The new liturgical dispensation has shown it yet again rising to the challenge
Now that the new translation of the Mass is a matter, not of asking “why do we need it”? – (a question which has produced over the last few years a multiplicity of articles comparing the old and new translations) – but of getting on with the practical business of using the new texts, we find ourselves in an entirely new situation.
The explications, comparing old and new, are mostly over now. If, for the sake of interest, you want a good example, have a look at this article from 2010 by the excellent Bishop Peter Elliott, entitled “Why we need the new translation of the Mass”. But really, all that’s done with now. The old translation is beginning to fade in our memories; remembering to say “And with your spirit” is getting to be second nature (for my American readers, who only changed over at the beginning of Advent, perhaps I need to say that we in England have now been using the new translation for a couple of months). The actual launch of the new Mass in our parishes, with the people at first using cards giving just the people’s parts, and then the new Mass booklets, followed by the arrival of the new weekly missal and soon of the big heavy daily missal, has brought a situation in which it is now up to us all to benefit as best we can from the undoubted riches and wider spiritual prospects of the new liturgical dispensation.
In all this, the Catholic Truth Society is demonstrating yet again how vital it is to the maintenance of the faith in this country. It isn’t just that without it we wouldn’t have the new liturgical books we now need: I suppose some other way would have been found of getting the texts to the parishes. Someone else would produce altar missals and people’s missals and Mass booklets of a sort. But I very much doubt whether the whole thing would have been pulled off remotely as well and as stylishly as it has. We take the CTS for granted; we should recognise it more than we do for what it is: one of the great treasures of the English Church.
The CTS hasn’t just produced Mass booklets and the Sunday Missal (of which more presently), but a series of their explanatory booklets on the Mass, timed to service the introduction of the new translation. The most important of these are “Understanding the Roman Missal” by Dom Cuthbert Johnson OSB, and (something of a coup) a “Companion to the Order of Mass” by Mgr Bruce Harbert, former executive director of ICEL, whose appointment as such was an unmistakable sign that this time Rome meant business, and that ICEL was about to change radically from being a staunch defender of the old philosophy of liturgical translation as reductionist paraphrase to the new one of faithfulness – linguistic and doctrinal – to the Latin texts. As editor of the Catholic Herald, I published a splendidly combative article by him after the publication by John Paul II of Liturgiam Authenticam, in which the late Holy Father insisted (§4) that
The vocabulary chosen for liturgical translation must be at one and the same time easily comprehensible to ordinary people and also expressive of the dignity and oratorical rhythm of the original: a language of praise and worship which fosters reverence and gratitude in the face of God’s glory. The language of these texts is, therefore, not intended primarily as an expression of the inner dispositions of the faithful but rather of God’s revealed word and his continual dialogue with his people in history.
I asked the then Fr Harbert to begin his Herald piece by answering a simple question: will Liturgiam Authenticam actually change our liturgy? His answer was equally simple. “The answer is yes; provided those responsible for our liturgy follow these useful guidelines, there will be changes.” But would they? That was the question. Rome answered it by appointing him to implement the process of change.
So I was rather hoping that Mgr Harbert’s Companion would go over some of the comparative arguments for the new texts (I have to admit that I found that phase of the process fascinating: and he was, after all, the translator-in-chief). But no: all that’s over now; it’s time to move on: his pamphlet is a rich and informative guide to the Mass itself. The nearest to an apologia for the new translation over against the old is to be found, in passing, in Dom Cuthbert’s booklet, where he points out tartly that “in modern liturgical languages Et cum Spiritu tuo has been translated And with Your spirit. Italian: “E con il tuo spiritu”; Spanish: “Y con tu espiritu”; French: “Et avec votre espirit; German: “Und mit deinem Geiste.” “English,” comments Dom Cuthbert, “does not need to be an exception”, something many of us have been saying for years.
But we don’t need to say it now ever again: all that’s over. Now, we have a new liturgical reality: it’s time to move forward. And so, on to the new weekly missal, which I have been using now for two weeks, and which has transformed my experience of the liturgy. I am lucky enough to be able to go to the Latin High Mass at the Oxford Oratory: and one difference between this missal and the old one, as I have already written, is that it’s equally useful if you go to Mass in English or Latin: proper prayers in the two languages appear in parallel columns, and being able to follow the texts together is just as informative and spiritually nutritious whichever language the Mass is celebrated in. A bit of a gripe here in passing: though the propers – collect, prayer over the gifts, post-Communion prayers and so on, appear in both languages, the responsorial psalm and alleluias are given only in English. Why is that?
I could have done with more than two ribbons: you need to mark your pages in at least four places before the Mass starts, so that you’re not scrabbling around finding, say, the seasonal proper preface or the Eucharistic prayer after they have already started: but you can always do what always has been done, and use prayer-cards as extra bookmarks. It would have been nice to have some of the old prayers of preparation and thanksgiving printed at the beginning and end of the missal; but one can simply carry on doing what one has always done, one doesn’t need to be spoon-fed.
All in all, I wouldn’t now be without my Sunday missal, and if you haven’t done so already, I really do recommend that you get one. You can get it from CTS here or quite likely at the back of church if you have a bookstall. The standard smart bright red edition is £18, but I think if the CTS hadn’t kindly sent me a review copy I would have bought the burgundy leather-covered version in its protective box cover for £25: very nice looking and I have no doubt tactile. But all that’s really beside the point; it’s what’s inside that I think you can’t afford to be without: that is beyond the price of rubies.