Praying the Mass with new words

And hearing it with new ears. That’s what happened over the weekend in the Roman Catholic Church.
And that’s how many secular media reported it, with due respect.

The revisions to the Roman Missal, the book that contains instructions and texts for Mass, are the latest chapter in a process started by the Second Vatican Council that led to the Latin Mass being translated into contemporary languages.

The first English translation of the Mass was published in the United States in 1973. A revised translation was issued two years later.

The revision that debuts Sunday — the first day of Advent — adheres more closely to the original Latin translation and is intended to strengthen the bonds between the prayers said at Mass and their biblical origins, church leaders have said.

“A lot of people are thinking, ‘Oh, we’re getting new prayers,’” said Todd Williamson, director of the Chicago Archdiocese’s Office for Divine Worship. “No, we’re not. We’re just getting new translations of the prayers. We’ve had them since the Second Vatican Council and centuries before that.”

Although the revisions will bring the English-language Mass closer to its Latin roots, they’re almost certain to cause some confusion at first.

Despite the possibility of a rocky start, Sister Cindy Langlois said the new translation offers Catholics an opportunity to concentrate on the meaning of their words during Mass, rather than simply reciting them from memory.

“Whenever the language changes, that’s an opportunity to hear with new ears,” said Langlois, operations manager at Mercy Home for Boys & Girls in Chicago. “It will be fine. It won’t take us too long to adjust, and it won’t be too long before we’ll be able to respond without reading a script.”
That’s well put, ‘hear with new ears.’ There’s a poetic beauty to the new translations, adhering to the original prayers, and much of it is in the Eucharistic prayers said by the priest. The opportunity to express that rich spiritual tradition is exciting for so many who’ve worked so hard for so long to bring the translations to fruition. As WaPo reports.
Melbourne’s Bishop Peter Elliott explains it well.

The drafts of new texts have been carefully prepared, revised and corrected over the past nine years. All the bishops in countries where English is used in worship have been consulted. They have been able to invite experts to comment and advise them. Finally each conference of English-speaking bishops has voted on the final drafts…and the text of the Missal has already been presented to the Holy Father, who warmly welcomed it.
He cites specifics throughout his remarks:

Archbishop Coleridge of Canberra rightly has said that, in the current ICEL texts, the metaphors have been “bleached out”. An obvious one is in the Third Eucharistic Prayer: “so that from east to west a perfect offering may be made to the glory of your name”. In Australia “from east to west” can mean from Sydney to Perth. In the US that would be from New York to Los Angeles.

But if we go back to the prophecy of Malachi concerning the universal sacrifice we find poetic language bringing together both space and time. So the new accurate translation from Latin will be: “… so that from the rising of the sun to its setting a pure sacrifice may be offered to your name”. This recaptures the original scriptural text.
This is interesting.

There was a fear of the word “soul” among theologians forty years ago. Since then Pope John Paul’s “theology of the body” has deepened our understanding of the unity of the person in body and soul.

These examples show that what is coming [and now here] is richer, more elegant in style, more truthful in doctrinal content, closer to the Scriptures and more spiritual and mystical. The new translations should gradually deepen the quality and tone of our worship.
Archbishop Coleridge was quoted in the news again as the translations went into effect.

Australian Roman Catholics made these changes several months ago with their shift to the new English version. “We’ve had no mutiny or revolution in Australia yet,” said Canberra’s Archbishop Mark B. Coleridge, chairman of the committee that prepared the new English lectionary…

The archbishop added that after a “messy transition” in some places, priests and laypeople are starting to see the new language as “richer and stronger than what we have grown up with.”

He sees almost no hostility to the changes from lay Catholics, who he says are “just getting on with it.”
And that’s progress.


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