Below is an article I wrote for our semi-annual publication The Oaks.
As we all continue to transition to the new wording in the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, there are lots of questions that can be asked: How were the choices of new prayers made? What do the new words mean? What was wrong with the other prayers? Why does it matter what words we use to pray? These and the many other questions that could be asked ultimately lead us to one central question: Why are we changing?
We could answer this with a simple analysis of recent events – the release of a document on the proper way to translate liturgical texts in 2001, the promulgation of a new edition of the Missale Romanum (the Latin text of the Mass) in 2002, and the subsequent process of translating that Latin text into the English we will soon be employing in our celebrations. In my opinion, however, that does not really answer the question. Rather the answer is simply this: the Holy Spirit.
All throughout his pontificate, Blessed John Paul II spoke of a New Springtime in the Church and His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI has continued this prophetic proclamation. This ‘New Springtime,’ as they call it, is a time when the dew of the Spirit brings new life to the Church and a flowering of the faith is made visible to the world around us - a flowering that changes our culture and our world. If we only take a quick glance at the Church today it would be easy to get frustrated or discouraged, but if we look deeply we see great things happening on a grassroots level throughout our entire Church. It is clear that the Holy Spirit is moving in our midst.
It is with this in mind that I say the Holy Spirit is the real answer to why we are changing and updating the prayers of the Mass. But just because God is doing things doesn’t mean that we necessarily enjoy it. After all, change can be a difficult thing. Most of us are creatures of habit and once we find a way of doing something that is comfortable to us, we don’t like it when changes are introduced. But the reality is that when change does happen, there is an invitation for us to grow in the midst of our frustration. I think it is that change and growth which the Holy Spirit desires of us as a nation and as a world in bringing forth this new translation of the Mass at this point in time. Why do I think that? Because the fruits are already showing themselves.
The fact is that for the first time in many years the whole English-speaking segment of the Church is encountering extensive, deep catechesis on the prayers and celebration of the Mass. The availability of materials and regular discussion of this most-central aspect of our faith is already permitting and encouraging people to enter into the celebration of the Mass in a way that they might not have until now. The Vatican II document on the Church, Lumen Gentium, tells us that “taking part in the Eucharistic sacrifice, the source and summit of the Christian life, [the faithful] offer the divine victim to God and themselves along with it.” Calling the celebration of Mass the source and summit of our lives drives home the point that we are essentially a Eucharist-centered people and that our participation in the celebration of the Mass has a profound impact on the entirety of our lives; every grace comes from the Mass and every action points toward it. As we continue to talk about and learn more about this great mystery of faith, will not out our lives and world also be changed and powerfully transformed in the process?
All of this is simply summed up in that great axiom Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, Lex Vivendi, which simply means that the way we pray determines the way we believe, which determines the way we live. And if we live the prayers of the Mass then the world has no chance of remaining unchanged. How so?
If we look at the style of prayer, we see that the new translation uses notedly loftier wording. Rather than simple sentences and more commonplace words it uses complex sentences and words that will make us realize that this is not just an ordinary celebration at which we gather. It is a celebration in which we come into contact with the God of all creation and humbly seek his grace.
Our current translation turns to God saying ‘make us’, ‘renew us’, ‘give us’, and other such prayers that seem to simply tell Him what we want. The new translation will feel different as we now emphasize the fact that we must implore God’s help rather than tell Him our desires; thus we will see more of ‘be pleased’ and ‘we pray’ throughout the celebration.
Also, in our current translation we often do not hear the extra adjectives that are part of the original Latin edition. We will hear of ‘Blessed Joseph’ and the ‘Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul’ rather than simply ‘Joseph’ or ‘the Apostles Peter and Paul’ as well as the ‘glorious ever-Virgin Mary’ and ‘most beloved Son’ rather than ‘Mary, the ever-Virgin mother’ and ‘Jesus Christ, your only Son.’ Too, we will hear about break being taken into the ‘holy and venerable hands’ of Our Lord and the reception of the ‘precious chalice’ during the consecratory prayers over the bread and wine.
These and so many other little changes here and there throughout the Mass will help us to realize that God and the heavenly realities are something entirely different than normal life. They are far beyond simple mundane things and we are blessed to be able to enter into them. And as we come to integrate this realization into our belief systems, our lives will be visibly transformed. Such a great mystery!
As we sit here on the threshold of this New Springtime in the Church and the world, I cannot help but rejoice at the blessing the Lord has given all of us at being here to witness the movement the Holy Spirit so powerfully in our midst. A true blessing indeed! Come, Holy Spirit!