Catholics Welcome New Mass Texts

Nov 27, 2010

(Published in Christchurch Press 26 November 2010)

Catholic Welcome New Mass Texts

New Zealand Catholics are the first to welcome new English translations of the two thousand year old Mass.

After almost a decade of study and consultation, the revised texts will be used at all Masses in New Zealand from this Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent 2010.

Other English-speaking countries will receive the same new texts over the next twelve months.

Forty years later

It is forty years since the Catholic Mass was translated from the universal Latin into local languages. In almost every language, a “formal correspondence” to the Latin was retained for the Mass dialogues between priest and people.

However those responsible for translating the Mass into English, were instructed to produce a more vernacular English translation that was only “dynamically equivalent” to the Latin.

The result was that while our English texts seemed more user-friendly and contemporary, they were out of harmony with the robust and theologically rich translations of other languages.

An example is the people’s response to the priest’s greeting “The Lord be with you” (“Dominus Vobiscum”). This was translated as “and also with you” (Latin: “et cum spiritu tuo”).

In other languages, “spirit” (the heart of the ancient scriptural greeting) was retained: “Et avec votre esprit” (French), “Y con to espiritu” (Spanish) and “E con il tuo spirito” (Italian).

A more tragic consequence has been the diminishment of the language of the Mass as a vehicle for the tradition, doctrine and theology of the people of God.

Praying what we mean, and meaning what we pray?

In our personal and private prayer we seek to pray what we mean. Such prayer is authentic since we actively orient ourselves towards God, presenting our needs and offering our gratitude.

But when we gather for the Mass we are doing something different. We are humbly remembering that God is actively oriented towards us. We are hearing God speak to us.

Therefore our intention in the prayers of the Mass is not to articulate what we mean. In these ancient texts we are united with our ancestors in hearing our human potential proclaimed and professed. In the Mass we are formed and re-formed. In the Mass we grow to mean what we pray.

Mass: the prayer for miners’ families, and for newly-weds

In this way, every Mass is appropriate worship for every human emotion: the rejoicing newly married couple, and the grieving families of the miners. Whatever our present reality, in the Mass God speaks to us and we allow ourselves to be drawn nearer to God.

Antiques are treasures

The arrival of the first English translations of the Mass in the late 1960’s coincided with an emergence of new and ‘free’ thinking. These were the years when we discarded anything that seemed ‘old-fashioned’. We moved the old oak dining table to the shed. To replace it, we bought a new formica and chrome suite. “This one is more modern, and easier to keep clean” we said.

A generation later we realized that we had lost a lot more than an old table when we threw out the old table. Without the table, we no longer had a daily reminder of great-grandparents who were given the table as a wedding gift, and who sailed with this treasured possession from England. Lost too was the mark of my grandfather’s toddler teeth where he bit into the table leg. The old table told stories. It carried our heritage.

Once again we saw the beauty of the table. We gave it the venerable title “heirloom” and it has pride of place in our modern dining room.

Second Vatican Council 1962-1965

In a rediscovery of our tradition of worship, and armed with the maturity of forty years of growth, Catholics are now ready to implement fully the liturgical teachings of the Second Vatican Council of the early 1960’s.

The first of the sixteen documents to emerge from this gathering brought together a century of liturgical research, consultation, and experimentation. To date, many of the heirlooms and treasures presented by the Council have not been fully received by the Church.

A new opportunity

The Council’s challenge to “active participation” in the Mass is often reduced to describe only those who have a visible role or ‘ministry’ at Mass. This emphasis can disguise the deeper call to personal heart-felt encounter with God in the action of the Mass.

The formation of parish Liturgy committees often became an opportunity for distracting and unnecessary creativity at Mass, rather than a guide for faithful celebration of a timeless treasure in a time-tested form.

In our well-intentioned desire to encourage congregational participation with popular hymns, we had moved away from the simple, sound and restorative rhythm of scriptural verses and psalms.

As ancient chant tones (composed to simply carry rather than enhance or nuance prayers) were used less in liturgy, music companies experienced a demand for recordings of nuns and monks praying in Gregorian chant. When people could not find what their souls sought at Church, they looked elsewhere.

Too often silence faded from the Mass at the very time when busy and stressed people sought solitude.

We began to see the Liturgy of the Church as our creation and our work. Instead the Mass is the ultimate activity of God in the lives of Catholics.

In this restoration of the Liturgy, Catholics are not embarking on a nostalgic regression. Instead we now know that we are prepared to move into the future, only when we savour the wisdom and traditions of our ancestors.

It is a mature faith community that can pray in the English, Maori, Latin and Greek language of our ancestors within one liturgy. A community that chants Latin in one prayer and sings modern hymns in the next has reached a deep appreciation of the timelessness of faith.

Next Sunday Catholics will not find a new Mass. Instead they will experience revised texts that better express and communicate the timeless wonder of the presence and action of God in all human life.



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