Before refrigerators, people used icehouses to preserve their food. Icehouses had thick walls, no windows, and a tightly fitted door. In winter, when streams and lakes were frozen, large blocks of ice were cut, hauled to the icehouses, and covered with sawdust. Often the ice would last well into the summer.
One man lost a valuable watch while working in an icehouse. He searched diligently for it, carefully raking through the sawdust, but didn't find it. His fellow workers also looked, but their efforts, too, proved futile.
A small boy who heard about the fruitless search slipped into the icehouse during the noon hour and soon emerged with the watch. Amazed, the men asked him how he found it. I closed the door," the boy replied, "lay down in the sawdust, and kept very still. Soon I heard the watch ticking."
I begin with this simple story because some may find the changes in our celebration of the Eucharist difficult or irksome. As we implement these changes, it's important that all of us keep calm and follow the instructions of Psalm 46, "Be still, and know that I am God".
We are a Eucharistic Church. The coming months will be a time to consider again how and why this is so and to come to a new appreciation of the Mass and its prayers. From the very first days when the disciples gathered, "they devoted themselves to the Apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers" (Acts2:42).
It was probably not until the third and fourth centuries that ritual texts, or formularies were used for the celebration of Mass. Eucharistic Prayer II (once attributed to St. Hippolytus) probably emerged in the third century, what we call Eucharistic Prayer I (or the Roman Canon) more than likely emerged in the mid-fourth century.
Over the following centuries, local bishops approved set formularies for Mass texts, and many of these found their way into the precursors of the roman Missal for use by the Latin church.
On November 27, 2011, the First Sunday of Advent, a new English translation of the Eucharist (Mass) will be introduced in English-speaking countries across the Roman Catholic world. The language of the Mass of the Roman Rite is Latin; however, the Second Vatican Council allowed local languages to be used. Thus the Mass has been translated into many languages since that time. The original Latin remains the same, but a new translation into English has been completed.
There are several reasons for a new translation:
- The main reason is that the 1974 translation was done quickly. The international commission (ICEL), which did the translation, recognized that it would have to revisit the translation later and refine it. This project was started in 1989.
- The method of translating the Mass into English was done using a method called dynamic equivalency. This method translates the overall meaning of the Latin without necessarily translating every word or concept. However, lost in this method were the scriptural references as well as the depth and richness of the Latin text. In 2001, the Holy See (Vatican) issued a new document calling for a new translation that followed the Latin more closely.
- Blessed John Paul II canonized so many new saints that a new edition of the Roman Missal (book of prayers for the altar) was printed in Latin to include these new saints. This new Latin edition meant that a English edition of the missal would also be published. This was seen as the ideal time to introduce the new translation.
- In 1969 when the work of translating the Latin into English was done, there was no previous experience of translating liturgical Latin. Translations of the Mass before 1969 were prohibited. Those in English missals were unofficial translations done by an individual priest or bishop. Forty years of experience and learning have aided translators in their task.
Since this is a new translation of the whole Mass, almost every prayer has changed, from the responses of the people to the prayers of the priest, especially the central prayer of the Mass, the Eucharistic Prayer. Other changes will be the prayers we sing together, such as the "Glory to God," the "Holy, Holy, Holy," the Memorial Acclamation, and the dialogues between priest and people. There will be new musical compositions that choirs, song leaders and instrumentalists will have to learn.
One acclamation that will be lost will be the "Christ has died." While this has been the most popular of the Memorial Acclamations, it was not in the Latin Mass. It was a text exclusive to English. While stronger acclamations in English are in the third person, the Latin acclamations are in the second person, addressed to Christ. For this reason the Congregation for Divine Worship decided to exclude it from the English.
The most notable change will be the response: "And with your spirit." Now we say: "And also with you." While the first meaning of this dialogue between the priest and people is to acknowledge the presence of Christ among us as we gather in Christ's name, mention of the Spirit is missing. The greetings of the Mass are taken from the introductions to Saint Paul's letters. In them, he acknowledges the active role of the Spirit in forming the Christian community. It is the Holy Spirit who makes Christ present in the lives of each believer, as well as in the Body of Christ, the assembled Church. The word Spirit also refers to the unique role of the priest who stands in the place of Christ, the Head of the Church, having received the Spirit of ordination. Thus the absence of the Holy Spirit in the 1974 English translation of the Mass is seen as a major omission. In addition, the change to this response also brings the English translation into conformity with the other language groups that form the one, Catholic Church. This reminds us that the word catholic means universal. We are one Church formed by the one Spirit to believe in the one Lord. Therefore, we confess one faith in many languages.
Since no translation is ever perfect, we should expect improvement, not perfection. The new translation will offer an improved text in at least four ways:
- There will be a richer and more prayerful expression of the Latin texts.
- The Scriptural references will stand out more clearly, for the Scriptures inspire so much of our liturgy.
- There will be an enriched theological vocabulary that will help to enrich our understanding of the mystery that we are celebrating.
- The new translation will express a more humble attitude towards God on the part of the people and a spirit of wonder and awe in the presence of God. The new translation will use a unique style of language and expression that takes us out of ourselves and draws us into the sacred, the transcendent and the divine.
☩ Frederick Henry