By Father Nicholas Zientarski - The Priest, 8/1/2011
Big changes are coming! In less than four months, all Roman Catholics in the English-speaking world will experience a significant change in the way they celebrate the Mass — the third typical edition of the Roman Missal will be issued, scheduled for use starting on the First Sunday of Advent 2011.
This change is about an improved English translation of original Latin texts, not a change in the structure of the Mass itself. Some wanted to wait with these changes; others can’t wait. Like all changes that happen in life, the new translation of the Missal will mean an adjustment.
Before any major change in life, it is tempting to complain, resist and lament. This is natural. Any change in the way things have been for a long time will undoubtedly cause some initial “discomfort” and, perhaps, inconvenience. But the birth pangs of transitioning to the new Missal will give way to fruitfulness, especially if Catholics are prepared in a positive way for the change. Thus, the central question that faces us all at the present time is: how will this change be beneficial for both priests and laity as they worship at the Eucharist?
I would like to propose here one important positive aspect of the upcoming translation change: a better contextualizing of our faith. By this I mean the ways in which the texts of the Mass reveal theological contexts that are important for the life of faith. In other words, the lex orandi reveals the lex credendi, which in turn reveals the lex viviendi.1 This is in fact one of the major reasons for the new translation — that a better translation will reveal a richer, deeper theology and enhance the spiritual lives of the faithful.
It would be impossible here in this brief article to go through all of the Latin texts of the Missal. Thus, what I would like to attempt is a brief look at just a few examples of the contexts of texts to show how praying with the new translation will be better for helping Catholics grow in their faith.
Let us begin with a text from the third Eucharistic Prayer that some are already familiar with: the post-sanctus. A section from the post-sanctus of this Eucharistic Prayer in the current Missal reads: “From age to age you gather a people to yourself so that from east to west a perfect offering may be made to the glory of your name.”2 The text in the new Missal will read: “You never cease to gather a people to yourself, so that from the rising of the sun to its setting a pure sacrifice may be offered to your name.”3
At first glance, the new translation does not seem to be much different from the original. But there are indeed small details in the new translation that better contextualize the faith of those who are praying the Eucharist together.
First, one sees a better scriptural context. The second part of this text comes directly from Scripture — Psalm 113:3 — which reads: “From the rising of the sun to its setting the name of the LORD is to be praised.” Psalm 113, like those that come before and after it, are texts that show the praise and worship of God for all the wonders He has done.
The appropriation of this Psalm for use in the third Eucharistic Prayer should therefore call to mind the greatness and goodness of God — how He has operated throughout salvation history and how He works once again in each celebration of the Eucharist. The deficient translation of “east to west” distorts the true scriptural context in that such words speak of direction, not the divine blessing of light and warmth that comes from the sun.
This leads us to a second context: cosmological. The life of faith with God in the Old and New Testaments involved not only people but the entire world in which people live. This is seen in all books of the Bible, from the beauty of the creation story in Genesis (Gn 1:1-2:25) to the “new heaven and new earth” spoken of in the Book of Revelation (Rv 21:1).
Once again, the use of the words “east and west” in the present Missal is deficient because those words fail to speak of the cosmological context (i.e., the sun) found in the Psalm and, consequently, the third Eucharistic Prayer. The Eucharist is a celebration that takes place in the world and with the world in which people live. They pray in a structure made of stone, metal, glass and wood — matter from the earth and, indeed, from the universe.
They use elements of bread and wine that exist purely from the benefits of the sun: light enables the growth of the wheat and grapes used to make the bread and wine used in the Eucharist. Therefore, the new translation of this text from the Third Eucharistic Prayer better contextualizes the cosmological nature of the liturgy and will help those who pray the Eucharist together to better grasp how the liturgy involves the world around them.
Let us consider a second example of contextualization in the new translation of the Roman Missal: the Nicene Creed. One will notice in the new Missal some changes in the wording of the Creed. These changes will better contextualize the baptismal faith of the people as they celebrate the Eucharist together on Sundays and solemnities.
