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September 15, 2011
Roman Missal Q & A
By Louie Verrecchio *

By Louie Verrecchio *

I wish to thank those readers who submitted their thoughtful questions, and I would encourage you to submit more of the same to louie@missa[email protected] so we can make good use of the time remaining (about 10 weeks!) before the new English translation of the Roman Missal is officially implemented.

Why such concern for an accurate translation and recovery of the Latin meaning rather than ensuring accuracy with the earliest Mass texts which are in Greek or Aramaic?

First, it’s important to consider that the Church’s efforts toward accurately translated liturgical texts is ultimately ordered not so much toward any particular language as to the underlying reality that these texts are intended to illuminate; e.g., the transcendent presence and operations of Christ and the doctrine of the faith.

Secondly, this effort is not always best accomplished through a return to the “earliest” texts in whatever language they may have been recorded, reason being, doctrine develops in the Church over time, and the liturgy itself has an organic quality wherein legitimate development is a necessary part of the Pilgrim Church’s journey. In other words, sometimes the liturgical texts and ritual actions of later centuries reflect the deeper understanding that came about only in time.

That said there are rites in the Catholic Church that retain the other ancient liturgical languages that you mention (Greek and Aramaic) as well as the liturgical disciplines and traditions that grew out of the cultures in which they originated.  The Byzantine Rites, for example, are celebrated in Greek, while the Antiochian Rites employ the Aramaic language (sometimes called Syriac).

Going back to point number one, however, the sacred mysteries are ever the same even as the perceptible signs of language and ritual may express it differently in different rites.

In the Roman Rite, the Latin language found favor over time (via valid liturgical development) and it remains the language of the Church for a number of good reasons, among them being that it remains precise in its meaning over the course of many centuries since it is not the daily spoken language of any people.

The bottom line reason for all of the fuss for English speakers in the Roman Rite like us is simply this – the previous translations were poorly done, and given the central place that liturgy occupies in Catholic life (and indeed the life of the entire world) correcting these issues is of paramount importance.

Lastly, please keep in mind that wholesale liturgical translations are rather new business for the Church, and we are struggling to get it right. Truth be known, it was never the Council’s intention to see Latin utterly eliminated from Holy Mass in the first place. Now, we are paying a price for, among other things, failing to heed the Council’s actual wishes.
The new translation won’t correct the current liturgical crisis entirely, but it is a very important and valuable step in the right direction.

Why such a focus on what many people in the pews consider little more than awkward changes in wording when so many other issues – like the credibility of the hierarchy in light of the sexual abuse scandal – seem to be more pressing?

It is true that many important issues face the Church today, but we must be careful not to set up a false dichotomy that says we must choose to address one at the expense of the others. The Church can address numerous problems at once, of course, but when it comes to the matter of prioritizing our efforts, the liturgy can be secondary to none. 

The liturgy is “the font from which all of the Church’s power flows,” according to the Council (SC 10). Making certain that the liturgy is properly celebrated and its text is transmitting the doctrine of the faith accurately and fully is, therefore, of the utmost importance,

The text of the liturgy must serve to do more than just teach, however, as it must ultimately serve to draw the faithful into the transcendent, mystical presence of Christ who invites us in the liturgy to participate in nothing less profound than the work of Redemption. The current text falls short and the cost is great.

In fact, one may rightly argue that the deficiencies in the current liturgical text has contributed in no small way to creating the fertile ground upon which those numerous other problems in the Church have taken root.

Failing to address the need to “reform the reform” of the liturgy, or putting that task on the back burner in spite of any good intentions (like focusing more exclusively on the abuse crisis), would truly be evidence of a hierarchy that is out of touch, in my opinion.

It seems to me that the new text doesn't come across to many Catholics as being of major importance, but rather as just inconsequential changes in wording. How would you address this attitude?  

The mindset you mention is evidence of just how pervasive the liturgical crisis at hand truly is as it relates to the text of the Roman Missal.

