Welcome to this week's edition of "New Translation Tuesday."
As you know, yesterday I facilitated a meeting with a group of about twelve priests from one of the deaneries here in the Archdiocese of Chicago. They asked me to come and facilitate a discussion about the upcoming new translation of the Missale Romanum.
A few impressions.
I felt privileged to be a part of this holy conversation. Each priest, without exception, showed concern for the prayer lives of those entrusted to their care.
There was much discussion about the "universal" dimension to the prayer of the Church. This was a good conversation. I know this might get some of the readers of this blog a bit riled up, but I did offer this to them:
We have to be careful when we play the "universal" card—that these prayers must be prayed exactly, word-for-word, because they are the officially translated prayers of the English-speaking Church—the "universal" Church. This is a value and is absolutely a Roman Catholic principle. But we cannot stop there. If this were the only principle to which were to hold priests and bishops accountable as they celebrate Mass, I believe that the Church's liturgical life would be in a sorry state. I reminded the priests about the group of Catholics for whom the EWTN style of celebration is the norm against which they hold the celebration style of the priests and pastors in their parishes accountable. I also reminded them that papal liturgies often become the same kind of norm. For the vast majority of these celebrations, the celebrant, included our beloved pope, prays the Mass in a less-than-engaging matter. Their ars celebrandi is reflected in getting all the words exactly right, whether they be in Latin or in English. This serves the principle of the universality of the Church's prayer quite well. It is Roman Catholic through and through. But, dare we ask, "Where is the life in the prayer?" The liturgy is the work of God, but God works through the hands, hearts, postures, and voices of his people. A detached celebrant—detached from any semblance of human feeling—makes me a detached worshiper. It makes the celebration of the paschal mystery appear remote. The priests with whom I spoke are fearful that the "detached, say the words exactly as they appear" type of expression of the ars celebrandi is what is being expected of them. I think this is a legitimate fear. And I don't believe that this is what is being asked of them.
One of the priests in attendance stated that for most of his priestly life, he has not said the words from the Sacramentary exactly as they appear in the book. He told us that he feels that he is called to make adaptations to address the needs of his parishioners. Can we fault this dedicated priest for his love and concern for his people? Frankly, I did not know how to respond. I simply said that if we are wondering what the Church is asking of celebrants with the impending new translation; it is surely clear that the Church is not asking for an ad libitum approach to celebrating the Mass.
Another priest said that it seems that the approach he has taken to the presidential prayers at Mass since his ordination will have to change. He told the group that he does not need now even to look at these prayers before Mass because he knows that when the altar server opens the Sacramentary in front of him at Mass, the style of the language of prayer will be familiar enough that it simply flows naturally. He wondered what the new translation might mean for his approach. It was at this point that I had to put my own "view-from-the-pew" two cents in (or, perhaps in this case it was more like a dollar twenty-nine!) In a genuinely pleading tone, I talked about my "right and duty" as a baptized Catholic. I quoted Sacrosanctum Concilium, saying that as a baptized Catholic, I have a right and duty to participate in the liturgy with fully conscious and active participation. This right hinges so much on the active participation that is listening. For this, I rely on the priest to pray the prayers, not just say the prayers. I told them that the days of "rolling out of bed" and into the Sacramentary are coming to an end. I also said that I believed that the advent of the new translation is asking nothing new of celebrants at Mass; the Church's expectation has always been the same. God uses these real flesh-and-blood men to use all of their gifts to pray the prayers with life and conviction.
I know I am going on and on here, but there is one more thing I'd like to share. I told the priests about Paul Turner's upcoming book with us here at WLP, Pastoral Companion to the Roman Missal. I did not have the manuscript with me at the meeting, but I did recall a few places in Paul Turner's commentary about some prayers—either lost over the centuries, or fallen into non-usage—that were recovered for the current Missal. When I told the priests that they would be praying some prayers from the Church's liturgical treasury that had never been even uttered in the English language, their interest piqued. I likened what they would be asked to do with these texts to a real experience I had of a celebrant a few years ago. Father Cyprian Davis, OSB, was the "guest" celebrant at Sunday Mass at our parish. When it came time for him to pray the Opening Prayer, he said "Let us pray." He then bowed his head in silence. When he opened his mouth to pray the text from the Sacramentary, I was stunned. I don't know how else to say it except that it seemed like he was birthing the text right then and there. It was as if he were sharing the most precious thing with us for the first time. He did the same with every other prayer at Mass, including the Eucharistic Prayer. I have seldom been more drawn into the celebration of the Mass than I was that day. I told the priests at the meeting that this was precisely what they are being asked to do; to give birth to a new translation in the midst of God's people; and these words have the potential for salvation, right then and there; right at the moment that they are prayed for God's people.
Folks, it was an exhilarating and exhausting afternoon all at the same time. I don't want our priests and bishops to feel as if the advent of the new translation means that they are being asked to turn into sacramental and liturgical automatons. Far from this, the advent of the new translation—I hope—will lead to a discovery, or rediscovery (as the case may be) of the real art of celebrating the Mass for these priests. We look for a new dawn of liturgical engagement, a synergy among the realities of text, celebrant, music, and people. It is within the life that is generated through this synergy that God's work of mercy, love, and reconciliation in Christ takes root, blossoms, and grows day after day, Mass after Mass, year after year, until our voices are joined with countless hosts of angels in that eternal "Hosanna!"
Thanks for listening today. I am thanking God for my Catholic faith today.
Gotta sing. Gotta pray.