The first thing one will notice is the change in personal pronouns from “we believe” to “I believe.” At first glance, this seems to emphasize individualism and a loss of the communal dimension of the liturgy celebrated by the whole assembly. Yet, this change of language is not only truer to the original Latin (i.e., credo is the first-person present active form of the verb credere, “to believe”), but it also better contextualizes a baptismal faith. In the rite of baptism, parents and godparents make promises for their children in a “first-person” context: to each of the questions of faith asked by the minister (i.e., “Do you believe in God… ?”), they respond “I do” not “we do.”
This speaks of the personal, free decision to accept and embrace the Christian faith, a faith that can never be forced or imposed. Thus, the new translation of the Missal better contextualizes the baptismal faith of the people at Mass in that it is a reaffirmation of what happened years ago on the day they were baptized.
Another change in the Creed will be the replacement of the words “one in being with the Father”4 to “consubstantial with the Father.”5 How is this change beneficial for our people at worship? The use of the word “consubstantial” better contextualizes the conciliar and Patristic faith of Roman Catholics.
Looking back at the early councils of the Church, one sees the important distinctions of terms and phrases used to describe how Christ is both Son of God and son of Mary, human and divine. Words such as “person” and “substance” were extremely important in theological debates among the early Fathers. “Consubstantial” is an important theological term that contextualizes and reminds us of the labors of the many people involved in the councils, whereas the phrase “one in being” obscures those people and contributions.
Finally, let us consider one last example — the response the people will soon make to the bishop or priest at Mass: “and with your spirit.” The phrase speaks primarily of the charismatic nature of the Church — that all members of the Church have received charisms from the Holy Spirit. The ecclesial charism of the bishop or priest is one of headship in the Mystical Body of Christ, which is the Church. Bishops and priests act in persona Christi capitis ecclesiae. Thus, the replacement of the present response “and also with you” with “and with your spirit” better contextualizes the ordained ministers in the Church at Eucharist according to ecclesiological teachings of the Second Vatican Council, which portray the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ.
The Church is a body where members play different roles according to the charisms given by the Holy Spirit. When the people of the assembly say, “and with your spirit,” they are recognizing not simply an individual in the assembly but the ecclesial–sacramental role that minister plays in the body as head, which has been given by the Holy Spirit.6 This better contextualizes the ecclesial faith of Christians living in the post-Vatican II Church.
Change has been a part of the life of the Church for centuries. Even though the Mass may seem to be a static element of Catholic life, there has always been an organic development of the liturgy that strives for a better understanding of the faith we profess.
The challenge as we all approach the introduction of new changes in the texts of the Mass is to see these changes in a positive light and understand how they will benefit the faith life of those who worship. I have suggested that we may look at the new translation of the Missal texts as a better contextualizing of the faith that is prayed and lived by the faithful.
Just a few examples shown here have exposed the multi-dimensional benefits of having a better translation that is truer to the original Latin. Helping the faithful to appreciate this will enhance their prayer life and enable them to live the Gospel more fully in their daily lives. TP
1 Prosper of Aquitaine (390-455 AD) is credited with the phrase, lex orandi, lex credendi (“the law of prayer is the law of belief”), to which some add today, lex vividendi (“the law of living”). I am grateful for the work of Msgr. Kevin Irwin, Dean of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. His book Context and Text (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1994) explores in great detail the profound relationship between texts and contexts.
2 Missale Romanum 1975, Editio Typica Secunda (New York: Catholic Book Publishing Company, 1975), 552 (hereafter MR1975). The original Latin reads as follows: “et populum tibi congregare non desinis, ut a solis ortu usque ad occasum oblation munda offeratur nomini tuo” (Ibid., 1066).
3 http://www.usccb.org/romanmissal/order-of-mass.pdf (page 28).
4 MR 1975, p. 368.
5 http://www.usccb.org/romanmissal/order-of-mass.pdf (page 10).
6 One of the great theologians of Vatican II, Yves Congar, says of this phrase: “This does not mean simply ‘and with you.’ It means ‘with the grace you received through ordination for the common good; we are asking now for the grace to be made present in this celebration.’ [With] the ‘power’ received at ordination and the making present of the gift of the Spirit, the ordained celebrant and the community or ecclesia are united in the celebration of the Eucharist” (I Believe in the Holy Spirit, trans. David Smith (New York: Crossroad, 1997), 3:236.
FATHER ZIENTARSKI was ordained in 2003 as a priest for the Diocese of Rockville Centre and is currently finishing doctoral dissertation work in sacramental theology at The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C.
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