“The Church stands or falls,” Pope Benedict XVI tells us, “with the liturgy.”
Pope Benedict is, of course, quite right. When the sacred liturgy is celebrated with faith, reverence and devotion, the Church stands firm and grows: opening the door to the mysteries of God. But when the liturgy is celebrated without attention and respect for its beauty, then the Church falls: we are diminished and weakened.
Implementation of the new translation of the Roman Missal is an opportunity to once again take a fresh look at the liturgy and its central place in the life of the Church.
The translation we will begin to use on Nov. 27 is the fruit of 10 years of work by experts in Latin and liturgical theology, and by bishops from across the English-speaking world. This new English translation was borne out of efforts to spark a renewal in our full and active participation in the worship of God. Discussion of the translation was full of vitality—good scholars of varying opinions gave their best efforts to help the Church in our worship of God.
Ultimately, this work touches the heart of one of the most important questions about the Church: Does the Church change? And, therefore, can the liturgy change? In recent years, many Catholics have asked about the role of tradition in the Church. Some have suggested that nothing should change from the traditions of our parents and grandparents. Others have suggested that to make the liturgy relevant, it must undergo radical change in order to suit our contemporary era.
For many of us, change can be the lens through which we view reality. Though change is what helps us to grow, Pope Benedict has warned us to avoid a “hermeneutic of discontinuity or rupture” in which the traditions of the Church are discarded in the name of renewal. The word hermeneutic simply means “way of interpreting.”
The alternative and correct way of understanding the renewal in the Church, particularly in the liturgy, is what Benedict called the “hermeneutic of continuity or reform.” This approach is a renewal in the tradition of the one Church, which the Lord has given to us. True renewal happens only when there is continuity and organic development within the tradition of the Church. The guiding principles of our liturgical renewal have been just that: to find a way to preserve and honor the tradition of the Church while reanimating it in a way that can be understood by modern man. This is the task of evangelization; not only in liturgy, but in all facets of the Christian life.
Recently, the pope explained the true idea of tradition in the liturgy: “Not infrequently, tradition and progress are clumsily opposed. In reality, the two concepts are integrated: tradition is a living reality, which because of this includes in itself the principle of development, of progress. It is as if saying that the river of tradition has its source in itself and flows toward the outlet.”
The river of the liturgy flows and gives life to our hearts. It truly satisfies our deepest longings and gives strength for our journey. The sacred liturgy comes from an eternal wellspring, which leads to green pastures; because its water is the same as ever, and yet is always renewed, adapting always to the particular thirsts of our times.
Liturgy is a gift from God, providing a life that we can never create. It is a gift that we should welcome with gratitude and responsibility.
The liturgy, more than “an object to be reformed” is “a subject capable of renewing Christian life” (Pope Benedict XVI). The Church is renewed, first and foremost, through an authentic renewal of the liturgy, a renewal in continuity. The new translation of the Roman Missal is an important step in this process. Receiving with joy the beautiful words of the Mass will help us to be faithful stewards of the mysteries of the Lord and to allow the river of his presence to refresh our hearts and the heart of the world.
In an ancient Christian text called the “Clementine Homilies,” Peter, the first pope, explained a command he received from the Lord: “Keep the mysteries for me and the sons of my house.”
“Keep the mysteries”—that is our responsibility and our hope.
Let us commit ourselves to the worship of God, which understands the great traditions of the Church and presents them faithfully to the modern world. Let us be transformed by our worship. And let us invite others to Jesus Christ, present in the Eucharist, the “river of living water.”
Printed with permission from the Archdiocese of Denver, Colo.