Sunday, November 13, 2011

Getting Ready for the First Sunday of Advent 2011

In place of a regular Sunday homily, Fr. Ray made the following comments this morning on the revised prayers of the Roman
Missal . . .

What exactly will be happening on the first Sunday of Advent?

Well, very simply, some of the prayers of the Mass will be changing.  Most of the changes will be slight and hardly noticeable, but the changes to some prayers of the Mass (like the Gloria and the Creed) will be extensive.  They will take some getting used to.  (But don’t feel too bad, we priests have even more changes to deal with than you do!)

Now please keep in mind: the structure of the Mass isn’t changing, the two basic parts of the Mass are not changing, only some of the prayers within the Mass are. 


It’s because all the English prayers we use at Mass are translations from the Latin originals.  The Latin originals are contained in a big book known as the Roman Missal.  The Sacramentary—that big, red book that the priest prays from at the altar—is the current English translation of the Roman Missal.  It’s been around since the 1970s.  It will be replaced in a few weeks with the revised version.

But why is this necessary?  Can’t we leave ‘well enough’ alone?  Well, here’s how one recently published instructional pamphlet explained it:

“For centuries Catholics prayed the Mass only in Latin.  After the Second Vatican Council [in the 1960s] the liturgical texts were translated for the first time into the vernacular or language of the local people.  The groups involved in the translation process worked under pressure to complete their job quickly.  They translated using the principles of dynamic equivalence.  This approach to translation attempts to convey the overall meaning of the original Latin text rather than giving a word-for-word translation, an approach known as formal equivalence.  Now that we have had more than 40 years experience of using these texts in worship, we are able to see where the texts might be improved.  The new English version, based on the principles of formal equivalence, is meant to be a better translation of the original Latin source texts.”

So the new translation is more literal, more faithful to the original Latin, and more theologically precise.

But I warn you, for a time, it will also be more confusing!  A lot more confusing.  So we will all have to be patient: patient with the process, patient with one another.  Initially we will make a lot of mistakes, but practice makes perfect, as they say.  So please don’t be offended if I ask you to repeat a prayer or a response from time to time.  They say repetition is the mother of learning.  So the more we repeat these responses, the more likely we will be to learn them.

We will also have these prayer cards there for you in the pews along with your missalettes.  Please leave them in the pews; don’t take them with you.  These will have the major changes on them that you as laypeople will need to be concerned with.  So I may ask you at certain points in the Mass to pick up these cards and use them—especially during the Gloria and the Creed, because there are several changes in those prayers that will be hard to remember, at least initially.

Now you’ll be happy to know that we won’t go over all of the changes during the next few weeks, but we will touch on some of the more important ones in our homilies, so that you’ll understand the “why” of some of the specific changes in addition to knowing “what” they are.

Actually, if you’ve been reading the bulletin inserts that we’ve provided over the last few months, you already know some of these things.  But it will be good to review them anyway.

The first important change that you need to be aware of comes at the very beginning of Mass and several times thereafter in the Liturgy.  It’s the response to the priest’s statement, “The Lord be with you.”  Your response to this line has always been, “And also with you”; but now it will be, “And with your spirit.”  This is a literal translation of the Latin original, which is, “Et cum spiritu tuo.”   

This has been changed because the new response conveys the idea more clearly that the Holy Spirit is active in the priest in a unique way at Mass, empowering him to offer the Eucharistic sacrifice.  It’s also a biblical expression that we find in the writings of St. Paul.

The only other prayer I want to focus on today is the Creed.  Previously we always began by saying, “We believe in one God.”  But the Latin original begins with the word “Credo,” which literally means, “I believe.”  (“We believe” would be “Credimus”.)  When we profess our faith during this part of the Mass, we’re doing it together—that’s true—but each of us is making our profession of faith INDIVIDUALLY.  Each of us is saying, in effect, “This is what I, personally, believe—about God and the Church and eternal life, etc.”

So that’s what we’ll explicitly say from now on: “I believe.”

Some other words and phrases that will change in the Creed . . .

Instead of saying that Jesus is “the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father,” we will say that Jesus is “the only begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages.”  “Only begotten” is a more literal translation of the Latin original, and “born of the Father before all ages” expresses more clearly the idea that Jesus dwelt with the Father before time began.  As St. John puts it in chapter 1 of his gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God [that is to say, with God the Father].”

In the Creed, therefore, we clearly affirm our belief that Jesus Christ is God.  Now one of the other ways we did this in the older version of the prayer was by saying that Jesus is “one in being” with the Father.  In the new version we will affirm that same truth with a word that translates the Latin more accurately: “consubstantial.”  (Yes, that is a mouthful!)  Here’s one writer’s explanation for this change: “The question of how Jesus relates to the Father has immense importance.  Heresies have divided Christians over this very issue.  The early Church councils forged a vocabulary that carefully articulates orthodox faith, and they chose this word [consubstantial] to express the dogma of Jesus’ divinity.  The Latin word means ‘having the same substance,’ which is even more fundamental than ‘one in being.’  [Admittedly] ‘consubstantial’ is a very unusual word.  We don’t use it for anything else.  But it is describing a very unusual thing—the nature of Jesus Christ.  He is not like anything or anyone else.”

In describing the birth of Jesus, the new version of the Creed uses the word ‘incarnate’—which basically means ‘given flesh’.  Jesus was given flesh through the yes of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  This is where we get the word “Incarnation,” which, thankfully, is a word that most Catholics have heard before.

Instead of using two verbs to describe what happened to Jesus on Good Friday (the verbs suffered and died), the new version of the Creed simply says that Jesus “suffered death”.  The point is that Jesus really died.  His death was not an act or an illusion (which is precisely what some heretics in the early days of Christianity believed).

One other change worth noting comes at the very end, where, instead of saying that we “look for the resurrection,” we will now say that we “look forward to the resurrection.”  It’s a slight change, but it expresses a much more confident expectation of what awaits us if we live the Creed that we’ve just professed.

Let me end now by reading to you the new version of the Creed in its entirety.  You can contrast this with what we’ll say together in a few moments after I return to the presidential chair:

I believe in one God
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth
of all things visible and invisible.

I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Only-begotten Son of God,
born of the Father before all ages.
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father;

through Him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation
He came down from heaven.

and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate
of the Virgin Mary,
and became man.

For our sake He was crucified under Pontius Pilate,
He suffered death and was buried,
and rose again on the third day
in accordance with the Scriptures.
He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead.
and his kingdom will have no end.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets;
I believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.
I confess one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
I look forward to the resurrection of the dead
and the life of the world to come. Amen.