On the first Sunday of Advent, we will begin using the new English translation of the Roman Missal. Catholics in English-speaking dioceses will embark on a new adventure that will transform the way they pray and will restore the beauty and richness of the Eucharistic liturgy.
This new translation will, I hope, play a key role in what Pope John Paul II called the new evangelization—a revitalizing of our Catholic identity and, if not a renewal of the Christian roots of our culture, at least the formation of what Pope Benedict XVI called creative minorities, strong communities acting as leaven upon the wider, increasingly secularist and relativist society around us.
These anniversaries have prompted me to reflect on the meaning of this new translation in the context of my own half-century serving the Church and of the other anniversaries, which evoke memories of the missionary passion that built our Christian culture and that is now in need of rekindling.
There is a saying,Lex orandi, Lex credendi, which is the principle that as we worship, so do we believe. Some might add another principle—Lex vivendi. As we believe so shall we live. This principle captures my hope that the new English missal will help reform a strong Catholic identity for us as Christians, one decade into the third millennium.
The changes in the texts of the Mass prayers—the ordinary (those we pray at every Eucharist) and the proper (prayers unique to each feast or saint's day)—offer many teaching opportunities to deepen our understanding of the faith handed down by the Apostles.
The beauty of the liturgy, it is hoped, will help us to enter more deeply into the Supper of the Lamb, into a renewed form of worship that raises us up to Heaven, instead of trying to bring Heaven down to our level or create a God in our image. For, to be sure, God wants to remake us in His own image.
This new translation will help Catholics in recovering a sense of the majesty and awe in the Roman rite and deepen their understanding of the Eucharistic mystery as the once-and-for-all sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross. Using beautiful language to praise and glorify God will remind us that the liturgy is about the worship of God and not about ourselves.
The new liturgical translation offers a different, higher register for our worship: it uses sacral language that is different from what we might use at a pub or hockey arena to remind us that we are addressing God the Father, Christ His Son and the Holy Spirit, whom we worship and adore.
Though the 1974 English translation of the Roman Missal was impressive for its time, it was done in a hurry and in accord with the translation principle of "dynamic equivalence" that was popular then. In hindsight, this resulted in an impoverished version of the Latin original. The new translation tries to be both close to the Latin original yet fresh at the same time.
Many rich biblical images in the Roman Missal were lost or softened in the earlier version. For example, in the Third Eucharistic Prayer, the original Latin's "from the rising of the sun to its setting" was changed to "from east to west," losing the allusion to the prophecy of Malachi 1:11, foretelling the Eucharistic sacrifice ("for from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is great among the nations, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering" NRSV translation).
The restoration of biblical imagery, attenuated for example in Preface 1 of the Sundays in Ordinary Time, will strengthen the laity's identity as God's holy people. The new text reads: "For through his Paschal Mystery, He accomplished the marvelous deed, by which He has freed us from the yoke of sin and death, summoning us to the glory of being now called a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of your own possession, to proclaim everywhere your mighty works, for you have called us out of darkness into your own wonderful light." Additionally, the closing words of this Preface stress angelic participation in God's glorious praise by restoring the contracted "with all the choirs of angels in heaven" to its original fulsome declaration, "with Angels and Archangels, with Thrones and Dominions, and with all the Hosts and Powers of Heaven!"
Likewise, reference to the centurion's confession makes each communicant voice his humble and faithfilled words to Jesus a few moments before receiving Holy Communion: "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed" (Luke 7:6-7). Compare these words with the current text: "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed."
It is possible that well-intentioned ecumenical efforts to bring liturgical reform highlighting similarities among Christian faith traditions played some part in the choice of language. The unintended consequence may have been to lead us to a softening of Catholic understandings of the Mass as a sacrifice. The substitution in Catholic parlance of a table for an altar, a cup for a chalice, a plate for a paten may have diminished the sacral sense of the liturgy with the consequent diminishment of awe before the sacred mysteries. A notable and striking change in the new translation is the word "chalice" in the words of institution said over the wine about to be transformed into the blood of Christ: "In a similar way, when supper was ended, he took the chalice, and, giving thanks, he said the blessing and gave the chalice to his disciples, saying, 'Take this, all of you, and drink from it, for this is the chalice of my blood, the Blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in memory of me.'"
Have such seemingly minor changes, cumulatively, brought about a diminished sense of the understanding of the Real Presence in the Eucharist? Sadly, studies show that many Catholics, even those who regularly attend church on Sundays, have lost a measure of their full belief in Christ's Real Presence—Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity—in the Blessed Sacrament.
