Language of the spirit
Last Friday, before Mass ended at Basilica Minore del Santo Niño in downtown Cebu City, a lay minister announced that Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma has green-lighted the Catholic faithful’s gradual adoption of the new English translation of the words of Holy Mass starting today, the Solemnity of the Most Blessed Trinity.
I have been reading stories about this translation of the Mass from its original Latin text since early in the last decade, when the work began under our last pope, now Blessed John Paul II and ended towards the close of that decade under Pope Benedict XVI.
The translation process was meticulous, involving primarily the popes, bishops of the English-speaking Catholics, Vatican departments like the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Disicipline of the Sacraments, the church commission called International Committee for English in the Liturgy and lay liturgical experts.
In a nutshell, the members of the Catholic hierarchy saw the need for a new English translation of the Roman Missal because the one we have been using since soon after the Second Vatican Council are more translations of the thought behind rather than literal English renderings of the Latin texts.
This does not mean that the hierarchy is nitpicking, imposing on believers the use of an English version of a text in language considered dead. Rather it shows that our popes, the bishops and the rest of the hierarchy care to teach us to use words that elicit greater reverence for the Mass and highlight the content of our faith.
Further, in this era of what the pope calls the “dictatorship of relativism,” a translation of the words that we pray at Mass needs to be faithful to the original to be more effective in helping us elevate our lives to God.
Let us go through some of the new responsory prayers we will make in Holy Mass.
First and most obvious, we will say “And with your spirit” instead of “and also with you” every time the priest says “The Lord be with you.” (That is four times throughout the Mass.) Notice that “And with your spirit” creates mindfulness about the spiritual setting of the Holy Mass. This is not a banal meet and greet session for exchanges of pleasantries in the mold of “Good morning” and “same to you.” At Mass, God is with us not in a fluffy mushy mumbo jumbo manner but in the reality of our eternal spirit. The Mass is not an occasion for socializing but the occasion par excellence for being touched and filled by God.
In the Confiteor, we will pray, “that I have sinned greatly in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do, through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault,” instead of “that I have sinned through my own fault in what I have done and in what I have failed to do.” These words remind us that there is nothing trivial about sin, which is saying “no” to God and to love. Being in sin is not being “perfectly bad and perfectly good at it.” It is rebellion against goodness. We cannot afford to just mouth words when we accuse ourselves in God’s presence. The lines of the ages put us in our rightful place, pleading for forgiveness before the throne of mercy and grace.
The new English version of the Gloria reads: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will. We praise you, we bless you, we adore you, we glorify you, we give you thanks for your great glory, Lord God, heavenly King, O God, almighty Father. Lord Jesus Christ, Only-begotten Son, Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us; you take away the sins of the world, receive our prayer. You are seated at the right hand of the Father, have mercy on us. For you alone are the Holy One, you alone are the Lord, you alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit, in the glory of God the Father. Amen.”
Notice that the peace of the Incarnation first sung of by angels is given to “people of good will,” not just to any person. (The God-touched conscience certainly does not bring peace to a person of bad will but discomfitures him towards the road to conversion.) In the Gloria, we do not generically worship God our Father with a nebulous blob of catharsis but praise, bless, adore, glorify and thank him for all that He is. Jesus Christ is particularly confessed as begotten eternally of the Father and that is most necessary in this age when people speak of him as if He were just another great ancient philosopher. Christ, Son of the Father is God.
I have mentioned only some of the changes in the English words of the Mass and a few ways our sense of faith grows with their help. I encourage you read resources that abound on the Internet about the new English version of the Roman Missal. More importantly, pay attention to your pastors when they catechize you about these changes.
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