The Old New Missal

Ecclesia semper reformanda —the Church must always be reformed. Remember that from Vatican II? Liturgical renewal may seem a far cry from sweeping Church reformation but it is no less continual and inevitable.
Are there not still some older Catholics who remember the unsettling speed — for others not soon enough — with which significant liturgical changes unfolded after Vatican II? By comparison, the new English translation of the third edition of the Missale Romanum (2002), which goes into effect this year on the First Sunday of Advent, should prove neither surprising nor unduly burdensome.
Most of the changes are in the priest’s parts and in the options available for Prefaces, prayers, commemorations and Votive Masses. Congregations will need some preparation, but the catechetical tools available in print and online have already been so well developed that, with even the most barebones pastoral planning, few regular churchgoers should be caught off guard.
All change requires patience and tolerance. But the testy what-now of change can sometimes be tempered by a sense of the why. While some critics of this particular revision may feel the attention it is receiving is misplaced — given more urgent crises the Church faces in evangelization, vocations and leadership – it would be neither fair nor accurate to characterize the new Missal as a superficial, merely cosmetic exercise in liturgical correctness.
Unquestionably, there are principles governing the translation that are discussion worthy. The new wording that we will be encountering in English results from a different approach to translation from the previous edition. Earlier English-language translations followed the principle of “dynamic equivalence.” The translation of the third edition was prepared using the principle of “formal equivalence.”
Practically speaking, the new translation is more literal or word-for-word. Even the grammatical structure of the original is maintained. The result is that sentences are longer and more formal. Prayers, however, are more poetic and the tone is more absolute and factual, with a sense of the holiness and majesty of God in contrast to the humbleness of the human condition.
The Novus Ordo has suffered from negative comparisons with the traditional (Latin) Mass for its tendency to resemble a dialogue among equals. Centered on the terrestrial dimension of the imminent interaction between priest and congregation, which informs the celebration of the Body of Christ on Earth, its dynamic is arguably more horizontal than the theocentric direction that prayer assumes. By contrast, the dynamic of the Latin Mass follows the more transcendental dimension of prayer, which lifts the mind and heart reverently to a God who condescends to save a lost people.
In the new translation there are more phrases to emphasize our sinfulness or unworthiness as well as more affirmations of the mercy of God. Older Catholics, for example, remembering the striking of the breast during the Confiteor (which means “I confess”) — the prayer we now say when using Form A of the Penitential Act — when it came to the mea culpa, will recognize the return of the language “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault” (replacing the current “through my own fault”).
To a degree, the new edition of the Missale Romanum incorporates traces reminiscent of the traditional Mass that may have been lost in former translations. This may be, in part, a result of the structure and cadence of the Latin language itself, which is now being given stricter respect. It also represents a part of our long tradition that should always remain with us in our celebration of the Sacrifice of the Mass.
To whatever extent the effects of the revisions be intentional or accidental (may “chance” not also be the logic of God?), their spiritual and ecclesiological fruitfulness are best ensured if received with prayerful respect. Openness to God’s Spirit, one way or another, always accompanies the Church on our long journey through history, even if the Devil in the details would taunt us to belittle their relevance or mock their importance.

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