Georgetown University's Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate 2008 survey of Catholics in the United States revealed 57 per cent believe Jesus Christ is truly present in the changed Eucharistic bread and wine. The Catholic doctrine of "transubstantiation" (trans meaning "through," and substantia meaning "substance or essence") is a term used to explain theologically how Jesus can be present in the bread and wine in the Eucharist, how the substances (meaning the essences) of bread and wine are changed by the working of the Holy Spirit at the words of consecration into the body and blood of Christ while their outward species, or forms, remain the same. Catholics should understand that Jesus Christ is really, but invisibly, present in what looks like bread and wine even as the appearance of the bread and wine are preserved.
In the northeastern United States, which includes former Catholic bastions such as Boston and New York, the number dropped to 48 per cent; thus the majority of Catholics believe that the bread and wine are only symbols. The survey also showed that from 2001 to 2008, the number of Catholics who believe Jesus is not really present rose from 37 per cent to 43 per cent.
Yet it was that Eucharistic spirituality, so alive in my Montreal childhood, that drew me to Christ and became the first evidence of God's call on my life to the ordained priesthood. Belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament prompted our teachers to encourage us to make "visits" to Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and, in time, led me to be open to a call to serve the Church.
And this relationship of the Eucharist to the priesthood is key. With a dilution of the mystery of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass has come a diminishment of the nature of the ordained priesthood and of the role of the priest as an alter christus, representing Christ as our one and only High Priest, representing the people to God and God to the people. If the Catholic understanding is lost, and the Mass becomes only a symbolic exercise that is repeated over and over again, believers lose the deeper significance of the ordained male priesthood and vocations dry up as a result. When dioceses hurry to fill the vocational void with professional laypersons, the problem becomes compounded. We must remember that without the priest there is no Eucharist.
The proper translation of the Latin from the former "and also with you" to "and with your spirit" may help remind Catholics about the ontological significance of the priestly character—and at the very least offers us teaching opportunities. In effect, the expression now accurately translated as "and with your spirit" is an acknowledgement by the congregation of the grace and presence of Christ, who is present and operative in the spirit or soul of the celebrant. Christ's Spirit is present in the priest in a unique way by virtue of his ordination. The priest or bishop who celebrates Mass is configured to Christ by the Sacrament of Holy Orders. The Spirit of Christ is in him in a unique way that is unlike any other non-ordained member of the congregation. The priest acts in persona Christi; that is, Christ personally ministers through him in such a way that we say that Christ is the true priest and celebrant of every Mass. The phrase "and with your spirit" is an acknowledgment and statement of faith in this fact. The congregation says, in effect, "We acknowledge the Spirit, presence and grace of Christ in your spirit, Father."
And we as bishops need to avail ourselves of those opportunities to teach the Catholic faith in its entirety, as a unified body of doctrine, a revealed religion based on the eyewitness accounts of the first Apostles. The introduction of the new liturgy may give us some wonderful opportunities to reignite a love of Christ through the fullness of our faith tradition as we learn why we are praying differently. This could also be an antidote to what University of Lethbridge sociologist Reginald W. Bibby has observed about the religious scene in Canada. In his latest book, Beyond the Gods and Back, Bibby describes Catholics as picking and choosing which parts of their faith they will believe.
At the same time, his research shows that Catholic identity remains high even in Quebec, where church attendance is the lowest.
"Yes, Catholics have become selective consumers," Bibby writes. "But the research to date is definitive: most people in the province remain Catholic and are not going anywhere. Lack of commitment understandably troubles leaders. But widespread defection is not on the horizon. Religion à la carte, Catholic-style, rules in Quebec."
As bishops we should be troubled, because when individual Catholics begin acting as if they are their own authority, they may lose the thrust of the life-giving, life-transforming message of the Gospel. If Lex vivendi truly applies—and I believe it does—then when belief in Catholic truth becomes eclipsed by popular postmodern ideas, people lose the ability to lead the kind of virtuous lives that are only attainable through the power of the Holy Spirit, who continually points us to Christ. Being Catholic is more than being part of a tribe or having a cultural identity. It is about a faith that changes lives and makes them more like Jesus'.
Growing up in Quebec in the late '40s and '50s, I had a vivid experience of growing up in a culture shaped by the Catholic faith, where our Catholic identity was in the air we breathed. Our family rosary in the evenings (practised on and off but still a significant aspect of our faith life) paralleled the practice of French Canadian neighbours who listened on the radio to Cardinal Paul-Émile Léger leading Montrealers in the recitation of the rosary at night after the family had washed the supper dishes.
When I entered the Jesuits at the age of 17, the Latin Mass was all we knew, and much of it was unreflected, simply the fruit of practice. I had relished the role of being an altar server, even acting as emcee from time to time, following the Latin text and, as a result of my high-school courses, translating to myself as the priest sang the preface or recited the prayers. I run into many people who have the mistaken view that everything in the Church prior to the Second Vatican Council was bad, that the Church, especially in Quebec, was without exception authoritarian, dictatorial and clericalist.
