Father Christopher Smith of St. Francis By the Sea Catholic Church has shared with me, and the world, a wonderful catechesis for children. The whys and hows of the new translation of the Mass have, in my opinion, rarely seen a more accessible, complete, and delightful treatment. A wonderful bed time story. Better yet, a homily.
Father, Why is the Mass Going to be Different?
Children and Catechesis
One of the most important things I do as a parish priest is teach children in my parish school about the sacred liturgy. When I read Ronald Knox' The Mass in Slow Motion for the first time as an adult, I was struck how his chatty explanations of the external ceremonies and the internal reality of the Mass were as instructive to me as they were for the high school girls of whom he was the chaplain. I have found that most children are fascinated by what they experience at Mass, and the more we explain it to them, they more they come to enjoy their time at church. Not all of us are as gifted as Maria Montessori, whose book, The Mass Explained for Children is still one of my chief guides for teaching my parochial school students about the liturgy, but those of us involved in catechesis recognize the great need to teach our kids about the Mass if they are going to grow up to be faithful Catholic adults.
As the time grows near for the implementation in the English-speaking world of a new vernacular translation of the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite, I am already thinking about how I can go about teaching my faithful. One thing I found in pastoral experience is that, if you can teach it to the children, the adults often benefit from the very same explanation. If we can bring to the children's level the why of the new translation and how to appreciate it and participate in it, then many of the adults will follow. A child shall lead them.
The present document is the outline for a series of conversations I am having with my own school children. While I adapt it in various ways for the different levels, and it reflects the fact that they already have a good grounding in certain aspects of the Church's teaching and practice, the explanations can be adapted for adults and those children who may need more catechesis on certain points. It is my humble effort to bring my own school kids closer to Christ through the Mass.
The Goals of the Liturgical Movement
The Mass is the most beautiful thing this side of heaven, isn't it? In it we re-enact the sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary and we are called to share in the fruits of that sacrifice in the sacrament of Holy Communion. The Mass is the perfect prayer, because it is the prayer by which Jesus offers Himself to the Father for love of us, and we have the chance to be a real part of that prayer. We Catholics love the Mass, and we are always careful that the Mass is celebrated with love, reverence and devotion. The Mass is one of the many beautiful Catholic prayers which make up what we call the sacred liturgy.
What does it mean for something to be sacred? In the Old Testament, the Bible uses the Hebrew word qadosh for something which is set apart, special, different. All of those persons, places and things which were set apart, special, and different and were associated with God were holed to be qadosh, holy, sacred. You know how every morning you brush your teeth with water? You would never brush your teeth with holy water would you? Holy water is set apart by a special blessing, a prayer the Church uses to set something apart from the ordinary so that it can be a vehicle for God's gifts, His grace. As Catholics, we have lots of sacred persons, like our priests and the sisters who teach in our school; places, like shrines where we go on pilgrimage and our parish church; and things, like special clothed called vestments and the special vessels we see at Mass.
We also have special actions we do as Catholics which fall under the category of liturgy. These include blessings, processions, Mass and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. The word liturgy comes from a Greek word leitourgia, and means "a work done on behalf of the people." You know we have people who build roads for us so we can drive from one place to the other? That is a work done on behalf of us by the government so we can get to church and school more easily. Christ does something amazing on behalf of us, doesn't he? He offers Himself for us on the Cross. That sacrifice we remember principally in the Mass, but we also remember it, in different ways, in all of those other sacred actions which make up the sacred liturgy.
But have you ever done the same thing over and over again and not really known why you did it? Have you ever done something so much that you did it out of habit and routine, and not because you really wanted to? The sacred actions of the liturgy can become like that for us. Our Pope, Benedict XVI, wrote that the liturgy had become like a beautiful painting on a wall called a fresco that had become covered over with centuries of candle and incense smoke and neglect to care for it. Can you imagine if you never cleaned your room, took care of it, or fixed anything that was broken in it? Over time, it would still be your room, but no one could recognize what it was other than a mess and no one would ever want to spend any time there. Over time many people forgot how sacred the liturgy really was, and they never took care of it, and it became unrecognizable to some people as Christ's sacrifice. Of course, the painting of the liturgy was still there, and was still amazing, but we had to restore it, to make the beautiful colors of it come alive again.
