Saturday, November 29, 2014

How it all gets through

There are four candles in the advent wreath, but this First Sunday of Advent marks three years since we received the new translation of the Roman Missal.  I think everybody has grown accustomed to the changed responses, we have learned most of the service music, and even “consubstantial” veritably trips off the tongue. 
To write this, I pulled out my archival copy of the old Sacramentary and was shocked at the cheapness of the book in look and feel, and the choppy poverty of the language.  How quickly we forget!  The new Missal is a major upgrade in every way.  I hope as the words, phrases, and formulations become more familiar, you are better able to appreciate and apprehend the content.  The prayers of the Mass are not only a reflection but also a source (literally, a theological “font”) of our belief as Catholics, and that richness is now revealed.
One thing about the new Missal that has been catching my attention is the end of every prayer.  For the collects, the proper prayer the priest says immediately before everyone sits to listen to the first reading, the formulation is now: Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
So at least once every Mass, we articulate and are reminded how it is that we pray, and to whom.  We pray to the Father, and we do so through the good offices of His only Son Jesus Christ.   We can do this because of the work of the Holy Spirit, who has united us as His body to Him our Divine Head.  Especially as we settle into Advent, it is beneficial to remind ourselves that there was no such interaction possible with God for man until the coming among us of His Son in the flesh.  The sense of longing that we find in our Advent prayers echoes desire not only for the birth of Christ, but more fundamentally, for the very possibility of authentic prayer itself!
There is one major difference from the prior translation.  We used to say, We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ.  This betrays a certain self-centeredness that afflicted the old translation (We ask this – as if it’s about what we do!).  It thus overlooks what God does, which would seem to be what any good prayer is about.  The actual Latin formulation, now presented accurately in our English, has double meaning.  Not only do we pray through Our Lord Jesus Christ, but God acts now, in our world, answering our prayers, through our Lord Jesus Christ.  From all eternity, He has always so acted.
We should never fail to value this intentional ambiguity, which reveals to us our dependence upon the communion of the Holy Trinity for our communion with God in every prayer we make, and every work God effects in our world.
Our translation is from the authoritative Missal in Latin, which Pope Saint John Paul II issued in 2002 in the Third Typical Edition.  I have a Latin Missal as well, and have been amused to note that nowhere in it is there printed the entire text of the closing of the collect, even once.  All you will find is: Per Dominum.  (Through Lord). The priest is expected to know the rest by heart!  How he should be expected to learn it is a question that I have not yet answered, but it does indicate how basic is the truth this formula presents. 
Fortunately for most people, they will never have to speak this formulation in Latin to assure liturgical completeness.  It suffices simply to know that we pray to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit, every day, and the provident Father responds, working His will through the Son, in the power and working of the Holy Spirit.  This three-year-old phrasing gives shape in our words and our minds to the nature of our communion with the living God, day by day, year after year, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Monsignor Smith

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