Monday, May 23, 2011

Bishops of England & Wales pastoral letter on the New Translation of the Missal

Image courtesy CTS
The Bishops of England and Wales have written the following excellent letter to be read in churches in their territory this coming weekend.

CATHOLIC BISHOPS’ CONFERENCE OF ENGLAND AND WALES
NATIONAL PASTORAL LETTER
ON THE
NEW TRANSLATION OF THE ROMAN MISSAL
TO BE READ ON THE SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER, 29 MAY 2011

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ

At the beginning of Advent this year, when we gather for Mass, we shall be using the new translation of the Roman Missal. This will be the case not only in England and Wales but throughout the English‐speaking world. The Mass will remain the same but parts of it will sound different.

Since the Second Vatican Council, the Church has produced three Latin editions of the Roman Missal. At present, we are still using a translation of the first edition which was published in 1973. Although the texts we have been using have served us well, since that time there has been much development in the liturgical texts themselves and in our understanding of them.

We all become very accustomed to the words we hear; and the fact that we have been praying in a certain way for so long has imprinted that style of language and words upon our consciousness and made them very special. The changes in the language now to be introduced, however, do not represent change for change’s sake, but are being made in order to ensure greater fidelity to the liturgical tradition of the Church. In the earlier translation not all the meaning of the original Latin text was fully expressed and a number of the terms that were used to convey the teachings of the faith were lost. This was readily acknowledged by the bishops of the Church, even back in the 1970s, and has become an increasing cause of concern since then.

There is an old adage in Latin which states that the way we pray forms the way we believe. So words and language are important for the teaching and the handing‐on of the faith.

So what does this new translation offer us? First of all, there is a fuller expression of the content of the original texts. Then, there is a closer connection with the Sacred Scriptures which inspire so much of our liturgy. Also, there is a recovery of a vocabulary that enriches our understanding of the mystery we celebrate. All of this requires a unique style of language and expression, one that takes us out of ourselves and draws us into the sacred, the transcendent and the divine.

The publication of the new translation of the Missal is a special moment of grace in the English‐speaking world. It offers an opportunity to deepen our knowledge and understanding of the mystery we celebrate each week. This itself will help us to move towards that fuller and more conscious and active participation in the liturgy to which the Church invites us. It will help us also to examine the dignity with which we celebrate the ‘source and summit’ of the Church’s life.

At the end of his visit last year, Pope Benedict asked us to use this moment for genuine renewal. He said: “I encourage you now to seize the opportunity that the new translation offers for in‐depth catechesis on the Eucharist, and renewed devotion in the manner of its celebration. ‘The more lively the Eucharistic faith of the people of God, the deeper is its sharing in ecclesial life in steadfast commitment to the mission entrusted by Christ to his disciples’” (Sacramentum Caritatis, 6).

In order to achieve this, the bishops have produced resources for all our parishes and, as from September, we will gradually begin to use the new liturgical texts at Mass and hear why certain changes have been made. Each diocese is already preparing its priests and deacons, catechists and liturgical ministers. Programmes for schools are being developed and new musical settings are being composed. From September until Advent everyone will have the opportunity to study the new texts and familiarise themselves with the prayers and chants. In addition, this period of preparation will allow us to pray these new texts.

The Liturgy of the Eucharist is a gift, something we receive from God through the Church. Saint Paul spoke of it as coming from the Lord Jesus himself. Writing to the Church in Corinth, he said, “for I received from the Lord what I in turn also handed on to you” (1 Corinthians 11:23). So Eucharist is not something of our making but a gift received. Like Saint Paul, therefore, let us receive it with reverence and care, knowing that we are being faithful to what the Lord himself passed on to the Apostles, which has been handed on since, in faithfulness, by their successors to every generation of the Church.

Let us welcome the new translation of the Roman Missal as a sign of our unity and a powerful instrument of God’s grace in our lives.

Published by the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales
Thursday 12 May 2011
To be read on the Sixth Sunday of Easter, 29 May 2011

As I said at the top of this post I think this is an excellent pastoral letter. Some comment:

"The Mass will remain the same but parts of it will sound different."
Yes and no. If "the way we pray forms the way we believe" then clearly we are going to be praying in a different way and our belief will be re-formed accordingly. The reason for the new translation is that the current one is defective and de-forms the way we believe. But the Bishops speak about this in more tactful terms later in the letter.

"Although the texts we have been using have served us well..."
Very diplomatically put, out of respect to those who have grown familiar with and come to love the texts as currently translated. Many people will have incorporated the current translations into their personal prayer and devotional life. Indeed, liturgical prayer should and is bound to feed our personal life. It is a good thing to meditate on the texts of the liturgy. Insofar as people have grown spiritually in this meditation, then "the texts we have been using have served us well..." but there is a "but" coming...

"The changes in the language now to be introduced, however, do not represent change for change’s sake, but are being made in order to ensure greater fidelity to the liturgical tradition of the Church."
Fidelity to tradition! All important! TRADITION!!! The Novus Ordo Mass must be a traditional Mass if it is to correctly "form the way we believe."

