A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter…. A faithful friend is beyond price.” These words from the Book of Sirach (6:15-16) resonate with all who know the joy of friendship. A good friend is someone I know well, someone who knows me well. A faithful friend is a trusted companion who enriches my life, as I do for my friend.
For Catholics, the Mass is where our relationship with the Lord, who is much more than a true friend, is nurtured and strengthened. The Mass itself is a “faithful friend” because we know it well, and our participation draws us ever deeper into the grace of the Lord. Later this year we will be introduced to a new translation of the prayers of the Mass in the new Roman Missal. Some are wary of this change—perhaps the most significant change in the liturgy since the reformed liturgy was first introduced after the Second Vatican Council. Such change is never easy, but perhaps a better approach might be to welcome the new translation as a new friend about to lead us to a new moment of grace.
The revised Roman Missal will be introduced in parishes on Nov. 27, 2011, the First Sunday of Advent. The occasion offers an unprecedented opportunity for in-depth preparation and thorough catechesis. The new translation reflects more fully the power of the prayers of the Mass, both when we are celebrating Eucharist and also when we are sent forth to “go in peace glorifying the Lord” with our lives.
Over these past 36 years as a priest and bishop, I have celebrated Mass not only in English but also in Spanish and Italian. Often I have been struck by the accuracy of those translations in contrast to our English version. I can appreciate the work that went into the new English translation, knowing that no one translation can completely serve every English-speaking nation. Am I satisfied with every single change in word or phrase? No. But since we will be using an English-language missal that must serve many English-speaking countries around the world, it is helpful to be mindful of the great diversity and nuances of the English language. Indeed the subtle differences in English usage in the United States are a good indication of the fact that there is no such thing as a single, perfect English translation.
A Eucharistic Church
The Catholic Church is a eucharistic church. The coming months will be a time to consider again how and why this is so and to come to a new appreciation of the Mass and its prayers. From the very first days when the disciples gathered, “they devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers” (Acts 2:42). “Breaking of the bread” refers, of course, to the celebration of the Eucharist. It was probably not until the third and fourth centuries that ritual texts, or formularies, were used for the celebration of Mass. Eucharistic Prayer II (once attributed to St. Hippolytus) probably emerged in the third century, and what we commonly call Eucharistic Prayer I (or the Roman Canon) more than likely emerged in the mid-fourth century. Over the following centuries, local bishops approved set formularies for Mass texts, and many of those texts found their way into the precursors of the Roman Missal for use by the Latin church.
Recent polls suggest that many Catholics do not fully understand the truth that the Eucharist is the sacrament that gives us the real body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ. The newly revised Missal provides an opportunity to consider this and other truths of the Catholic faith.
The timing is propitious. When the Sacramentary was first published in English some 40 years ago, there were fewer ways to communicate instantly than there are today with smartphones, tablets and a plethora of computers. This development puts us far along the path in helping to prepare better for the reception of the newly revised Roman Missal. During the time of liturgical reforms following the Second Vatican Council, catechesis was inconsistent and not always sufficient to prepare the church for what was being introduced. Today, catechesis is not limited to the Sunday homily or faith formation classes. Two outstanding Web sites offer excellent resources online, through download or for purchase.
The first site is that of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, one of the very best: www.usccb.org/romanmissal. In addition to sample texts, commentaries and explanations, it provides a wide variety of resources useful for parish communities making final preparations for implementation. Seeing the current and the new texts side by side will help illustrate the richness of the language in the new translation. The second resource is the Web site of the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions: www.fdlc.org. Included among their many offerings are audio recordings of many of the prayers of the Missal. These will be particularly helpful for priests in learning the style and cadence of the new texts, so they can effectively proclaim them.
Parishes would be wise to make a special effort to involve catechumens and, most important, Catholic children and young people in understanding the new translation and, in turn, the importance of the Eucharist in their lives. Perhaps there could be materials online just for young people: for first Communion children and for young people preparing for confirma-tion. YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites are ideal vehicles for reaching out to this audience. U.S.C.C.B. resources are available through all of these media.
From Translation to Understanding
This preparation period for the newly revised Roman Missal is a way to inform and catechize Catholics more deeply. Over the years, for example, the priest has proclaimed, “The Lord be with you.” And the congregation has responded, “And also with you.” But the Latin text should have been translated, “And with your spirit.” The response “And also with you” does not capture the Christian meaning of the Latin, Et cum spiritu tuo. One of the earliest exchanges invoking reciprocal blessings from God and God’s spirit is found in the Book of Ruth (2:4): “...The LORD be with you!” and they replied, “The LORD bless you!”
The early Christians who were baptized into the body of Christ had also received the Holy Spirit. They honored the presence of the Lord in one another’s lives through this greeting and response (Dominus vobiscum/Et cum spiritu tuo), understood as a mutual salutation and a sign of their union. The power of this greeting and response is far greater than “And also with you.”
Many of the newly translated texts allow all people to understand more deeply God’s saving work in and through the eucharistic mysteries. The newly revised Roman Missal is not simply an exercise in finding different words; rather, it is a fountain of new insights into Catholic teaching and praying.
To be sure, the transition to the new translation will be a logistical challenge. Both the priest and the congregation will need to rely upon a variety of participation aids. Because there are word changes from the very beginning of the Mass until the dismissal, priests will need to have the Roman Missal in front of them throughout the Mass; the congregation will depend on pew cards, hand missals and hymnals. Initially this might feel awkward because we are accustomed to praying and participating by heart, but we need to welcome the Roman Missal, in a sense, as a new friend. It will take time to become fully acquainted with the Missal, and only through practice will that happen. Openness to this new experience will lead to hidden riches, where Catholics learn something more about their faith and find new ways to express their devotion and love for the Lord. To ignore this invitation to friendship would be to deprive ourselves of new opportunities and new riches in our liturgy.
I am convinced that the introduction of the newly revised Roman Missal next November will be an inspiring moment in the life of the church in our country and in other English-speaking countries. The new words will invite a fresh perspective as we pray, as though viewing a work of art in a new light. This is a moment to enter more deeply into the greatest mystery of our faith, the Eucharist.