Monday, November 21, 2011

The Kingship of Jesus in our lives

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.


  1. Hi,

    Not sure if you've met any but I'm one of those who have benefited from the new mass. I really like how some of the wordings changed to become more freeing and also more informative - eg " and with your spirit" and "sth that says Jesus existed since the beginning of time". The Latin like tune to which we put the world also does give me a holy atmosphere. I am able to pray.


  2. Hi Fr. Luke,

    Back in the days when I was in primary school Mass was always in Latin. I may not have understood evey single word but there was always a sense of "otherworldliness," and a deep sense of mystery about the Mass. I could not help but feel that something awesome (how I dislike the modern use of that word) was taking place.

    Yesterday at Mass Fr. JJ chanted various parts of the liturgy, and so did the choir in response. Looks like this will be the norm at Our Lady star of the sea parish from now on. For most part, we (the congregation) tried to sing along in unison albeit a little hesitantly. (With a little more practice we should be getting in sync before too long, I hope).

    I believe that any change that will bring about that sense of timelessness with regards to the Mass is a step in the right direction. Yes, it will take some getting used to; but then nothing of great worth ever comes easily, does it?

    God Bless,

  3. ‘’ ......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? .....’’

    Yes, I’ve heard this bandied about -within church precinct and without and I’ve often been so tempted to retort that – if that is the case, then one should attend mass in one’s birthday suit, since that’s ‘ how we we are’ ?

    However, in not so light-hearted a vein, if we were to consider a loving relationship with God ( or anyone for that matter) – it can never be a one-way affair. It is true that God loves us as we are ( warts & all) but what about us truly loving God back ? If we truly love someone, will we not want to give him/her honour and pleasure by our conduct and dressing ? I’ve always been deeply moved by Ezekiel ( 16:8-14) where it tells of how God so lovingly and richly clothed His “faithless bride’’ – (Israel)........
    Somehow it seems to me that God is showing us that clothes do give man much dignity and identity and enhances the inner beauty of man. His words to Israel after dressing her up were,..... ‘You grew exceedingly beautiful, fit to be a queen....’ and is - thus the (befitting) beloved of the King ?

    So perhaps with the use of a more ‘regal speech’ in the new translation of the Mass Order this Advent onwards, we will also try to be attired in our Sunday best, befitting a royal banquet ?

    God bless you, Fr

  4. The responses of the congregation reflected in the new translation are just so rich & so beautiful. To me, they are not just my personal responses but they are also responses from other people who had lived through the centuries of scriptures. So we are all making the same responses, now as it was then, through the years. The humbling words of the centurion, "Lord, I am not worthy that thou should come under my roof but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed" still never fails to bring tears to my eyes each time I say it.

    Thank you, Father, for your sharing.

  5. First and foremost, I don't like the music of the new translation. Then again, there is always hope that new music will emerge.

    Other than that, I actually like the new translation. To appreciate the new translation, one should not look at it as it is "reverting back to be closer to Latin". Instead, one should view the new translation as having the mass celebrated in a richer language. Like you said, we are bringing regality back.

    Found the above article on "Why We Need the New Translation of the Mass?" It is a good read.

    Personally, I particularly like "by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall". Here, I don't think the church is asking us for the scientific explanation how dew is formed vis-a-vis to explanation how the Holy Spirit transforms the bread and wine. Instead it is giving us an imagery of dew suddenly appearing out of nowhere onto the leaves in the morning. What a romantic way to describe the mystery of transubstantiation.