By Msgr. Owen F. Campion - The Priest, 4/1/2011
One pastor gives his estimate of how priests in this country are reacting to the forthcoming new translation of the Roman Missal this way: “No widespread resistance, but no enthusiasm either.” Overall, I believe that this pastor’s assessment is correct.
It is too bad that there is not more enthusiasm. Instead, the less than fervent response among many priests, other comments suggest, is because the changes seem rather slight and indeed insignificant.
As for the people in the pews, the more mature among them also have seen a lot. They, by and large, went along with the changes in the past. In the reformed liturgy they found peace and spiritual fulfillment. So, what is new? Why be concerned?
The problem for priests well may be that they are judging the present situation by simply noting that they themselves adapted to change in the past, and that the people adapted. Unfortunately overlooked in the process are the many, who attend Mass irregularly if at all, a number increasing from every indication.
Polling indicates that the second largest single religious grouping in the United States, after Roman Catholics, is composed of inactive or “fallen away” Catholics, not a Protestant denomination.
Distressingly, while all priests justifiably can find satisfaction in the faith and witness of many Catholic youth and young adults, the numbers, in general, are not comforting. The Church is losing so many young people.
Admitting these troubling numbers, what does the new translation have to do with it?
If the implementation next Advent, and liturgical use thereafter, is preceded by good catechesis, a significant effort to refresh in Catholic souls faith in, and love for, the Eucharist well might come.
An additional incentive for catechesis, frankly speaking, is that so many adults nowadays have not had a thorough catechetical grounding.
Here is another consideration. Historically, the Mass was a highly individualistic experience. It was so in the history that anyone can remember. Before the reforms of Paul VI, despite the earnest efforts of pioneers in the Liturgical Movement, with their “Dialogue Mass” and congregational singing, the use of Latin, mandated virtual silence for celebrants as they prayed the Canon, and so on, the Mass was a very individualistic situation. People gathered, it is true, but this was coincidental and meaningless. Each prayed on his or her own.
Given the less than even indoctrination for the reforms of Paul VI and spotty catechesis in general, the situation hardly improved, at least never universally.
All this has been in the current context of American religion generally. Prevailing around us now, everywhere, is an excessively individualistic view of faith and of response to faith. Religion in this country, not just Catholicity, is not becoming more intensely congregational.
Obviously, individualized religion has a critical place in personal salvation.
Nevertheless, theologically, the Risen Lord lives in and through the Church. Practically speaking, by distancing from the Church, people also stand apart from the source of truth and of living witness to the truth, at least as a remote consequence. Salvation has this ecclesial aspect.
Our people are awash in the present circumstance of individualized religion. It is in the cultural air that they breathe every day. Personally, they well may know little of the community aspect of the Church, Mystici Corporis, the Mystical Body of Christ, from which comes our structure, the Apostolic tradition, works of mercy in common with others of like belief, and so on.
Then, there is the question of the precise changes in the translation itself. On page 22 of this edition of The Priest, as part of this series on the new translation, Father Daniel Merz, of the faculty of Conception Abbey Seminary in Missouri, looks at several of the more prominent changes.
While the Latin text is the authenticum and is binding, the changes into English were not made simply to conform slavishly to the Latin. Rather, they were made to conform to the Latin because the Latin more precisely catches an essential theological reality.
Referring again to Father Merz’s article, he discusses at some length, actually, the phrase, “…and with your spirit.” Changing from simply saying “…and with you” brings to mind a powerful theological reality, richly found in the Scripture, the written revelation of divine truth.
He goes on to consider other changes, “consubstantial,” “…for many,” “chalice” and “…under my roof.” In each instance, he develops a theological, as well as strictly linguistic, reason for the change.
It is vital that we priests get beyond the hunch that these changes are linguistic or legalistic or pedantic. Each has behind it a theological message.
In the Eucharistic liturgy, each prays with the earnestness of his or her own heart, but we pray as one people, one body in Christ, drawn together in grace, and by grace, and sent to live by grace, and in grace, to build in our midst the kingdom of Christ — and to pray we must understand what we are saying.
On April 27, Wednesday within the Octave of Easter, the Church will include the reading, Luke 24:13-35, in the Liturgy of the Word. It is the story of the Risen Lord’s walk to Emmaus with two disciples, who are pondering all that happened during the first Triduum. At Emmaus, these disciples finally recognize Jesus in the “breaking of the bread.”
Unique in the Lucan Tradition, this profoundly moving and instructive piece has been a favorite Resurrection Narrative among Christians for centuries. Any sincere Christian easily can see himself or herself in the two disciples, who reflect human longings, unsatisfied in the world, and promises unfulfilled by the world. This pericope reveals human limitation, even for the most intellectually honest, even for the good. The very act of walking together, but otherwise alone, suggests something of the human condition.
The Lord appears in no unusual way, at least according to the text. He clearly is human, speaking, walking and ultimately eating with the two disciples. Yet He is risen, and they discover this miracle when they see Jesus in the “breaking of the bread,” that wonderfully consistent description of the Eucharist in the New Testament.
Beloved among Christians for so long, the walk to Emmaus, or the meal at Emmaus, often has been depicted in art. One of the most magnificent artistic presentations was done by the great Italian master, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610). On page 10, Father Daniel J. Mukern, T.O.R., gives a highly detailed artistic critique of Caravaggio’s Supper at Emmaus, but most appropriately for the Easter edition of The Priest, he looks into each detail, giving profoundly theological comments that are spiritually very uplifting and timely for the season.
For example, one of the disciples, in his wonder and in his acceptance of the Lord, extends his arms in the shape of the cross. Christ, although now risen, died for humanity’s sins on Calvary. The cross cannot be separated from the Resurrection. The most perfect sacrifice, it is inseparable from the Eucharist, the banquet of the risen lamb of God.
The cross cannot be removed from the life of each believer, ascetical theologians, indeed the Apostle Paul, have told us. In one of the Christian teachings most difficult to accept, true believers also must die with Christ in order to live with Christ.
We offer Father Mukern’s interesting study as a fitting meditation for the Triduum of 2011.
Especially during this Holy Week, and in the days of glory at Easter and following, all priests, and priests who read The Priest, will be in our prayers. He lives! Alleluia! TP
MSGR. CAMPION is editor of The Priest and associate publisher of Our Sunday Visitor. He is a former president of the Catholic Press Association and the Vatican’s ecclesiastical adviser for the International Catholic Union of the Press.
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