Last Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent, the new English translation of the prayers we pray in the Mass started being used in the United States. Interestingly, the prayers on which the translation is based are not new. They are essentially the same official prayers of the Latin Rite which we have had for decades. Go to the Latin on which the current and soon to be former translation is based, and compare it to the Latin on which the new translation is based. It is the same.
The new translation is long overdue. Not just because it is a faithful translation of the prayers of the Church which all Latin Rite Catholics are supposed to use in the Liturgy, but because it uses language which is conducive to worship and praise, and which is fitting for the majestic event being celebrated.
The current translation has not been the exquisite and fine language fit for discourse with the Divine in His holy temple. It has been more like the everyday conversation of the church hall. What should have been different and uplifting, was more common. And when the language of worship is common, even if with a little polish, there is a diminution in the experience of the Liturgical Mystery.
When we celebrate the Liturgy we are not at breakfast or dinner at some fast food joint or even a fine restaurant. Nor is it just a convivial moment among friends and acquaintances. The Liturgy is a foretaste of heaven. It is the occasion when we who are bound to earth in time are permitted, through the love of God who created both the earth and time, to enter into the precincts of heaven. We are invited to come among the Communion of Saints, in the presence of the Holy Virgin who welcomes each of us by name. We are allowed to participate in the eternal offering by Jesus Christ of Himself to the Father. We are, by personal invitation of our Creator who is the Source of all that is good, asked to come close and rest within the endless love of the community of the Divine and Holy Trinity. That is the reason that we need a Liturgical language which has the depth and breadth to express, to the extent possible for human beings, the reality that takes place in the Liturgy. That is precisely why the new translation is so important.
Also, in addition to the inherent value of proper language befitting worship of God, the formal beauty and accuracy of the new translation will, we hope, have a reformative effect beyond the language itself. It should help to re-set the standard for other points of decline in the Liturgy such as dress, posture, and gesture, and quietly but firmly militate against the general casualness that has become so common place.
When I was young, a priest told me that wakes and funerals were excellent opportunities for conversion and re-conversion. “You have people’s close attention,” he said, “and it is a great spiritual opportunity.” The new translation is a great spiritual opportunity! Bishops, priests, and catechists should take advantage of this event to instruct the faithful in the meaning and purpose of our encounter with the Divine in the Sacred Liturgy, and urge them to read and meditate on the Eucharist and the full breath of the Catholic Liturgy.
They should blend a presentation of fundamental doctrine of the Eucharist and worship in general with a review of the postures and gestures that help to support our worship. For example, explain why and when we should genuflect and kneel. Explain that we are asked to bow during the creed at the words “by the Holy Spirit He was made incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man” as an explicit sign of reverence to the Incarnation. That we strike our breast we we say “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault” during the Confiteor as a physical gesture of repentance. Also, no time will be better than now to exhort congregations to dress like they are going to heaven instead of Wallmart. In short, the new translation is an opportunity to purify our worship, and an opportunity like this will likely not come again for a long time.
So the news is good! The liturgical defects and abuses which exploded out of control after the Second Vatican Council are finally being reformed due to the efforts of Blessed John Paul II, but most certainly due to those of Benedict XVI. The new, refined translation is part of that correction and purification.
This Advent, as the Church introduces us to an English translation that properly expresses the exquisite and fine language of worship of the Latin Rite, we can now enjoy and use this great gift to aid us in immersing ourselves in the Divine mystery that is opened to us in the Liturgy. Now that we will speak more clearly in our worship what we truly ought to believe in our faith (lex orandi, lex credendi), we also pray that with God’s Grace the correction and purification will move beyond language. We pray that the clergy will continue to inspire, motivate, and exhort the faithful to examine not only their hearts and their attitudes about worship, but also their dress and their actions at Mass. It’s a great opportunity. Let’s not miss it.