The new language of the Mass

Yesterday I heard the new English translation of the Mass for the first time. There is a regular Mass in English offered on Saturday evening in the parish I attend which uses booklets provided by the Archdiocese of Dublin. That diocese, like others in most English-speaking countries, have started to use parts of the new translation in recent weeks, and so, automatically, have we.

Sadly, no catechesis or explanation was offered for the new translations of the well-known regular replies and prayers of the liturgy. I am thinking if I can perhaps offer something through the media of the student chaplaincy I am involved with. Many of the faithful attending the English Mass are students, after all…

That’s something for after the weekend, though.

Of course, new texts focus the attention on the changes, especially when we’re not used to them yet. But that’s good. People should be well aware of the words they hear and speak in the Mass, because these are more than communication. They are also teaching us about who God is, what our relationship with Him is and what we do at Mass. It may sound logical and simple, but in reality it is not. At every Mass we should try to be aware of what we see, hear and do, because those actions directly communicate what we believe. Of course, we won’t succeed every time, but that’s no reason not to try.

Regular Mass attendance greatly helps with that, though. What may escape our attention – because we are busy mulling over some other words perhaps – at one Mass, may grab us at a subsequent one.

The opportunity to do just that, to mull over what we say and hear, is one of the great strengths of our Catholic worship, I think. We are not mindless automatons going through the motions. No, our worship is educational and transformative; in it, we hear the Lord speak to us and we speak to the Lord – sometimes directly, and at other times the priest does so on our behalf. And we must allow ourselves to be educated and transformed, and sometimes that means that we trust the priest to pray, to communicate, on our behalf, while we let some idea – from the readings, from the homily, from the Eucharistic prayer perhaps – sink in.

The liturgy of the Mass is rich. Very rich. It is virtually impossible to take it all in in one go. But we are not expected to do so. Sure, we should be focussed and attentive, but we are also called to attend the Mass on every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation, which allows us to become better acquainted with the liturgy, which in turn means that we can go on a journey of deeper understanding every time we attend Mass.

The new translation (and every non-Latin liturgy of the Mass is a translation of the original texts) is more accurate, which means that meanings are no longer hidden behind words, that we more clearly say what we believe, that we get closer to the heart of the matter, however inadequate our language sometimes is. Because a translation always remains a translation, and can therefore never be perfect. But we are also independent people who can take initiatives. Let the liturgy of the Mass, our words and those of the Lord, be an invitation to take initiatives in our hearts and minds, to learn, to understand and so to teach and be transformed. If not always in that order.

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