Sunday, November 28, 2010

Changing, and staying the same

The new liturgical year begins with Advent, and with this New Year comes…news.

One year from now, the Church throughout the English-speaking world will begin using a new translation of the Mass. This will have a direct impact on us at the very heart of our life together, so I wanted to tell you now, and let you know that together, we will all be preparing for the change throughout the coming year.

The Missal is the big red book from which the priest reads the prayers at Mass. The prayers and gestures of our current Missal were set by the Church in the late 1960’s, after the Second Vatican Council required that the Mass be changed from its previous form, which had been fairly consistent since the 1560’s. The contents of this new Missal were in Latin, as they have been since the third century or so.

Because the Council also directed that some parts of some Masses might be said sometimes in the local language of the faithful, the Missal was translated into many major languages of the world. These translations were done very quickly to make the official changes to the Mass available as soon as possible. The current English translation of the Missal comes from that time, and was introduced in 1970. It is the only version of the Mass many of us remember – and all of us are used to.

What is not changing is the Missal itself – the prayers and ceremonies that are the norm for the celebration of all (Latin-rite) Masses in the Church. The Missal has been slightly revised twice, once in 1974, and once in 2001, but the changes have mostly been new prayers, and feast days added to the calendar.

With this second revision, in 2001, the instructions that go with the ceremony were clarified, then made more explicit and understandable in a new English version. If you were at Saint Bernadette then, you probably did not notice any change at all, because here we have always celebrated Mass according to the intentions of the instructions, and didn’t need the new English texts to bring us into line with the mind and action of the Church. But many parishes did need that.

The changes to our English text have behind them the same motivations as that adjustment. The new translation is a more faithful rendering of the prayers of the Mass in both content and style. One of the reasons for this is the hurry in which our current version was prepared. There are not only inaccuracies from the actual form and content of the Mass, but inconsistencies within the English text itself, and even downright poor grammar.

The other reason is that when the translation was made, there was the explicit goal of simplifying the language. Now, there is a consensus within the Church that those texts were over-simplified, to the point of making the magnificent Mass into something banal, using lifeless, inelegant language to express the life-giving and elevating prayer of the Church. So the Mass will stay the same; only the English rendering of it will change.

Advent is the season when we prepare to receive the Lord. For several years now, I have used my bulletin letters to help you understand and appreciate the Sacred Liturgy and our celebration of it, because that is how, when, and where we receive the Lord Who Comes. Join me throughout the next three weeks to learn more about this change that is coming to make our encounter with Christ richer, deeper, and truer.

Monsignor Smith