Monday, November 29, 2010

First Sunday of Advent: Loss in the Midst of Hope

A happy Monday to you all. I hope that your celebration of the First Sunday of Advent helped fill your heart with a longing for the coming of the Lord.

At yesterday's Mass for the First Sunday of Advent, I became keenly aware of the fact that the prayers we prayed and sang would be the final time that the particular English translation of those prayers would be used.  Even though it was not my intention as I arrived at my parish, I found myself experiencing a sense of loss for those prayers that have shaped my Catholic life for most of my 52 years. For instance, I was struck by the prayer after communion:

may our communion
teach us to love heaven.
May its promise and hope
guide our way on earth.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.

For me, this prayer has always issued a wonderful reminder as a new liturgical year unfolds. It reminds me that what we do here on earth as we celebrate the liturgy turns my mind and heart to the things to come; to the things that will not pass away. It reminds me that our celebration of the Eucharist here on earth is a foretaste of the life to come. And, keeping this in mind, helps me to know that I have a beacon here on earth, a light that guides my way on this earthly journey. This world will pass away but, as long as I am here on this earth, my life must be guided by the promise and hope that heaven affords.

The newly translated text will look something like this:

May these mysteries, O Lord,
in which we have participated, profit us, we pray,
for even now, as we walk amid passing things,
you teach us by them to love the things of heaven
and to hold fast to what endures.
Through Christ our Lord.

I have commented here before about this particular prayer. The placement of "them" in the fourth line of the prayer is confusing, for the pronoun, in my usual way of hearing and thinking, draws my mind to the noun immediately preceding it, namely "passing things." Of course, "them" refers to the "mysteries" prayed in the first line of the prayer. While I am no an advocate for changing any of the official texts of the liturgy, I wonder—if I were a bishop of priest—if I might be tempted to change the prayer to read:

May these mysteries, O Lord,
in which we have participated, profit us, we pray,
for even now, as we walk amid passing things,
you teach us by these mysteries to love the things of heaven
and to hold fast to what endures.
Through Christ our Lord.

So you see why I may have been feeling a sense of loss yesterday. I would venture to say that most Catholics in the pews pay little attention to the prayer after communion, or to any of the other so-called "presidential prayers" at Mass. There are a number of reasons for this. One may have to do with the fact that some celebrants may rush through these prayers or do not spend enough time preparing to proclaim them.  The prayers tend to wash over us, rather than penetrate our hearts.

My fear is that, with the new translation, some celebrants may not spend the time it will take to practice these over and over again in order to transmit the meaning. Some may simply get the official words out, doing no more than what is minimally required. If this becomes the case, we will lose the treasury that is these prayers.

Each Sunday for the next year, I will be paying closer and closer attention to the opening prayer, the prayer over the gifts, and the prayer after communion. I will spend time each week comparing these prayers to those that we will most probably be praying next year. This will be my way of mourning their loss. It will also be my way of preparing my ears, mind, and heart to the new way I will need to listen. My hope is that this comparison will lead me to discover new beauty in the newly translated prayers. I had a difficult time discovering that for the First Sunday of Advent.

I will be praying for bishops and priests in the months to come. I will be doing everything I can to encourage them to take much more time with these prayers as they begin to think about praying them a year from now. What will you do to encourage your own bishop and priest to begin thinking anew?

These days, I am taking inspiration from one of Steve Warner's pieces, Set Your Heart on the Higher Gifts.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.


Anonymous said...

I think you are correct, Jerry, in your observation that most of the faithful are not hearing the presidential orations. Paying closer attention to these is one of the things I have most enjoyed about returning to the practice of bringing my own hand missal to Mass. In addition to some anxiety over the whole issue of the surprise 10,000 revisions, I fret a bit wondering whether the various publishers will be able to issue new hand missals in time for next Advent. I'm not sure if those publishers are the same as the ones who will be producing altar missals, pew hymnals and missalettes, who, I'm sure, will be running flat out to get those items done in time.

Jennifer said...

I started doing the same thing yesterday, Jer, but more with the service music. When the translations change, rather than using adaptations of existing settings, we're planning to go to new ones for a couple of years before trying to re-acclimate people to their old favorites with new words. We use Steve Janco's "Mass of Angels and Saints" during the Advent season, and while we may bring it back again during Easter or something, I found myself thinking, "Three more weeks and we say good-bye to this beloved friend."

I may, next fall, depart from my usual habit of programming Mass settings by the season, and just alternate all our favorites week by week from August to November. Give them a nice farewell bash, as it were.


Siobhan said...

For what it's worth, and I am loathe to be a pollyanna, I have to say that "as we walk amid passing things" strikes a chord with me.

Austin Fleming said...

I mused in the same vein, Jerry, on beginning to bid farewell to some texts I grew to love, in spite of their flaws.

Chironomo said...

I guess I just don't see what's so wonderful about the current translation, save for its simplicity and ready accessibility. But are those really good things for a liturgical text?

I agree that the division of "them" and its referential noun is awkward, but it really doesn't rise to the level of a serious flaw as some would like to think. This, because I really wonder (as you and FJH3rd have also done)if these prayers are even listened to most of the time... perhaps the greater complexity of the language might draw some needed attention to them? Unfortunately, the current translation frequently makes use of a rather predictable and "sing-songy" speech rhythm in these prayers, and the reaction from many of those in the pews is to tune them out when they start.

Austin Fleming said...

Just as much will depend on how well priests pray aloud the new texts, so did much rise and fall on how they have prayed aloud the old texts.

Many priests, praying in sing-song fashion, caused the shorter, simpler texts of the Sacramentary to fail. Let's see what we'll do with longer, more complex and sometimes convoluted texts.

Simon Ho said...


You gave me an idea. What about workbooks for Priests that suggest where they can place the emphasis and pauses, like what lectors do?

I know most Priests would pooh-pooh the idea, but at least those who are interested could have something to work from?