Many people had different ideas on how to make the fresco of the liturgy come alive again. In the twentieth century there was something called the Liturgical Movement. Many people knew how special the liturgy was and they wanted everyone to appreciate how beautiful it was. But they disagreed on how to make it alive again. There were some who liked the fresco of the liturgy the way it was, that nothing needed to change. Others though that they should take the fresco and pour white paint all over it and just start again. And there were as many opinions in between as there were people to have them.
Good thing then that we have a Church to help guide those opinions towards how Christ wanted people to come to Him in the sacred liturgy. When you see the word authority, do you recognize another word inside of it? Author. When an author writes a book, he has something in mind when we writes it; it is called his intention. A person with authority can measure up all kinds of opinions about something against the intention of the author of something. The Church has an authority called the Magisterium whereby the Holy Spirit guides the Pope and the Bishops on how to bring people closer to Christ.
If the liturgy is one of the most important ways we come closer to Christ, then the Magisterium has authority to decide how the liturgy helps us come closer to Christ. Every once in a while all of the Bishops in the world come together for a meeting about how to bring people closer to what Christ intends for the Church of which He is the author. These meetings are called ecumenical councils. The last ecumenical council took place in Rome from 1962 to 1965 and was called the Second Vatican Council. One of the first things the Bishops and the Pope discussed was how to restore the fresco of the liturgy to its splendor.
The authority of the Church accepted many of the opinions of people involved in the Liturgical Movement, but not all of them. Pope Pius XII had already told the Church in 1958 to be careful of thinking that just because it's older, it's better. There were some who opined (that is the action word, the verb, that means to express an opinion) that, if we just went back to some ancient ways the Church worshipped, everything would be fine. His successor, Pope John XXIII, also told us that there were many things which were such a part of our history and tradition as a Church, that we should never lose them.
The Language of the Liturgy and Why Translations are So Hard
One of the things which Pope John XXIII told us that we should not lose is the ability to pray in Latin. The word Catholic comes from two Greek words, kata holon, according to the whole. The Catholic Church is found all over the world; it is universal. The Church has always used the Latin language as a means of keeping all of her children all over the world united. With Latin, we all have a common tongue we can pray in. The Second Vatican Council produced a document on the liturgy called Sacrosanctum concilium, from the first words of this document, "This most holy gathering." In it, the Pope and the Bishops said again that Latin was to remain the language of the liturgy. But they also said that it could be useful if certain parts of the Mass could be said or sung in the language of the people. Many people all over the world were very excited, because they could pray at Mass not only in Latin, but also in their native tongues.
The History of English in the Mass
The big red book that the priest says many of the prayers out of at Mass is called the Missal. The Missal contains lots of black words that are said or sung by various people at Mass and red words called rubrics (from the Latin word ruber, which means red) which are instructions on how to do certain things at Mass. Priests are supposed to say the black and do the red, and they are not supposed to add, subtract or change anything, because the Mass does not belong to them, but to all of us. All of those black and red bits and all of the books that we use at Mass make up what is called a rite, which is a way of worshipping God. There are many rites in the Church; there are many different sets of black and red words and books to contain them, but they all serve to bring us closer to God in many ways.
As Catholics, we love our Pope and the city of Rome. The rite used by the Pope at Rome was so wonderful that missionaries brought the Missal used at Rome all over the world. This Roman rite had a great reverence for tradition. Many of the prayers in the Missal of the Roman rite had been used since as long as anyone could remember. There were minor changes in the rite over the ages, but the whole rite developed over the ages. The Mass that was celebrated in the sixth century was very close to what was celebrated in the twelfth century, in the fifteenth century and in our own century.
