'Listening' and the New Missal


So much of the focus on the new Roman Missal and its English translation has been on the people’s parts of the Mass.

For many months now, we’ve been hearing that we now will say things like “And with your spirit” instead of “And also with you” and “I believe” rather than “We believe,” among many other changes. Churches will provide pew cards with the exact words the people must say. “Consubstantial” will become a new word in modern Catholics’ vocabulary.

This is a major change in the Catholic Church, and we expect that there will be media attention. In some places, Catholics emerging from Mass on the First Sunday of Advent may be greeted by local reporters, asking for their reaction to the changes. Do you feel comfortable with the new way of saying things? Does it make you feel funny to have to say “Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault” while striking your breast three times? Do you wish things had remained simple, as they have been since 1969?

But the new translation of the Mass is as much about what we hear when we attend Mass as it is about what we are saying: the Eucharistic Prayers and the Propers — prayers that change according to the liturgical season or saints’ feast days.

Those prayers are a treasure trove of beautifully expressed petitions to God the Father, filled with poetic imagery that will help all in the Church “lift up their hearts to the Lord.”

Take, for example, the Prayer Over the Offerings for the Fourth Sunday of Advent:

May the Holy Spirit, O Lord,

sanctify these gifts laid upon your altar,

just as he filled with his power the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Through Christ our Lord …

Or this excerpt from the Second Eucharistic Prayer:

Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray,

by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall,

so that they may become for us

the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

According to the norms of Liturgiam Authenticam, the 2001 Vatican instruction on translating the liturgy into the vernacular, the Missal has been translated in a way that is more faithful to the original Latin — and thus of a character more fitting for worship of the Almighty, not in everyday language like what we’d hear at the coffee hour after Mass. It is closer to poetry or great prose.

These new translations are bound to provide for the soul something more akin to a feast than fast food. They contain expressions of prayer that one can savor, much as one can enjoy the taste of fine cuisine.

Thus, the new translation provides a richer opportunity for Catholics to listen with the heart, responding to the voice that is beyond the words, that is, the call of God, and entering more deeply into prayer. In this way, we can actively participate in the liturgy.

Bishop Edward Slattery of Tulsa, Okla., in a recent interview at NCRegister.com, observed: “Moreover, the announcement of the new translation has sparked an opportunity to renew our commitment to an active participation in the liturgy. We should come to the liturgy with an interior disposition that it is something which we can only receive. It is a gift from God. And, as part of our reception of that gift, we must listen with a loving heart to what God has to tell us.”

That takes some effort on our part. In a society where a multitude of concerns incessantly seek our attention, and when our attachment to tech devices — in an attempt to “stay connected” — often leads to a disconnect with those who are physically present, let alone with the Divine, we need to disconnect from the world as we make our way to church. Eastern Christians, both Orthodox and Catholic, sing the “Cherubic Hymn” in their Divine Liturgy as the priest brings in the bread and wine in a procession symbolic of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem: “Let us now lay aside all earthly cares.” Christians in the West sometimes sing something similar: “Let all mortal flesh keep silence ... ponder nothing earthly minded.”

That is the first requirement before we can listen at prayer. The effort we make in quieting our souls in the midst of a busy, noisy world can help us become “communicants” (in more than one sense), fully engaged with the greatest prayer of the Church, the Mass.

May we suggest, then, that we take advantage of this important change in the Church in the English-speaking world to recommit ourselves to an active participation in the liturgy. Rather than coming to church unprepared and unrecollected, as we so often do in our busy lives, and then just waiting for the “action” to begin on the part of the priest and other ministers, let us arrive a little earlier, open the Missal and read the proper prayers and Scripture readings of the day in a contemplative manner. Then, we will be more attuned to their meaning in the context of the Mass.

Taking the example above, the Prayer Over the Offerings for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, for instance, one can allow the imagery to draw one into a meditation on the similarity between the Incarnation, when the Holy Spirit overshadowed the Virgin of Nazareth, and the Consecration, when that same Spirit overshadows the gifts on the altar — gifts of bread and wine that come from “the work of our hands.”

Through these prayers, what does the Lord wish to tell us? Just as we might savor a good meal, let us take our time contemplating each prayer or reading that speaks in a special way to us at that moment.

Let it lead us into conversation with God.