"In the earlier translation not all the meaning of the original Latin text was fully expressed and a number of the terms that were used to convey the teachings of the faith were lost."
By "not ... fully expressed" we could understand: "key phrases from the original Latin text were inexplicably omitted with the result that..." As many authors (of blogs, columns, books) have been pointing out.

"...the way we pray forms the way we believe."
Lex orandi, lex credendi.

"So what does this new translation offer us? First of all, there is a fuller expression of the content of the original texts."
i.e. a faithful translation of the original texts so that we have access to the authentic liturgy of the universal Church in our respective languages.

"... there is a closer connection with the Sacred Scriptures which inspire so much of our liturgy."
Scott Hahn recalls his moment of crisis and the beginning of his conversion to the Catholic Faith when he decribes the first time he attended Mass and being hardly able to contain himself in the desire to point out to all present the scriptural references of the various parts of the Mass, whether the greeting at the beginning of Mass, the Gloria, Sanctus... And many of the orations (prayers) of the proper of the Mass are quotations from Scripture.

"... there is a recovery [i.e. something had been lost] of a vocabulary that enriches our understanding of the mystery we celebrate. [i.e. one in which 'difficult' words are not changed or emptied of their true meaning, e.g. 'grace' rendered as 'love'.] All of this requires a unique style of language and expression, one that takes us out of ourselves and draws us into the sacred, the transcendent and the divine."
Yes, I think all who witnessed the beautiful language of the Anglican ritual of the recent Royal Wedding would agree. The language of everyday conversation is not the language of liturgical worship. And we are not celebrating ourselves but being raised out of ourselves and into God. "Sursum Corda" (Lift up your hearts) as the priest commands at the Preface of the Mass and the people know instinctively to whom they lift their hearts: "Habemus ad Dominum" (we have, to the Lord).

"The publication of the new translation of the Missal is a special moment of grace [long awaited and prayed for] in the English‐speaking world. It offers an opportunity to deepen our knowledge and understanding of the mystery we celebrate each week. This itself will help us to move towards that fuller and more conscious and active participation in the liturgy to which the Church invites us."
It's not simply that a change in text will make us sit up and look at it anew, not "change for change's sake". But this text will be one more capable of being a vehicle of grace so that our participation will be more conscious and active, an activity which is not about 'doing' but about 'being'.
"It will help us also to examine the dignity with which we celebrate the ‘source and summit’ of the Church’s life."
A more dignified language will lead us to a more dignified ritual. If we appreciate the dignity of the person with whom we are speaking, we will be careful about the words we use and the gestures we make. So also when we come into the presence of the Sacred Mysteries.

(I wonder if some of the gestures of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass might find their way back. In using the new translation of Eucharistic Prayer 1 on a couple of occasions, I found myself wanting to instinctively make the signs of the Cross over the elements. The following words seem to call out for not just one sign of the Cross but three, where I indicate: "To you, therefore, most merciful Father, we make humble prayer and petition through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord: that you accept and bless + these gifts, these + offerings, these + holy and unblemished sacrifices...")

"At the end of his visit last year, Pope Benedict asked us to use this moment for genuine renewal."
Three cheers to the bishops for themselves "seiz(ing) the opportunity that the new translation offers for in‐depth catechesis on the Eucharist" and for promoting a "renewed devotion in the manner of its celebration."

"(A)s from September, we will gradually begin to use the new liturgical texts at Mass and hear why certain changes have been made... From September until Advent everyone will have the opportunity to study the new texts and familiarise themselves with the prayers and chants. In addition, this period of preparation will allow us to pray these new texts."
Splendid. A gradual accustoming of the people (both clergy and laity) to the new texts, accompanied by catechesis, will enable everyone to be prepared for a fully conscious and active participation in the new texts by Advent. Regular Mass goers will not encounter the Mass as strange. There will have been time for resolving any matters of confusion and patiently getting used to some of the new responses. They will have had the opportunity for the texts to penetrate and to begin to become part of their life of prayer.

NB: the very welcome reference not only to the prayers of the Mass but to chants. The new Missal will include the sung parts of the Mass set to music which is modelled on Gregorian chant which occupies pride of place in the Church's liturgy. Of course, "new musical settings are being composed" but every Catholic should be accustomed to singing the Mass in its chant setting.

Take a look at and a listen to the Gloria (for this and more examples go to the Chant Cafe):



"The Liturgy of the Eucharist is a gift, something we receive from God through the Church."
Exactly! We do not change the Liturgy to suit ourselves or a particular community. We are called to accept the gift and to participate in it as given to us.
"So Eucharist is not something of our making but a gift received. Like Saint Paul, therefore, let us receive it with reverence and care, knowing that we are being faithful to what the Lord himself passed on to the Apostles, which has been handed on since, in faithfulness, by their successors to every generation of the Church."

Together with the Pope's Visit last September and the erection of the Ordinariate in January, this letter could be a further step on the road of a wonderful time of renewal for the Church in Great Britain. There is still much to be done, but if we get the liturgy right, we can get other things right. For this I pray.

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