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The day will be Sunday, Nov. 27, 2011. This day will likely seem as any other Sunday. Faithful Catholics will rise from sleep at their chosen times; each will carry out the normal Sunday morning preparations for Mass, arriving at the parish church at a fitting time. Some will enter a familiar pew, while others sit in a place that is new to them. Some will open the missalette or hymnal to preview the readings of this First Sunday of Advent; others may simply pray in silence before Mass. All will be as normal.
Mass will begin with a typical music selection, fitting for this Advent morn. The priest and the other ministers will process into church, going to their proper places. Finally, the priest will lead the people in the Sign of the Cross and greeting. All of a sudden, an entire parish congregation, on hearing the priest greet them with the words "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all," will respond "And with your spirit." No longer will the Sunday routine be merely a routine; we will be praying the Mass anew. The people's response, perhaps seeming unfamiliar or odd at first, will begin the praying of the Mass with words that will likely include new musical settings for newly worded hymns like "Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts," and new responses to such phrases as "Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb." Everyone, aware of the change, will be ready to respond "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed." Many will receive the Eucharist, aware that it is the same gift of Christ's Body and Blood as on the previous Sunday, but with renewed understanding, as given through the words themselves, of who it is that they receive and how we are nourished in the offering of every Mass.
The given scene, while it may not be a replica of every experience to be had, serves as a means to begin answering the question "why?" Some may recall the first time that they prayed the Mass in English. Others may have never known prayers for Mass other than the English versions that have been prayed over the last 40 years. Some may be hesitant to accept what appears on the surface as nothing more than change "for change's sake." Yet, all deserve to know why such a change is happening, and why it is happening now.
These new prayer settings, the fruits of new English translations of the venerable and time-honored Latin prayers for Mass, are given as a further implementing of the use of the common or "vernacular" languages in the liturgy of the Church. In the 1960s, the Second Vatican Council sought to reform the liturgy of the Church so that all of the faithful would more easily and fruitfully be able to enter into liturgical prayer, actually participating in the saving mysteries of Christ with a greater sense of prayer and deeper awareness of God's presence in the rituals of the Church. An expression of this fruitful participation envisioned at Vatican II was through the fitting use of the common languages of peoples throughout the world. In addition to using Latin, such opportunity for the use of vernacular was set forth by the Council to aid the people in praying the Mass with more complete understanding. For the last 40 years, English speaking countries have already prayed most, if not all of the Mass parts in their own language, using English versions translated from original Latin prayer texts. However, the work of translating necessarily continues from generation to generation, as language continues to evolve and change, and new words with more definite meaning come to be.
Currently, we have received a renewed and revised English translation of these Latin prayers. Within this new translation, specific goals and guidelines for translating prayers, as set forth by the Church, have been more fully accomplished. This new translation portrays in English the more literal meaning of the Latin prayers, restoring words that convey the truths of faith more properly, and reconnecting these texts more clearly to their biblical sources and roots. While the learning of the new versions will take time and practice, this learning process invites us to open our minds and hearts to being renewed in the Catholic faith that we have received and truly love, encouraging us to grow in knowledge of the faith itself, deepening our love for God.
In the weeks ahead, we will be looking at the new translations of the prayers of this Missal. Each article will seek to invite all of us to go beyond simply knowing the new words to a deeper and more complete understanding of the great gift of the Holy Mass. As we begin this journey toward praying the Mass anew, may we commend ourselves to the care of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Word Incarnate, who responded "Let it be done according to thy word," that Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, may lead us to love and understand the renewed words through which we will approach the Father in heaven at every Mass.
Father Hastings is Director of the Office of Liturgy and Worship of the Diocese of Duluth and pastor of St. Rose Parish in Proctor, MN.