I think it's fair to say that many Catholics today (and I mean well-meaning, sincere, weekly Mass-going Catholics) have come to think of the sacred liturgy largely in terms of the community assembled to offer praise and worship to God. This particular view may seem rather harmless, but in reality it is terribly skewed in that Holy Mass is infinitely greater than this!

It seems to me that thanks in large measure to the current text many of our fellow Catholics now see the Mass (though they wouldn't necessarily articulate it as such) as essentially the "Catholic version" of any number of other Christian praise and worship services, albeit with the unique presence of Jesus Christ in the Most Holy Eucharist. This turns the Mass, which is truly the action of God Himself, into an act of the people with the Eucharist serving as an "add on" of sorts.

It’s important to realize that this isn't necessarily the case because those Catholics who think this way are deficient in themselves; rather, this is largely the case because the outward signs used in the celebration of the liturgy (the words, gestures, responses, postures etc.) have been communicating as much over the last 40+ years. This is an indication of just how important the outward signs used in the mass – like the sacred texts - really are!

Doesn’t Jesus show up in the Mass even when it is poorly celebrated? After all, Christ is present in the Mass in large part because of the faith of the people who gather, isn’t He?

Yes it is true, Jesus ever shows up in the liturgy even when poorly celebrated, but please keep in mind that the liturgy is an action of Christ for His people; it is not an action of Christ for Himself. We need the outward signs used in the Mass in order that we may be "directed and subordinated to the Divine," to use the words of the Council Fathers. 

The Council also tells us that the outward signs in the Mass are "chosen by Christ or by the Church” as She teaches in His name (cf SC 33). Again, this is an indication of their great importance; they are far from secondary.

You and I were created more than just spirit. We are also composed of body, mind, intellect, will and senses. The Lord who is present and active in the Mass desires to communicate Himself to the entirety of mankind in all of these ways, for our own good. 

How often is our experience of the Mass anything but that "foretaste of the Heavenly liturgy" that the Council describes? For many of us, all too frequently, and the reason is often because the outward signs fall short of helping us to make the transition - body, mind, intellect will and senses - from the concept of Christ's transcendent presence in the Mass to an experience of such.

Now, this refers to far more than just mere sentimentalism (which is self-generated and largely finds meaning within the scope of personal taste which varies from person to person); rather, it refers to the way in which the sacred signs in the Mass can serve to elevate the hearts and minds of the people in order to foster an experience of the Divine union that is offered.    

You stated that "Christ is present in the mass in large part because of the faith of the people who gather," but this is not entirely so. Holy Mass as it has been celebrated in many places seems to say exactly this, but in truth, our Protestant friends can say this about their gatherings as well since the Lord promised "As two or more are gathered in my name..."

Holy Mass, however, is far greater than just a gathering of the faithful in His name. Christ is uniquely present in the Mass - as the Catechism tells us, "In the liturgy, Christ accomplishes the work of our Redemption (in the present sense!) through, with and in His Church" (cf CCC 1069).

By the Lord's own initiative and choosing does this take place; not, properly speaking, because we assemble and believe.

In sum, the new translation will go a long way toward helping us to grow in our awareness of the liturgy as the perfect Sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving offered to the Father, by the Son, into which we the baptized are invited by the power of the Holy Spirit in such a profound way that it becomes for us, by the grace of God, that through which we are able to join the sacrifice of our very lives to the Sacrifice of Christ, and in so doing becoming willing participants in the very work of our Redemption.

This, my friends, is something that no community – no matter how creative, devout or sincere - can possibly do for itself!

Author and speaker Louie Verrecchio was a columnist for Catholic News Agency from April 2009 to 2013. His work, which includes Year of Faith resources like the Harvesting the Fruit of Vatican II Faith Formation Series, has been endorsed by Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, Australia; Bishop Emeritus Patrick O’Donoghue of Lancaster, England; Bishop R. Walker Nickless of Sioux City, IA, USA and others. For more information please visit: www.harvestingthefruit.com

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