The Mass: ever ancient, ever new

I rarely comment on liturgy, not because I am uninterested or lack any opinions (far from it!), but because I am sometimes uneasy about the way in which the subject is discussed. The introduction yesterday of a new translation of the Mass has prompted a few thoughts, however.

The language of prayer used in church has always an objective character. It is not a question of ‘what works for me’ but of what expresses the Church’s faith. It is, if you like, theology turned into poetry and drama. The words matter; the actions matter; the setting matters. It is a holy sacrifice in which we are called to share; so what we are matters, too. Every form of Mass sanctioned by the Church is, in the most literal sense, traditional: something precious handed on through the generations — one with every other Mass that ever has been or ever could be celebrated, one with the sacrifice of Calvary itself. Sometimes I think we forget that. Because we are interested in liturgy, because we enjoy the ‘doing’ of it, we treat liturgy like anything else, allowing ourselves a freedom I’m not sure we actually have. Liturgy in the Catholic Church is a ‘given’: one that requires whole-hearted collaboration and provides endless scope for true creativity (note the emphasis) of course, but a ‘given’ nonetheless.

We have decided in community that we shall say nothing, good or bad, about the new translation until six months have elapsed. If anyone is familiar with the Latin texts and has some years’ experience of liturgical translation, it is important to lay aside any prejudices or preconceived notions. We need to see the Mass with fresh eyes; listen to it with fresh ears. Discussion can get in the way of that, and with the approval of the new translation, the time for discussion is in any case effectively over.

Liturgical discussions often turn nasty because they are not really about liturgy at all. They are an excuse to vent negative feelings, using an irreproachable subject as pretext. The Mass is too important for that, too holy for that. Maybe over the next six months we shall have an opportunity not only to rediscover the Mass but also to discover something new about ourselves, too. The one thing you can be absolutely sure of is that the more we seek to know God, the more we get to know ourselves.


6 thoughts on “The Mass: ever ancient, ever new”

  1. I really like the idea of saying nothing for six months. At my Parish we’re starting to use the new translation from this morning for weekday Masses and in a fortnight for Sundays. I feel … I think … I am a swirling mass of thinking and feeling but shall also choose to say nothing!

  2. I like it very much. To me it made the language more understandable and more pure and more reverent. Do you know of any where on line I could read the Eucharisitc prayer

  3. We have been using the new translation in South Africa for a while now & I can safely say it would have been wise for us to also have been silent for a while before commenting, especially in our local catholic paper.
    For me, it has meant being more attentive in Mass & somehow re-learning to appreciate the beauty & message it gives us.

  4. I had been wondering if changes were only for America or all English speaking countries. My parish gave folks a chance to listen to and vote on new Mass settings. I went in thinking that I would dislike it, and the new ones would just not be the same. I was right, they weren’t the same, but in some ways were easier to sing. I now am eager for when the group I play with starts back up in a month or so. The Diocese of Fort Worth has given permission to “sneak” new Mass settings in occasionally before the official start at the new liturgical year.

  5. When I were but a wee slip of a novice, my monastery moved to a new dispensation of the psalms for the Office requiring, among others, that there would be different psalms for Compline each night instead of the set and known three that everyone had happily chanted in the dark for centuries

    We young ‘uns were incandescent with rage, banging about the cloister and fulminating about bloody liturgists and all their cursed dark arts.

    But the olds utterly took it in their stride – under obedience if nothing else – and you could not tell in choir by one flicker of a cowl that they were hurting inside at the loss of a lifetime of worship.

    That’s the way to do it. Mind you, I fail every time. Anyone daring to offer me a handshake during Mass gets a stern “Et cum spiritu tuo buddy!”

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