By Sister Mary Michael Fox, O.P. - The Priest, 2/1/2011
It was the Associate Pastor’s first Sunday in his new assignment. He was counseled (or cautioned) by the pastor that the congregation was somewhat unenthusiastic during Mass. The idea came to him to begin Mass with a joke or humorous story as a way of engaging them. As the choir concluded what seemed like their Broadway debut, he tapped the microphone to test its sound. Nothing! He panicked and tapped it again this time speaking apologetically to the congregation, “Something’s wrong with the microphone.” To which everyone dutifully responded, “And also with you, Father!”
Ah, the familiarity of the Mass responses! We could say them with our eyes closed — and perhaps sometimes many of us early risers do! Yet familiarity can be a good thing, for it allows us to concentrate on the symbolic gestures during Mass and to ponder the depth of their meaning. However, come Nov. 27, 2011, when the Church begins to use the revised translation of the 2002 Roman Missal, some of this familiarity will diminish, and for many Catholics this will be a challenge.
Even if priests spend the recommended year preparing their congregation for the new texts, it is most certain that for a few Sundays following Nov. 27, 2011, some in the congregation will continue to profess proudly their faith in Christ who is “one in being” with the Father, instead of “consubstantial.” Habits are hard to change — especially prayerful ones.
This first challenge, however, is really minuscule compared to the second and deeper challenge which I believe is facing the People of God with regard to this liturgical development. Already I have heard and read much of the discussion and debate surrounding it. Though the Lord cautioned us not to do so, many are receiving this development in the liturgy in a manner that is exactly the opposite of our Lord’s counsel: “Do not put new wine into old wineskins, least the skin burst and you lose the new wine” (Lk 5:33-39).
The real challenges regarding the revised translations are more interior: that of creating within our hearts and minds new wineskins as it were, so that we might receive the Church’s new wine of liturgical renewal.
This is an area to which catechists, and those of us who are catechetical leaders, would do well to turn our attention. Often our struggles with change — especially in the area of Church discipline or teaching — result from misunderstandings, which in turn can lead to camps or “extremist ideology.”
At one extreme we can find a certain “dogmatic fundamentalism” or “traditionalism” that views change, especially liturgical change, as a “rupture from the past.” At the other extreme lies a kind of “enlightened progressivism” that sees reality in “continuous flux” and theology in a state of “process.”
Neither position is true as Blessed John Henry Cardinal Neman insightfully demonstrates in his magnificent work, The Development of Christian Doctrine. Organic growth in doctrine is always rooted in the unchanging reality of Jesus Christ and His revelation, even as it matures or develops into fuller expression. Jesus Christ is the same “yesterday, today and forever;” but with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Church’s understanding regarding the full meaning of His words and actions is always deepening.
The liturgy we celebrate and participate in today is the same timeless sacrifice of Christ though its liturgical expression has experienced organic development. This may seem obvious, but my work with adult faith formation has led me to conclude that there remains a great need for a systematic catechesis on the true nature of the liturgy. The new translation provides priests and catechetical leaders with such a golden opportunity to do such catechesis.
To begin, it is important that we clearly explain that the revised translation is not a question of being anti-conciliar or post-conciliar, conservative or progressive. To hold to such positions is like holding on to old wineskin. The Church is offering new wine. We need new wineskins. Rather, the new translation seeks to convey in accurate language the richness of the Mystery we celebrate.
When the Church invites us to liturgical renewal she does it for the sole purpose that we may drink more deeply from the fountain of grace — the wellspring of worship that flows from the pierced side of Christ. If we place our parish and diocesan efforts within this context, we will help our people to rise above the useless polemic that only divides the Body of Christ.
It is true that for us to embrace the changes presented to us from the Church a certain docility of heart and right understanding is required for us to see that the Liturgy is not “ours.” It is the Lord’s, and He has entrusted it to His Bride the Church. She is the steward of the liturgy, and she has guarded this mystery with her own blood preserving it from corruption.
As a faithful steward of these sacred mysteries, the Church is always striving to express more clearly, celebrate more richly, and thus lead the People of God to participate more faithfully in the mystery of Christ’s sacrifice, so that we might receive the fullness of His grace. Indeed, from the time of St. Paul and the Early Church Fathers, through the work of St. Thomas Aquinas and the Council of Trent and the subsequent writings of Popes St. Pius X, Pius XII, Paul VI, John Paul II, and continuing with our current Holy Father, the liturgy and liturgical renewal have been of sincere interest, and at times, of great concern to the Church.
While it might be asking too much for parishioners to read every liturgical document, they ought to possess a familiarity with certain key texts from the documents Mediator Dei, Sacrosanctum Concilium, Liturgiam Authenticam and Sacramentum Cartitas so that they know the richness of the liturgy in which they are privileged participants.
Recently, I had the question put to me, “There are so many issues to preoccupy the universal Church and every particular Church, why waste so much time fussing about the translation of a Latin word?” My straight and simple response: “Lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendii!” As we pray, we believe, and as we believe, we live! In the liturgy, the Church celebrates her doctrine and offers to her children the grace to live a holy life. It is the sacred place where orthodoxy and orthopraxis embrace! The time we invest in giving our parishioners a full and rich catechesis on the liturgy will bear fruit in an actuosa participatio that enlivens their faith and strengthens their desire to follow the Lord and be His witnesses in society.
The new translation of the Roman Missal does not in itself make for perfect worship — we will have to wait for Heaven to enjoy that — but it does provide a perfect opportunity to catechize our parishioners on the nature of our Lord’s perfect act of worship to God the Father. We are blessed to share in this “opus Dei” for our salvation and that of the whole world. At this time of renewal, let us strive to receive this new translation as “new wine” of grace and deeper participation in the sacrifice of our Lord. Let us ask the Holy Spirit to awaken in us and in those whom we serve, the gifts needed to understand and embrace the Church’s current efforts to lead us to fuller participation in the mysterium fidei. TP
SISTER MARY MICHAEL FOX, O.P., is professor at Aquinas College in Nashville, Tenn.
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