This question-and-answer column is the next in a series about the new Roman Missal, which will be used in the United States beginning Nov. 27, the first Sunday of Advent.
Q: With all of the other needs in our church, why so much time and effort expended on a new translation of the Mass? Should this really be our priority during this difficult time in the life of the world and the church?
A: The Sacred Liturgy, that is, the public prayer of the church, is not just one activity among many in the church’s life. Rather, it is, as the Second Vatican Council reminded us, “the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which her power flows. For the aim and object of apostolic works is that all who are made sons of God by faith and Baptism should come together to praise God in the midst of his Church, to take part in the sacrifice and to eat the Lord’s Supper” (“Sacrosanctum Concilium,” n. 10).
While the Sacred Liturgy, including the Holy Mass, is not the sole activity of the church, it is the source and summit of all her apostolic efforts. Therefore, concerns and questions relative to the liturgical life of the church are not the reserved domain of theologians and liturgists and their esoteric debates. The liturgy directly impacts how every Catholic understands their life of faith and how they live it out. Therefore, the Sacred Liturgy will always be a pertinent subject of concern and prayerful labor for all of God’s holy people.
Q: Why is it so important to be faithful to the Latin texts of the Mass? There’s nothing magical about Latin, and Jesus most certainly did not speak Latin in the upper room when he instituted the Eucharist. What’s the big deal?
A: The Christian faith is radically connected to the Incarnation. In the fullness of time, the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. Any proclamation of the Gospel that overlooks this is missing the keystone to the arch of the edifice of the faith. But this “enfleshment” of God’s Word continues to take place wherever the Gospel is proclaimed. When the good news of Christ’s lordship is received by a people, the Gospel animates, molds and elevates the culture that receives this message, and nature and grace are interwoven to create a rich tapestry of goodness, truth and beauty. Art is one way in which this dynamic, saving dialogue is manifested. Theology and liturgical prayer is another.
In the early years of the church, something truly remarkable happened. The Roman Empire accepted Christianity and adopted it as a state religion. Much has been made of this union of state and church, and how it changed the complexion of Christianity. Sometimes, it is even charged that this union brought with it predominantly unfortunate consequences. The awesome works of culture and theology that resulted from this union offer a different perspective, one that is profoundly positive and rooted in an awareness that God’s providence is always at work in history.
From this rich combination of Roman culture, Jewish traditions and, above all, the bold claims of faith, the Latin Church developed. Many of our liturgical prayers, though certainly not all, come from texts originally composed in Latin. What is more, the Latin-rite church has adopted the Latin language as her own, a language that is particularly well-suited to a church that is truly universal. The typical editions of the liturgical prayers of the church, whether this is the Mass, the baptismal rite, or any other rite or ritual of the Latin-rite church, is even today first of all released in Latin.
We need to be as certain as we can be that the expression of faith found in the liturgical prayers of the English edition of the Mass is the same as that found in the Spanish, German or any other translation. A greater fidelity to the Latin text, as called for by “Liturgiam Authenticam,” helps to better guarantee this unity of faith through our Catholic world.
Q: Does the new translation only affect English speakers in the United States?
A: The church’s principles of translating liturgical texts, outlined in the 2001 instruction “Liturgiam Authenticam,” are meant to be applied throughout the Latin-rite Catholic Church. This means there needs to be a new translation of the Mass in Spanish, French, Chinese, German and every other language in the world.
While the singular importance of English in the world market makes the English translation of the Missal especially important, every other language group in the world will need to implement new translations of their own liturgical texts. We are not alone in this historic process.
Q: Once the new translation of the Mass is implemented, what next?
A: “Liturgiam Authenticam” supplies the rules for translation not only for the Mass, but also for all of the other rites and sacraments of the church. This includes baptism, marriage and the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults rites. While we do not know the exact time when these new translations will be implemented, they are coming.
It may be worth mentioning here that the church works at a pace that is very different than that of the world. The church thinks in terms of decades and centuries, far different than the immediate results we expect as efficient Americans. The newly translated rites are coming, of that we can be sure. The timing of their release? That’s less than clear.
Category: New Roman Missal