The Revised Order of the Mass in English will be implemented in New Zealand on the first Sunday of Advent this year. These months of anticipation and preparation reveal the fruit of many years of consultation and research.
Four years ago the New Zealand bishops launched the “Worshipping Under Southern Skies” catechesis. Over the next few months in our own diocese there will be further opportunities for people with priests to grow in appreciation of the beauty and gift of the Mass.
It is important that we prepare by becoming familiar with the revised texts. The United States Bishops’ Conference has a helpful website that gives an outline of the changes.
Many New Zealand Catholics remember the changes in the Mass of the late 1960’s. Now, after forty years of practice and reflection, we see that the Mass texts we have in English are not as beautiful or robust as those of many other languages.
Of course there may be a superficial appeal in texts that articulate simply where and how we are today as worshipping Catholics. However the role of liturgical language is to communicate the beauty and availability of the life that God has created us for.
In our personal prayer we communicate to God where and how we are today. In the Mass God reveals to us where we can be tomorrow. In sound liturgical texts we are enticed into the fullness of human life, lived in divine harmony.
Good liturgical language and ritual will educate us.
This will mean that when we read some of the revised texts, we may be unclear about exactly what is meant. This is good! In this moment of uncertainty we do not trash a text. Instead we become curious about what is being communicated and why. We learn more about the life that God has created us for. In the people’s responses of the Mass, we together express our desire for this divine life.
We are familiar with the power of ‘teaching texts’ in the scriptures. Some simple translations of the Bible seek only to convey a general sense of the story. This might be useful for someone who has little or no knowledge of God or of the life of faith. But as our faith deepens we outgrow these simple primers. We need accuracy in translation that we might read and hear words that lead us to encounter the true Word. As adults in faith we need to know the fullness of all that Jesus the Word is saying to us.
When we read a passage that is accurately translated, there will be words and turns of phrase that are unfamiliar or even strange. We will meet language that is not in everyday use. This is because the life of God is not yet lived everyday in our world.
Then we read the text again. We ask God to shed light on the phrase we seek to understand. Gradually we become aware that the text is enticing us into deeper relationship with God. The text is strong enough to carry us into the life we most deeply desire.
Many of those who have called for a recovery of the sense and sound of the sacred in the Mass are young Catholics. The young know that they can find friends and informal chat in any bar or café. From the Church they seek something different; something bigger and better. People of faith come to church to seek the sacred; to encounter God. What some Catholics might label ‘old-fashioned’, a growing number of people of faith welcome as true nourishment for faith.
If you take the time to reflect on the texts of the Revised Order of the Mass (website above), I invite you to do this in a mindset of prayer and openness to God. There is little to be gained from an academic critique of the texts.
I have found it helpful to consider the revisions as a gift from one I love. This is not a fantasy I indulge in, but an openness to truth: in the revised texts the translators have sought to communicate the richness and depth of liturgical language that sustained people of faith for over 1500 years.
While it is inevitable that there are some words and phrases that we will struggle with, it is more important that the prayers and rituals of the Mass carry us confidently on the pathway to holiness.