new translation reads: " consubstantial with the Father.. by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary." We can expect a new slew of archaic words such as vouchsafe and deign.
I also strongly oppose the shift in the new words of consecration which now say that Jesus' blood is shed for all men and women. In the new translation it will say:" The blood which is shed for the many". This new translation does, of course, capture the scriptural words used for the last supper when Jesus said to his disciples: " This is the blood of the covenant, which is poured out for the many for the forgiveness of sins." ( Matthew 26:26). The Latin word, multis, is, itself, perhaps, a mistranslation of the original Greek word, Pollown,which refers to 'the many' ( an expression already found in Isaiah) to indicate a substantially large, indeed capacious, number, equivalently all. It was not meant to indicate that Jesus only died for ' some' and not for others or that he and God do not wish the salvation of all! When he was still Cardinal Ratzinger, Pope Benedict defended this " for all" language, finding no justification for limiting God's will for universal salvation ( cf. his 2003 book, God is Near Us: The Eucharist the Heart of Life). Also, the word which will be used to translate the Latin, calyx, which we now call a cup will be a ' chalice'. It is hard to credit that Jesus, at the last supper, thought he was taking a 'chalice' in his hands!
As a parish, we will, surely, explain and, of course, implement the mandated changes. We have no intention either publicly to attack or oppose them. Nor, however, do we think we should especially defend these new translations, as if they are some' precious inspired gift' or that we think they are improvements. Our main attitude is to bring to these forced changes what should always characterize the Catholic litury at its best: to bring to it an ethos and prayerful attitude of beauty, majesty, spiritual profundity, solemnity yet simplicity and genuine participation of all.
I assume that those who have mandated the changes were, perhaps, undoubtedly sincere and thought they would improve the Catholic mass. So, I felt the need to probe more deeply what the Vatican II reform of the liturgy was about and how we might truly bring forward that ethos of beauty, majesty, spiritual profundity and participation. I found especially helpful in doing so John Baldovin S.J."s book, Reforming the Liturgy: A Response to the Critics.( Liturgical Press, 2009).
Baldovin, a very distinguished historian of the liturgy, deftly takes us through the main princples for reform as found in Vatican II's Constitution on the Liturgy:"The rites should be marked by a noble simplicity; they should be short, clear and unencumbered by useless repetitions; they should be within the people's powers of comprehension and as a rule not require much explanation."( #34). Clearly, the new translation of ' for the many' will require an elaborate explanation so it is not misunderstood, as if Jesus sought only the salvation of some. The same constitution urges that we take experience seriously and to let any new forms grow 'organically'. ( # 23)
Baldovin helpfully explains a useful typology of critics of the liturgical reforms at Vatican II. In this typology, we see different agendas in the church about liturgy: (1) Advancing the official reform; ( 2) restoring the pre-conciliar liturgy; ( 3) Accepting elements of the reform but further reforming the reform. Some felt the initial translations, for example, did not sufficiently present us with a kind of'sacred aura' language, different from everyday or banal speech. They would cheer the return of " and with your spirit" and not just " and also with you". Some others feel that Vatican II's emphasis on the eucharist as a meal ( mirroring the last supper and the heavenly banquet) slighted the other notion of the mass as sacrifice ( the Pascal sacrifice of Jesus in his death and resurrection). But there is a theological danger in some notions of ' sacrifice'--as if God needed some scapegoat for humanity's sins to right his righteous wrath. Some critics felt that the mass had become too much a celebration of the people gathered ( a feel good rite) and not enough of an acceptance of God's gift in the sacrifice of Jesus. Some want more silence in the liturgy or more reverence shown in receiving communion.
I came away from Baldovin's excellent treatment both enlightened and a bit dismayed. I came to see, as he says, that it is possible, in the liturgy, to do all the right things ritually yet lack a deeper spirit. I was also enlightened by his thoughtful entering into the arguments of some of the critics of the reforms and yielding, at points, the partial legitimacy of their critique. But I remained dismayed that the new translation did not really enter into the plea for testing ' experience' in #23 of The Constitution on the Liturgy. The Vatican simply over-ruled the sentiments of the majority of liturgists and the initial reactions of the overwhelming majority of the English-speaking bishops.
I am also dismayed that some of the same critics, having tasted a victory, may now tackle other issues: reducing the number of canons allowed for the Eucharistic prayer, perhaps back to Eucharistic Prayer #1 which closely follows the old roman rite Latin prayer; or cutting back from a three year cycle of scripture readings in the lectionary ( which allows a wide exposure to the full panoply of scripture) to the previous one-year cycle. Anyone with a rich eucharistic theology will know that this gift, meal and sacrifice, this eschatological foretaste of the final heavenly banquet is so rich that no one celebration of it can ever truly adequately probe its depth and reality. In the end, as Baldovin insists, the eucharist is both an edification ( it has a didactic function of teaching us and lifting us up toward holiness) and an epiphany ( it reminds us that it is first of all a gift to us from God in Christ which allows us the inestimable possibility and privilege of worshiping almighty God).