Unless you are a Catholic who has been hiding under a rock for the last several months, you know that beginning on the First Sunday of Advent 2011 (November 27, 2011) a new translation of the Mass prayers will be used. The new translation is supposed to be a more theologically precise, linguistically engaging and more literal translation of the original Latin of the prayers all languages must use as the source of the vernacular translations of the prayer of the church for public worship. There has been much debate in liturgical circles and in the pew if the goal is being met. I’m not going to hash that out here. The new translation’s arrival has been a good occasion to invite all English-speaking members of the church to reflect on the meaning of the words and actions we use at Mass. Preparing for the translation has given us a chance to learn more about the Eucharistic rites we sometimes take for granted, or maybe don’t realize contain such rich meaning.
I have been giving a series of homilies, attempting to try to tie preaching about the new translation to the readings of Sunday since the beginning of October. Each week I write a summary of the homily in the church bulletin. Some weeks, I borrow heavily from a copyrighted source that the parish has permission to reprint. Other weeks, like this one, I composed my own bulletin article. I’m publishing it on the blog to give you a sense of what I’ve been preaching. The topics for the 8 Sundays were suggested by the director of the Office of Worship of San Jose, California, Ms. Diana Macalintal. Her article and blog entry Suggested schedule and outline of homiletic and catechetical points for the Roman Missal has been a great resource.
What follows is a summary of what I preached this weekend, leading the congregation to reflect on why we pray a penitential act at the beginning of most celebrations of the Eucharist.
The readings at Mass this weekend (30th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle C – Roman Catholic Lectionary) speak of having “right relationship” with others in the community; take care of the poor, love your neighbor if you wish to show love of God. Sin is a dis-ordering of the right relationship. In the letter to the Thessalonians, St. Paul mentions the conversion of the members of that local church from a life of sin to a life of grace when they turned to Christ. In our Catholic life, we realize that we must continually seek to turn back to God, to order rightly our relationship with God, not once for life in an “altar call” moment, but each and every day. Each Eucharist we attend is a sort of repeatable altar call, a moment when we turn back to God, we seek to re-order the relationship that we choose to break or strain by our sin. Each Mass we remember the work of Christ who reconciles us to God and one another by the sacrifice of his cross. But in order to recognize, receive and give thanks for this gift of reconciliation, we must be of the right mind. We begin Mass by reminding ourselves we are the ones who need saving from the power of sin, that we have allowed sin to turn our hearts from right relationship with God and our brothers and sisters. We do a penitential act at the beginning of Mass so that we are properly disposed to receive the grace of reconciliation and recognize Christ who achieved the right ordering of humanity by the sacrifice of his cross represented in it.
The words of our penitential act will be a bit different with the new translation of the Mass. The “I confess” prayer will be slightly lengthened. This is partly because the current “confetior” is an equivalent translation of the Latin original which left out repetition and modifiers the original translators felt were not necessary to convey the purpose of the prayer at the beginning of the Mass. The new rules of translation insist on word for word translation. We will pray that we have “greatly sinned”, instead of simply “sinned.” This is not to say that we are big sinners who have committed mortal sins or lots of sins. It is, as stated last week, an attempt to bring out the scriptural references in our liturgy more clearly. In the Biblical book of first Chronicles (21:8) we read “Then David said to God, I have sinned greatly in doing this thing‟ Like David we acknowledge that our pride leads us to break relationship with God, and even little or venial sins can have major accumulative consequences that we as humans won’t be able to fix.
Also, there will be a repetition of words that previously were not recited. “Through my fault, though my fault, through my most grievous fault.” In Latin, the repetition of a word or phrase gives it emphasis and says this is important, sort of like an exclamation point at the end of a sentence. Those who did the translation we currently use followed the English grammar and style customs that say repetition is monotonous, weakens an idea and is unnecessary to make a point. Since the rule now is word for word, we will say “fault” three times since it’s there in Latin three times. Perhaps, as we repeat the words we might remind ourselves that we repeatedly sin and repeatedly need conversion of heart and to participate in the repeatable “altar call” of the Mass as we await the day when we are converted into eternal life.