When the Second Vatican Council gave permission for parts of the Mass to be in English, new Missals had to be prepared that had both English and Latin. For a long time, the people in the pews had their own little books called hand missals that helped them to pray along with the Mass. The Council needed a lot of work to translate the Roman rite into all of the languages of the world. Since English was fast becoming the most important and widely spoken language in the world, the Church set up a committee called the International Committee on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) to help do translations for the Roman rite into English. In 1964, Americans heard the Mass for the first time in English and they also got to see some minor changes to the rite that the Council asked for.
The New Order of Mass and Its English Translation
By 1969, there were translations in many different languages of the Roman rite. But many of them were produced on the fly, willy-nilly, and some of them were not very good. The Church issued a document with the French title Comme le prevoit ("as has been foreseen" in French, because the document talked about how the Church foresaw at the Second Vatican Council the need to translate the rite into the various languages) with guidelines for how the translations were to be done.
That same year, a new set of books appeared for the Roman rite that were very different than anything that had gone before. Pope Paul VI issued what was called the Novus Ordo Missae, the New Rite of Mass. ICEL came up with a translation of this New Rite of Mass into English according to the guidelines of Comme le prevoit.
But translating from one language to the next is not an easy task. Different languages have very different ways of ordering their words called syntax and sometimes what can be described with one word in one language takes many words in another. The document Comme le prevoit said that when translating, one should not try to do a word-for-word translation, but to try to express the idea as well as possible in a way that others could understand. It is a principle called dynamic equivalence: that the English should be like, but not an exact copy of, what the Latin says.
This can be very hard indeed. In English I say, "My name is Father Chris." In Spanish, I say, "Me llamo Father Chris." If I translated it word-for-word, it would be "I call myself Father Chris", which just doesn't sound right to us English speakers because the syntax of our language is different. The Mass is of course much more complicated.
The 1969 ICEL English translation of the New Rite had to be done very quickly, and, as soon as it came out, those who knew their Latin were pointing out that there were numerous instances in which there was something in the Latin which is nowhere to be found in the English. You know how at the beginning of the Mass, we stop to ask for God's forgiveness for our sins and we say, "I confess to almighty God, and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned through my own fault." In the Latin, it says, "through my fault, through my fault through my own grevious fault," mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. ICEL just decided to drop what they didn't want from the original Latin.
Other words were translated differently because the translators wanted to get across something in the new text that was not there in the Latin. We now say, "We believe in one God," to show that we are all united in one faith, but the Latin says, "I believe in one God," Credo in unum Deum. In the consecration of the chalice, the priest now says, "this is the cup of my blood . . . It will be shed for you and for all." Now, while it is true that Jesus did die for all, the Latin text says "for many," pro multis. It does so because the Latin is trying to be more faithful to the Hebrew that Jesus spoke which uses the words "for many" to mean "all."
Many words were omitted entirely throughout the Mass because they were thought to be too "churchy" and unsuited to modern man. The translators reasoned, "who knows what a chalice is? Everybody knows what a cup is," and so even though the Latin says, "he took this precious chalice into his holy and venerable hands," accipiens et hunc praeclarem calicem in sanctas et venerabiles manus suas, we got "he took the cup." Very often notions such a sin, penance, the Devil, and hell disappear in English when they are there in the Latin.
What is strange is that, even though many other language editions of the Missal had problems like this, too, none as much as the English-speaking world.
In 2001, the Church issued a document called Liturgiam Authenticam, "Authentic Liturgy." In it the Church directed the Bishops to look at their translations and see where they had merely adapted words as the translators saw fit, adding and subtracting so as to change the meaning of the words and make the translations closer to the Latin. This meant that all of the liturgical books of the Roman rite in English had to be revised. In 2002, Pope John Paul II appointed a committee called Vox clara, "a clear voice" to propose an English translation that was more faithful to the Latin than the 1969 translation. That committee has been working very hard together with the Bishops in English-speaking countries to carefully prepare a new Missal in English. Soon, priests all over the USA will begin to teach their faithful about why we have a new translation and we will all practice the parts that will be different for the people than the ones they already know.
