By Msgr. Owen F. Campion
The sun shined bright on that ole Kentucky home a few weeks ago when I went to Louisville for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops workshop on the new English translation of the Roman Missal.
As would be expected in Kentucky, the hospitality was generous and abundant, beginning with Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz. I delightfully renewed friendships with two seminary classmates from Louisville.
So, I left the workshop feeling good, surely in part because of all of the above, but also because the workshop gave me insights that caused me to look forward to its introduction — most likely in the late fall of 2011 — not just with interest, but, indeed, with eagerness.
At the beginning, Msgr. Anthony Sherman, from the Diocese of Brooklyn, N.Y., who heads the USCCB office for divine worship, asked how many in the audience recalled the liturgical reforms after the Second Vatican Council. More than a few participants raised their hands. Alas, my classmates and I raised our hands. As young priests, we had to deal with the effects of the council’s reforms, which were not always well received, to put it mildly.
The changes were dramatic, even severe, and people generally were unprepared. So very often, the experience was jarring. The changes upset basic religious instincts and understandings of many Catholics.
This glance to the past was quite helpful. It put the new translation into context. To compare what happened 40 years ago with this new translation is to compare a Category 5 hurricane with a gentle breeze.
However, this is no way means that these forthcoming changes will be insignificant. They will help us all better to communicate with God and better to understand God’s love, as God’s love has unfolded in the history of salvation.
Often, the changes are subtle, but they can be powerful. For example, the idea behind the changes is that the English used in the liturgy reflect as closely as possible the full meaning behind each word in the ancient Latin text of the Roman rite.
An example is in the priest’s greeting, in Latin, Dominus vobiscum — “the Lord be with you.” This will remain the same, but the response will change slightly, although, in the process, an important lesson will be taught.
Now we say in response, “And also with you.” However, the Latin text reads, Et cum spiritu tuo — “and with your spirit.”
In the new version, the response will be, “And with your spirit.” It follows the Latin more closely, but it also brings important Catholic beliefs to mind.
We live in a material world, but as Christians we live with our souls, our spirits, wonderfully refreshed and strengthened by God’s grace. More particular to this exchange, when congregations say “And with your spirit” to the priest, they affirm what the Church teaches and long has taught, that is that by holy orders the priest’s soul is touched and is forever affected by the grace of vocation.
Another aspect that I personally liked very much is that the words of the new translation in so many cases more clearly refer to the Scriptures. This in itself illustrates that our Catholic worship, especially the Eucharist, is part of and proceeds from the rich and life-giving interplay that has been God’s outreach in love and with mercy to humanity through the ages.
As the months pass between now and the First Sunday of Advent 2011, when the new translation hopefully will be used for the first time, I trust that all of us will look at what is happening. It is no brutal break with the past, nothing to fear or resent, but a gently crafted, more expressive arrangement of statements by which we speak to God and learn from God.
Msgr. Owen F. Campion is OSV’s associate publisher.