June 29, 2006
At their spring meeting on June 15 in Los Angeles, the bishops of the United States approved a new English translation of the Order of the Mass. The Order of the Mass contains those parts of the liturgy that remain the same from celebration to celebration, e. g. the Penitential Rite, Gloria, Creed, Eucharistic prayers, Eucharistic acclamations, the Our Father and other prayers and responses used daily.
The new Order of the Mass will not be ready for immediate use. Most likely, it will be implemented when a new Roman Missal is published in English. Much work has gone into making the translation both precise and proclaimable. When the changes are implemented, we will need some time to readjust. At first, some words will catch our attention. They will be different from what we have been saying. The changes will not disturb our faith. They will build it up.
The new Order of the Mass is a catechetical moment for all of us to understand more deeply the faith we express in our prayer.
Lex orandi, lex credendi. The Law of prayer is the Law of believe. A number of examples will help us to understand why we will be using new words at Mass and why this will be an improvement over our present texts.
First, the new translation corrects our present texts that do not follow the style and syntax of the Latin original. Thus, the order of the
Gloria at the beginning of Mass will change to be more accurate in word order and style. The beginning of the first Eucharistic prayer will also change. It will now begin with direct address first to God, focusing our hearts on Him and not, as the present text begins, focusing on ourselves.
Second, the new translation is more faithful to the Scriptural allusions found within the Latin. In the third Eucharistic prayer, the words we now say, “
so that from east to west a perfect offering may be made to the glory of your name,” will become “
so that from the rising of the sun to its setting a pure sacrifice may be offered to your name.” Those who use dynamic equivalency as the principle of translation say that “
from east to west” means the same as “
from the rising of the sun to its setting.” It does in the sterile language of giving directions. But there is more here than mere direction. The new translation is more faithful to Scripture because it is more literal. The words are taken straight from Malachi 1:11. How powerful it is to use God’s own words to us in prayer back to God! Furthermore, the sacred text itself is much more poetic. It evokes the beauty of sunrise and sunset that speak of the majesty of God.
Third, the return to more literal translation opens us up to the theological density of the liturgy. Every other country translated “
Dominus vobiscum. Et cum spiritu tuo” as “
The Lord be with you. And with your spirit.” We did not. Instead, we have been saying, “
And also with you.” The expression “
with your spirit” is biblical (cf Gal 6: 18: Philip 4: 23: 2 Tim 4: 22; Ph 1:25). Furthermore, according to St. John Chrysostom, this response is deeply theological. It refers to the presence of the Holy Spirit in the minister uttering the greeting. In effect, it affirms that it is not priest as a man who brings effectiveness to the liturgy, but the Holy Spirit who is present and working through him (
Sermon on Pentecost, 4 PG 40, 458).
Fourth, the prayers, most especially those said by the priest, will have a new rhythm and cadence. In effect, the language of worship, while being understandable, will not be pedestrian. Our language sometimes in Mass can mimic our attitudes in dress and become less fitting for the house of God.
The new language will help remind us that we are in the presence of the All-Holy God who stoops to love us in Christ.
Fifth, all English-speaking countries will use the same words. Thus, the liturgy will become a more obvious as well as efficacious sign and instrument of the unity of the Church that transcends national and linguistic barriers.
Experts in theology, liturgy and linguistics have collaborated with the bishops in producing the new translation of the Order of the Mass. The time is right. The need clear. The work warranted. The liturgy is so important in the life of the Church that "no other action of the Church can equal its efficacy" (
Sacrosanctum Concilium,7). The proposed text now awaits
recognitio, or approval, from Rome and then publication within two years. When we begin to use it, we will notice and experience in so many ways the rich patrimony of faith that is celebrated in liturgy. And we will do so in a language worthy of worshipping God.
This is the second of a two-part series on the recently approved changes in the liturgy.