Pope Benedict XVI and the Reform of the Reform
Before he became Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Ratzinger was very interested that the liturgy be truly the source and summit of Christian life. He has written many books and articles on what the liturgy really means. He fears that, after the Second Vatican Council, many people "threw out the baby with the bath water" and lost many beautiful and meaningful parts of their prayer lives. The changes that were made after the Second Vatican II to the Roman rite are called the liturgical reform, because the books were re-formed and re-written. Pope Benedict XVI has suggested that perhaps it is time to "reform the reform."
When the liturgical reform took place, there were many people who disobediently did their own thing and refused to listen to the authority of the Magisterium: they did not say the black and do the red. Many people liked some of the changes that they saw, even when they were not actually ever made by the Church, like holding hands at the Our Father or saying Mass facing the people. Others felt that the Church had left behind her traditions and that goofy and silly things at Mass had nothing to do with what the Church wanted. When people get accustomed to something, they do not like change. Many people fear that a reform of the reform will bring about changes they will not like. No one wants to not know what they are doing at Mass, and no one wants to look stupid or foolish, so it will be hard for some to change the way they have prayed for so long.
One question that some people had after the Novus Ordo Missae came into being was whether or not we could use the rite of the Mass used before 1969. In a special document called Summorum pontificum "Of the sovereign pontiffs," Pope Benedict XVI declared that the rite before 1969 and the rite after 1969 are both official liturgies of the Church and that any priest could offer either one. He called the old rite or the Tridentine Mass the extraordinary form of the Roman rite and the new rite the ordinary form of the Roman rite.
We forget that many things that happened in the liturgical reform were experiments or special permissions called indults that can be stopped or taken away by the Church. Because the Church thinks in terms of centuries and not short periods of time, there have been some who have grown up not knowing anything except the liturgical reform. But the Church has to evaluate what has been good in the liturgical reform and what has not. Whether or not we have become used to doing or saying certain things is not the standard by which we measure success. The standard is whether or not our prayer is faithful to the teaching authority of the Church, and the Church, guided by Pope Benedict XVI, is engaged in a process to see what has been good and what has not been so good in the liturgical reform. As long as we trust that the Holy Spirit is guiding the Church, we will not be upset when we have to learn new ways of praying which actually help us come closer to God.
What all this means, is that the Church could make more changes to the way we pray which will help us to do so more authentically, not just changing the prayers we hear at the Mass in English. It is important for us to understand why these changes are made, and to help others to accept them as well.
What the New English Translation Will be Like
When new Missals are ready, our priests at Mass will introduce the new prayers to us. In the Mass, there are certain parts which are always the same, called the Ordinary of the Mass, like the Kyrie, the Gloria, and the Sanctus. There are also responses where the priest says something to us and we respond back to him with something else. In the Mass we also have prayers which the priest prays which change according to the day we celebrate, called the Proper of the Mass. The first thing we will learn will be the new responses. When the priest says, "The LORD be with you," we will respond, "And with your spirit," instead of "And also with you." It will be a little awkward at first, but if we pay attention and learn by heart those responses, they will soon become so familiar that we will hardly remember the old responses. We will then learn by heart the parts of the Ordinary like the Creed that we say every Sunday and solemnity, those special holy days in our Church calendar.
Some people are afraid that some of the words in the new translation are outdated or too hard for the average Catholic to understand or even pronounce. But one archbishop once stated that American Catholics are the best educated in the world, so if we learn together, we will have great opportunities to learn new things and make our faith even stronger. We already use some words in prayer that we would never use anywhere else. Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name. How many times a day do we say those words and we never have a problem knowing what they mean, even if we didn't know that hallow is just an Old English word for "to make holy."
