Today, the Roman Catholic Church observes the last Sunday in the liturgical year A, and we anticipate a couple of things in the coming Sunday. Firstly, we look forward to a new liturgical year B with the celebration of the first Sunday of Advent. Secondly, and rather historically, we will begin officially using the new translation of the Roman Missal, which will take effect throughout the English-speaking world. So, whether one is going to be participating in an English Eucharistic celebration in Sydney, Singapore, Seattle or Shanghai, the Order of Mass of the Roman Rite will be in the new translation.
To be sure, there are thousands, if not millions who are in a tizzy about this change. Many aren’t even clear about why this is happening, let alone that it is happening (for those who have not been going to Mass for the past 6 to 9 months).
It’s not that it is a new Mass Order. It is a new translation of the Mass Order. “A translation from what?” you may ask. Well, it is a third translation of the Mass of Pope Paul VI, which we have been using all this while it was promulgated in 1969, after the Second Vatican Council. The version that we had been so familiar with all these past years is the second translation (commonly referred to as the Novus Ordo). The original text was in Latin, and we had been using the official English translation of it.
“What’s wrong with the old one?” you may ask. The common response to this from official and quasi-official bodies have been that it is not so much that it had anything wrong, but that the second translation (which most of us had grown up with) was very much a watered-down version, putting aside and losing a lot of the richness in worship-lingo and analog that the Latin had.
In his website, American Theologian Rev Fr Robert Barron recently gave a commentary on this, and I liked what he said, particularly about how the richness of the Latin had been lost through the loose and free translation of the Mass of Paul VI. Apparently, the Novus Ordo was rather hastily put together after Vatican II, so that the English-speaking world could get access to the Mass in English.
The Latin language had the ability to bring the congregation into the ambience of the royal court. With the Latin, we were made aware of the courtliness of being in the presence of the King of the Universe. But this whole mentality is completely lost in the English translation of the Mass of Paul VI. We only see glimpses of this when the Eucharistic Preface introduces the Sanctus, where we are invited to join the choirs of angels in their unending hymn of praise, whereupon we break into spontaneous “Holy, holy, holy Lord”.
Is it important to bring back regality? Isn’t it good to introduce simplicity and familiarity? I’m won’t be too quick to jump to an affirmative answer to these questions. As a priest who has tried in so many ways to impart to the people just how rich the Mass is, I think that the people in general are just not convinced that it is meant to be rich. Some have suggested that priests like I have injected into it what was not there. Perhaps they need to see phrases like “we beg” or “we beseech” actually in print to come to some sort of realization that we are not using ordinary language, because we are not addressing someone ordinary.
Where does this allergy towards high authority come from? There are many possible reasons. Perhaps some of them have something to do with the fact that in the past 40 to 50 years, many countries had freed themselves out of imperialism or control by foreign powers. The struggle and craving for independence had caused many to disdain any vestiges of ‘foreign influence’, and I can understand how the fight had left many scarred, battered and bruised. So, when the Novus Ordo was released with a lot of ‘everyday language’, it was seen as something fresh, pleasing to the ear, and most importantly, no longer with any traces of the loftiness that a direct translation would have rendered.
What is the current sentiment towards the new translation that is going to be implemented? Often, they run into the area of feelings. “I don’t feel like I am praying”, or “This is just so unnatural for me”, or “Why are we reversing, when we should be going forward”, or the more telling “I believe that we are making a terrible step back instead of progressing”. These sentiments, though very real, are unfortunately also very revealing. It tells of a generation that wants things to be done according to how they are feeling, and almost demands that things be “relevant” to THEM.
Is it any wonder then, that the Church has had a great deal of problems with worshippers turning up for Mass slovenly dressed and with nary a care for how they comport themselves, let alone interact and respect their fellow worshipper? Does it surprise me or anyone else that there are thousands of parishioners the world over who would say that it is ok to turn up for Mass in shorts and slippers or a tank-top, because God loves us as we are, and that clothes do not maketh the man? No. It doesn’t surprise me, because we have made ourselves and our comfort and our standards (which are anything but high) the centre of everything, including worship at Mass.
We need to be reminded over and over again that every Mass is a great invitation to meet the King of the Universe. It requires of us a different mind, a different attitude and a different heart to dare to contemplate and to share in His Divine life. The language that is used at Mass needs to help us to awaken to the fact that God is not on our level, and instead, draws us toward him. We are not meeting a mere familiar friend (though He is that AND more), someone we pay scant attention to, or worse, an indifferent and aloof personage who seems to be needy of our attention and worship. The more we are aware of this awesome (the word used here is deliberate) reality, the less we will be irritated about how different our language is in church, and become increasingly thankful for entering into mystery, almost welcoming the fact that we are privy to participate in this kind of worship language that is of a special nature.
The common phrase people who are resistant to change often use is “if it ain’t broke, why fix it?” Well, in this case, though it “ain’t broke”, it also wasn’t adequately done in the first place. That’s why it needs ‘fixing’.
The Solemnity that we celebrate today (yesterday for my Singaporean friends) is aptly called Christ the Universal King. We have been invited to kingship, but perhaps we have forgotten just how privileged we are. I pray that the spirit of the new translation of the Roman Missal will help ‘fix back’ our somewhat scattered royalty.