The Mass you knew is almost over. You get one more year. Then, on the First Sunday of Advent, 2011, the English translation of the Roman Missal will change, to more exactly reflect the Latin on which it is based.
The act of retranslation is political–never disinterested, never neutral. It has always been so. Liturgies carry messages, and the messages bid you obey the messenger. Lex orandi, lex credendi. As you pray, so you believe.
When Pope Paul VI promulgated the Novus Ordo in 1970, deputizing the bishops to prepare translations for their cultural contexts, the message was this: the old Tridentine rite is fossilized. Let in the fresh air.
When Pope Benedict XVI pressed for the new English version, the message was this: there is too much fresh air. You might get spring fever. Shut your windows.
I have not looked at everything yet, but I did peruse the Order of Mass with a kind of calm, bemused horror. Formulas we young adult Catholics have used all our lives will go. Latin is returning in a curious English patois.
The Lord will no longer be with you, but with your spirit (et cum spiritu tuo). Words long fallen into liturgical disuse return with an insistence (“oblation,” “incarnate,” “consubstantial with the Father,” “brethren”). You will sin not merely through your own fault, but through your fault, through your fault, through your most grievous fault (mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa).
We typically proclaim that “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” That option for the Memorial Acclamation wasn’t even reformulated. It just disappeared.
The blood of Christ, currently “shed for you and for all,” will henceforth be “poured out for you and for many.” The Latin multis, or “many,” isn’t itself objectionable—since Latin lacks articles, it could mean “the many” or “the multitudes,” not so far from “all.” But the English will just say “many.” That makes me wonder who Jesus, advised by the Magisterium, has apparently decided he’s leaving out.
Eucharistic Prayer III, one of the more familiar options, takes a beating. We will stop asking God to “strengthen in faith and love your pilgrim church on earth.” Instead, God is rather primly “pleased to confirm [the church] in faith and charity.”
The church will be confirmed in faith and charity not with “all the bishops,” but with “the Order of Bishops,” better matching the official phrasing cum episcopali ordine. This seems calculated to emphasize that the bishops are not like you and me, much the way F. Scott Fitzgerald observed that the very rich are not like you and me.
But wait, there’s more. For years, God would “welcome into his kingdom our departed brothers and sisters and all who left this world in his friendship.” The brothers and sisters stay in, but otherwise, he will now “give kind admittance” to “all who were pleasing” to him “at their passing.” God sounds like a vaguely persnickety staffer at some cosmic ticket booth, perhaps located in Edwardian Britain.
The Vatican obviously never considered all the contexts in which we celebrate Mass, never tried this on a crowd at an overnight high school retreat, never used it at a peace vigil. There is nothing about slavish adherence to Latin that conveys God’s essence always and everywhere.
I am increasingly baffled by ecclesiastical maneuvers conducted by ivory tower generals who have zero contact with the boots on the ground. Still, I have always found a place somewhere in Catholicism’s official culture, and I expect I will continue to do so.
But not everyone is me. There are others, and not just the cardboard “fallen-away” or “secular relativist” targets. I know people who are engaged with their faith, but who can hardly bring themselves to go to Mass. A profusion of lifeless parishes, various experiences of exclusion, the suspicion that the male priest embodies not Christ but patriarchy—these are reasons I have heard and honored.
Such folks are at the margins, where Jesus lurked. They deserve a pastoral response. They need a God who speaks to them where they are, as Jesus spoke in Aramaic to his Galilean disciples. They know the Last Supper looked nothing like the Mass as we have it now, let alone this upcoming “reform of the reform.” And they have their limits.
Jesus is the bread of life. More people will now distance themselves from that bread. And Jesus, with his jaundiced eye for those who babble long prayers, thinking they will be heard because of their many words (Matthew 6:7), will not hold them responsible. He will hold the bishops and the Pope responsible.