Renewing the Liturgy

Bishop Robert Vasa, the new bishop of Santa Rosa, Calif., explains why the new Missal translation will be very good for the Church.

Bishop Robert Vasa is the bishop of Santa Rosa, Calif. Like all bishops throughout the country, he is planning to implement the new English translation of the Mass on the First Sunday of Advent.

Liturgy, the prayer of the Church, reveals our faith and our life. Liturgy is that timeless place where man encounters God in a communion of love. How we pray forms the foundation for how we believe.

Bishop Vasa spoke with Register correspondent Sue Ellen Browder about what the Church is trying to show us with the new translation.

What is liturgy?

The liturgy is the work of Jesus. It is the work of God in our midst. There has been a great emphasis since the 1960s on what we are doing for God as opposed to what Christ is doing for us. Liturgy lifts up the mind and heart to God; it puts us in contact with Jesus’ saving works and deeds. Liturgy takes us out of where we are and lifts us up into that place where we are not yet.

And what do these changes in liturgical language tell us?

When we study the language in the new translation, we see that it consistently shifts us into an acknowledgement of the otherness of God, the God who is not us.

It emphasizes the centrality of God and his grace, as opposed to the anthropocentric, man-centered approach, where we make it so much about us and what we’re doing. The elevation of language — the increased richness of the language — tells us this is not an ordinary, daily, routine event.

Some people say the new Gloria is too complicated.

Well, most people have to pick up the Gloria and read it anyway. Most of the Glorias we have sung in the Church in the last 20 years have been some sort of artistic rendition of the Gloria. To have a new standard translation and a mandate that this translation is to be used exclusively in written and in sung versions will actually make the “Glory to God” less complicated, because it’s going to insist on this translation and not something “equivalent to it,” especially when sung.

When we study the language in the new translation, what should we be looking for?

The new translation affords us an opportunity to look at the words in the Mass and ask, “How and why is this different?” I think if people do this, they will find that the new translation offers a great opportunity for deeper prayer and reflection. Sometimes that new translation will challenge our accustomed thought and behavior patterns and hopefully lead us to a deeper intimacy with Christ.

You said the new translation also restores some of the scriptural references, which were lost.

One very striking example for me is just after the “Lamb of God,” before we receive Communion: The priest holds up the Host and says, “This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are those who are called to his supper.”

I have always been moderately chagrined by the use here of the word “happy.” Somehow, just being “happy” about being called to the divine banquet of the Lord seems inadequate. For 40 years, we have been told that we should be happy to come to the Lord. Many words such as “overwhelmed,” “blessed,” “honored,” “humbled,” “ecstatic” or even “overjoyed,” in my opinion, get closer to describing the graced beauty of that to which we are called and our interior response, but what we have heard is “happy.”

The new translation says “Blessed are those called to the Supper of the Lamb.” Not just to a communal meal, but the supper of the Lamb: It’s the Last Supper, but it’s also this eternal supper, this eternal liturgy, coming into the presence of God.

Then, our current response is: “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word, and I shall be healed.” Fine. But we lose the Scripture connotation. I’ve asked kids as well as a number of adults, “Where is that found in Scripture?” And they do not know because the words denoting the scriptural context are absent. The Latin clearly states, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof.” Now, who said that in Scripture? The Centurion.

The full response in the new translation is: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.”

As opposed to simply “and I shall be healed.”

Yes, it’s a different emphasis on who you are as a person. This is not just for the health of your body. This is not so you can go away from here feeling good. This is for your spiritual enrichment. ...

What do you hope the ultimate effect of these liturgical changes will be within the Church?

That we re-establish a sense of liturgy as that moment of encounter with God, of coming into the presence of the truly sacred and truly holy.

In the liturgy for confirmation, the last phrase of the bishop’s prayer over the candidates is: “Fill them with the Spirit of wonder and awe in your presence.” When was the last time you came to Sunday Mass and came away saying, “I have been filled with the Spirit of wonder and awe”? We literally cannot say that, because it hasn’t been our experience.

Somehow our liturgies have to reclaim that. We need to approach liturgy with the sense of reverence that inculcates within us a deep sense of prayerfulness, worship and tranquility, a sense of the presence of God. I believe the new translation moves us a little closer to this needed sense of reverence.

Sue Ellen Browder writes from Ukiah, California.