In a few short weeks when we gather for Mass on the First Sunday of Advent (Nov. 27), English-speaking Catholics in the United States will be praying from a newly translated and authorized liturgical text. In my last column I offered some comments on this new text, the Roman Missal, Third Edition. I would like to continue those reflections here.
The primary aim of this new translation of the Mass is to help us pray better. Admittedly, we are creatures of habit. It will probably take some time for all of us, priests and people, to grow accustomed to the language, rhythm and style of the new Roman Missal. We have been praying the current text for nearly 40 years. It has grown familiar and has worked its way into our memories so that we can recite many of the Mass texts by heart. In time the new texts and responses will grow familiar as well. They will work their way into our memories, minds and hearts and help us discover even deeper levels of meaning and beauty to enrich our worship and prayer.
The new texts employ a different style of language. The style and content are not only more faithful to the Latin from which our Catholic liturgical texts are translated, but are also more theologically precise and poetic. This should not frighten us. Such rich and layered poetic language has the capacity to draw us more deeply into the mystery we celebrate.
The sacred liturgy, especially the Mass, is the prayer of Christ, the High Priest. It is the prayer that He offers to the Father, in the Holy Spirit, on our behalf. At every Mass we unite our voices to His and to those of the angels and saints in glory, as well as to those of worshippers throughout the world. Together as the one Body of Christ we offer this one perfect sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to God.
Recalling that we are engaged in divine worship, is it not appropriate that we employ a language that is more formal, less colloquial, a language that elevates the mind and heart? Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr. and many other gifted orators have employed formal language, that remains warmly intimate, to deliver stirring and memorable addresses on solemn occasions. In the liturgy such language, drawing from ancient sources and filled with biblical imagery has power to move our hearts and nourish our prayer. It illuminates the mystery of our faith and worship as something both ancient and always new.
The language we use in worship is very important. There is an ancient theological principle, “lex orandi, lex credendi,” which means “the rule of prayer is the rule of faith.” The way the Church expresses herself in prayer gives expression to the faith she holds. Our Catholic faith is enshrined and handed on not only through catechisms and creeds, but also through the sacred liturgy. The English translation of the Roman Missal, Third Edition is, therefore, a very important event in the life of the Church. It is for this reason that it has taken so many years and so many consultations since the Latin typical edition of the Roman Missal, Third Edition was published in 2000 for this translation to receive its final approval from the bishops of the English-speaking world and from the Holy See.
To help us all welcome and receive this new translation of the Mass fruitfully, we have been preparing diligently in a variety of ways. Last year the Archdiocese hosted a workshop sponsored by the USCCB Secretariat for Divine Worship to introduce the Roman Missal to our priests. Since that time, the Archdiocesan Office of Worship and Spiritual Life has provided numerous workshops and training opportunities for various liturgical ministers and interested groups. Publishers of liturgical music have been developing new musical settings for the common parts of the Mass which are chanted or sung. Since September most parishes have been gradually introducing some of these new settings. Parishes have also taken various initiatives utilizing bulletin inserts and offering catechetical sessions to present the new Missal.
One of the welcome fruits of this time of preparation has been the opportunity to reflect more deeply on the meaning of the Mass in our lives. There are an abundance of online and print resources to help Catholics prepare for this important event. I encourage anyone seeking more information, including the texts of the new translation, to visit the USCCB website at usccb.org. Click on the Roman Missal link.