Though I am not hearkening to recreate that era, it does not deserve the bleak reputation it has in some circles. Perhaps because our Irish Catholic parish was a double minority—most francophones were Catholic and most anglophones were Protestant—we were close to our parish's three priests, and though they were widely different in personality and approach, we generally found them approachable and likeable. Society as a whole was different then and much more authoritarian than today, when even rightful authority is distrusted and sometimes disrespected. The Church then was no exception and there might have been too much deference to clergy and bishops who might have abused their power and hurt people, even beyond the horrors of the sexual abuse scandals. There were already signs that the imperial model of the Church and top-down authority structures were fragile—perhaps because faith imposed from the outside and memorized, or moral principles taught as a set of rules to follow, is not the same thing as a holy three anniversaries and a new beginning life of virtue animated by the Holy Spirit. People going through the motions of the faith, going to Church because they felt they had to, spelled hypocrisy to the generation of the '60s that threw off the traces.
Pope John XXIII hoped the Second Vatican Council would open the doors and windows to refresh the Church and make its message easier for the modern world to grasp. He used the term aggiornamento, meaning bringing up to date, to explain the Council's pastoral aims. I had a sense that I had much to learn about the richness of our Catholic faith as the novitiate presentations opened us to the theology behind the Mass and the biblical foundations of our faith, which were largely unknown to me. Later, the bringing up to date of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius would illumine Jesuits on how meagre had become the manner in which this spiritual treasure was handed on, more like class lessons than an approach that helped each individual seek and find God's will.
Many theologians, including Pope Benedict XVI, then Father Joseph Ratzinger, a peritus, or advisor, to the Council, and Jesuit Father Henri de Lubac, urged the Church to renew its theological underpinnings by going back to the original sources, a movement called ressourcement. Theology had become stuck in many seminaries on a mind-deadening medieval scholasticism, rationalism and rote learning that needed the fresh winds of the Holy Spirit and a revival of what the Church had always taught through a fresh reading of the early Church Fathers. Jesuits who had made the Spiritual Exercises at St. Beuno's in Wales enriched us greatly; the instructor in the last year of formation—the so-called third year of novitiate known as tertianship—had guided them individually in praying the mysteries of the life of Christ and the Ignatian meditations, tailoring them to each retreatant's personal spiritual circumstances rather than presenting hours of prepared one-size-fits-all conferences for the "generic Jesuit" who, of course, did not exist.
As a young Jesuit, I recall being caught up in the ferment of the time. When I arrived at seminary, I wore the distinct Jesuit cassock and, after I took my first vows, a clerical collar. So did everyone else, though we showed our individuality by how we wore the cincture, or belt. By the time I was ordained 11 years later, in 1972, the Latin was being replaced in stages by the Novus Ordo Mass, and two years later I, like everyone else, was celebrating what I only later discovered was the hurried and rather thin English translation of the new Roman rite. (Sometimes on my travels, I had occasion to compare the French Prions en Eglise and the English Living with Christ missalettes and noticed that, though they appeared to be from a common base text, they differed considerably. However, like most priests, I did not have the time to check the Latin base text; like most, I accepted the texts the Church gave us.)
As I approached ordination, and in the early years afterwards, the effects of the Quiet Revolution in Quebec began emptying the churches and seminaries there; a similar effect, the result of the changed expectations regarding the roles of the priesthood and the laity, had an unsettling impact on my peers, many of whom left the Society of Jesus or other religious congregations and seminaries. Paradoxically, this only served to remind me that my loyalty first of all was to Christ, who had called me and who, I knew, would be faithful, giving me the graces I needed to persevere.
In 2002, Pope John Paul II introduced a revision of the Roman Missal, requiring a new translation. The International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) began the laborious process of translating the texts and seeking consultation from the various episcopal conferences in English-speaking countries. In 2003, Cardinal Francis Arinze invited me to join a group of senior bishops on Vox Clara, a worldwide group advising the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments on the translations the ICEL produced. Thus, I witnessed the developments as the bishops in Canada, the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom and elsewhere pored over the translations, suggested changes and moved toward a consensus.
At one stage a sticking point surfaced: the translation of pro multis in the words of institution over the cup of wine. Would it remain "for all" in the new translation or should it be changed to "for many." Even our Vox Clara committee could not reach a definitive conclusion, so the decision was passed along to the Holy Father. He, as is properly his responsibility in determining sacramental formulas, decided that the proper translation in English and other languages would be "for many" (preserved almost exclusively by the French with "pour la multitude").