Sunday, December 05, 2010

Gears to shift

The First Sunday of Advent next year, 2011, the Church throughout the English-speaking world will begin using a new translation of the Mass. For those of you who were traveling, I introduced this bit of news in my column last weekend.

This is going to be difficult. Our words and actions in the Sacred Liturgy become ingrained in us and come forth without conscious evaluation or decision, so to change them will require an increase in our level of attention. It’s similar referring to “the Archbishop,” and calling him “Your Excellency,” and then having to change to saying, “the Cardinal,” and greet him as, “Your Eminence.” Tricky stuff!

This is going to be good. Challenging though it will be, it will result in more of the meaning of the Mass being revealed in the words that the people and ministers use in its celebration. Almost fifteen years ago, Father Brainerd and I sat down to attempt our own translation of the Mass, for a contest. I learned then how much was in the Mass that our English texts were mis-stating, reducing, or leaving out altogether!

It will require more work of the priests and deacons, I think, because more of the changes are in our parts. But there are changes in the responses of the congregation, too, and at first that is going to mean reading along, and working hard to overcome old habits
Are you ready for the big one? Whenever the priest says, The Lord be with you, the people will respond….And with your spirit. That makes perfect sense, since the original dialogue is, Dominus vobiscum – Et cum spiritu tuo. That’s familiar Latin even for folks who don’t know the Latin Mass. In Italian, it is E con il tuo spirito; in Spanish, Y con tu espiritu; in French, Et avec votre esprit; and in German, Und mit deinem Geiste. They all say, pretty obviously, and with your spirit.

One might reasonably ask, where did we English-speakers get, And also with you, -- and why have we been using that all these years? I can’t answer that, but I can say again that the original English translation was done in a great hurry, and intentionally dropped some words and concepts that we now know are pretty important and integral to our prayer. Returning the word spirit to our greeting will acknowledge the spiritual aspect of what we are doing in the Mass, that it is not a social gathering.

Increased fidelity to the Mass prayers in their original form is not the only thing that we will gain; there will also be a greater fidelity to the Scriptural roots of the Mass. One of my favorite examples comes when the priest holds up the consecrated Host just before Communion. He will say, Behold the Lamb of God; behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb. And the people will respond, Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.

I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof is not only a direct translation of the Latin, but it is a direct quote of the Roman centurion who asks Jesus to heal his servant (Mt 8:8 and Lk 7:6). It makes clear not only that we are not worthy, but that we are nonetheless going to receive a great guest “under our roof” – in our own flesh!

Don’t worry about memorizing these just yet; I am only giving you examples to help you prepare mentally for all the liturgical preparation we will be doing next year. I hope you’ll be eager enough for the good this will bring, that you will happily share the work of making it happen. God bless your openness!

Monsignor Smith

1 comment:

ken said...

Shall we just do the New Latin instead? I have always been appalled at the sloppy English translation. Another translation issue: the way psuche is translated variously in the NT. But this one requires subtlety.