Some words we only use in church. Mary and Molly are such good friends that it's almost like they're one in being, but we don't call them consubstantial, which also means one in being in English, like Jesus is one in being or consubstantial, with the Father. Other words seem very poetic, like when we speak of the gibbet of the Cross to refer to the wood on which Christ was crucified. Certain words we may not come across until we are studying for our SAT vocabulary words in high school, but they are useful describing words. We may only use the word ineffable after we have looked in a thesaurus under "indescribable" for a similar word, but isn't it a neat word to talk about God: the ineffable mysteries of our faith? As Catholics we have a rich tradition of language, and we have nothing to fear by learning new and exciting words and making them a part of our prayer.
Will the Mass Continue to Change
Some of your parents and grandparents may remember when they first heard English in the Mass. There were a lot of changes that came about in a short period of time, some of them good and some of them, looking back, that weren't so good. The Mass, like the Church, is a living thing, and living things develop. A living language like English will mean that from time to time there will have to be adjustments in any translation of the Mass when words change meaning. What the Church has realized from the past forty years of change is that some change, when guided by the Magisterium and true to the spirit of the liturgy, is organic, it's natural, like a tiny seed growing into a sturdy, large tree. Other changes are inorganic; they never seem quite right, and they cause more problems than they solve. Only the Magisterium can help chart a course for organic development that helps the liturgy to be an authentic experience of Christ and prunes away the bizarre monsters of inorganic development which, as much as some people may like them, do not really help them come closer to their LORD and Savior.
Backwards or Forwards: the Mass and the Church
As the Church celebrates her liturgy and the Magisterium guides its organic development, there are those who ask: "Why are we going backwards?" We must always remember, if we are at the edge of a cliff about to fall off of it, then the only way to progress is backwards. Those practices which have crept into our worship which distract us from our union with Christ are dangerous, and we should step back from them. It is also important that, if we are to have a future, we must be grounded in our past. That past must be not just like a history lesson that we learn and forget, but a living part of our present. The ancient prayers and ceremonies of the Church give us a sense of belonging not just to the here and now, but enter us into a sense of time-lessness. Bringing out of our storehouse things new and old does not have to deter us from moving forward, since then we can enjoy the best of the past and the present. Also, it is important not to assume that some things help us to make progress. How many times have we made things which we thought would make life easier or better for us that we later realized did not? Because God is outside space and time, and the liturgy is an encounter with God, "progress" has no meaning when applied to the liturgy. In the liturgy, the veil which separates us from God is lifted just a little so we can glimpse eternity, where there is no forward or backward; there is just God and Him alone.
Rejoicing in Hope: How the Restoration of the Sacred Leads us to Heaven
Saint Teresa of Avila once said that she would be willing to die for the least of the ceremonies of the Church. Because she was so in love with Jesus, the liturgy which brings us to Him was very important to her. The liturgy is not a matter of just observing the rubrics, the little red instructions in the Missal but an ars celebrandi, an art of celebration by which heaven is united with earth. When Prince Vladimir's envoys went to Mass at the Church of Holy Wisdom for the first time in the city of Constantinople, they said they did not know whether they were in heaven or on earth. Yet, the experience of God is not automatic just because we go to Mass. Mass is not a spectator sport. It requires a full, active and conscious participation in Mass. This means exterior participation by praying the Mass and being attentive to everything that goes on at Mass, but more importantly, interior participation in which the liturgy becomes the occasion for our encounter with God in our souls and hearts. Until we are present at the never-ending liturgy of heaven, arrayed around God's throne worshipping Him day forever, in this life we prepare ourselves for eternity by our union with Christ and His Church on earth. When we are the Church at prayer in the sacred liturgy, we open ourselves up to the adventure of being with God.
Reverend Christopher Smith, STL, is Parochial Vicar at Saint Francis-by-the-Sea Catholic Church on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.