Saturday, December 01, 2012

Newness, not a novelty.


Happy First Anniversary!
I think you know what I mean.  Happy first anniversary of the new Roman Missal, which we began using the first Sunday of Advent last year.  I want to congratulate you and thank you for having so willingly accepted and fully embraced the changes.  Sure, I know that if didn’t have the whole congregation around you or the card in front of you, you would probably slip into the old words here and there.  But I also bet that some things – like “And with your spirit” – already have taken root.
Before the new texts were introduced, there were naysayers who were skeptical of whether it would be possible for the people in the pews to make such elemental changes to their prayer.  I went on record then with great confidence in you.  I thank you for rewarding that confidence.
You also probably know how thrilled I am with the new translations.  I hope you now understand what it was that I tried to explain last year as we prepared for the changes.  The English text we received for the Mass with the translation of the early 1970’s was familiar and brought us so much goodness and grace over the years, we cannot help but have more than a fondness, a real attachment or even devotion to it.  The Mass is the most powerful prayer that the Church does, the place where the Holy Eucharist occurs, which is the source and summit of our very life.  Of course it had power to move and change and bless us, and give us life.  Of course every word of it resonated to the core of your being.
But now that you have walked through the year with the newly translated texts, what I would even call restored texts, you see how much was actually missing from that first translation.  The new texts have noticeably more, not only in number of words, though in that too.  The phrases and sentences are longer and more complex, and while that might make it harder to understand at first, that also makes it possible for them to contain and convey more complex concepts.  What we pray for is more richly spelled out, what we believe is more clearly enunciated, and what God is doing for us reveals more rich and powerful aspects. 
You also have noticed that the language is more formal, and less like common conversation.  This is a most intentional choice.  Liturgical prayer is by nature a formal act – the form of it is what makes it universal and uniform participation possible.  But the formality revealed in words like beseech and formulations like grant us, we pray, O Lord, reveals that religious language is elevated because it elevates us, lifts our words to join the work of the saints and angels, and lifts our thoughts to God.  There is nothing casual about God or our relationship to him.
Let the richness of the specialized and formal language shape you and your disposition as you place yourself before the altar, and before the throne of God.  Engage the text.  You have learned your part; now, focus on other parts.  For example, listen closely to the Collect, the prayer of the day that the priest says at the beginning of each Mass, different each week.  The new translation reveals wonderful nuances to our faith and what we are doing about it at each point in the liturgical cycle.  There is rich food there.
What the Mass did for you twenty-five, ten, or even two years ago was good, no doubt.  But the new form offers us more, and in doing so indicates where we are going.   As good as we have had it here, where Christ is bearing us will be immeasurably better.  This first anniversary is just one step on the journey I am pleased to share with you to that day when the former things have passed away.  And he who (sits) upon the throne (says), "Behold, I make all things new."  (Rev 21:4b-5)
Monsignor Smith

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