So, we’re most of the way through Advent* (I know, it’s gone by incredibly fast — if you want to slow it down, try fasting). It seems like a good time to pause and reflect on the new translation of the Mass that was rolled out on the first Sunday of Advent. What’s changed, and why?
|Giovanni Battista Tiepolo,
Pope St. Clement Adoring the Trinity (c. 1738)
To understand this, you first need to recognize that we’re part of something much bigger than ourselves. We too easily get caught up in the here and the now. The Church wisely resists this temptation. She strives to remind us in worship that we’re part of something much larger that ourselves, both global and timeless. This is the model of New Testament worship laid out in Scripture, in which people join in praise of God “from the rising to the setting of the sun” (Malachi 1:11).
Part of the reason we’re constantly reminded that we’re part of something much bigger than ourselves is that it resists the temptation to make the Mass about us, rather than about God. So in addition to being global and timeless, the Mass should also be transcendent. It should raise our spirits. But to do this, it must also be accessible. The perfect prayer is no good if I have no idea what I’m saying, or what it means. The Church took this question very seriously at the Second Vatican Council. How do we make the Mass accessible to individual believers throughout the world, while reminding us that we’re part of something larger than ourselves?
Here’s the solution She laid out in paragraph 36 of Sacrosanctum Concilium:
2. But since the use of the mother tongue, whether in the Mass, the administration of the sacraments, or other parts of the liturgy, frequently may be of great advantage to the people, the limits of its employment may be extended. This will apply in the first place to the readings and directives, and to some of the prayers and chants, according to the regulations on this matter to be laid down separately in subsequent chapters.
3. These norms being observed, it is for the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority mentioned in Art. 22, 2, to decide whether, and to what extent, the vernacular language is to be used; their decrees are to be approved, that is, confirmed, by the Apostolic See. And, whenever it seems to be called for, this authority is to consult with bishops of neighboring regions which have the same language.
4. Translations from the Latin text into the mother tongue intended for use in the liturgy must be approved by the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority mentioned above.
- The most obvious change is that when the priest says, “The Lord be with you,” we now say “And with your spirit,” instead of “And also with you.” This is (a) more faithful to the Latin (et cum spiritu tuo), (b) harmonious with what the rest of the Church is praying (for example any Masses celebrated in Spanish, (c) drawn from Scripture (Galatians 6:18; Philippians 4:23; 2 Timothy 4:22; Philemon 1:25), and (d) a recognition that the Holy Spirit is working through the priest.
- In the Penitential Act (the Confiteor), we now say “I have greatly sinned,” instead of “I have sinned through my own fault.” That’s because the Latin uses the adverb “nimis,” meaning “very much.” We’re also back to saying, “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault,” in the Penitential Act. It’s a direct translation of “mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.” The old translation just skipped these words — it wasn’t that they translated them badly: they just omitted them outright. So the new version is objectively better as a translation. But it also deliberately reminds us our sinfulness and our need for redemption. Read Luke 7:41-47. It’s only when we realize the gravity of our sins that we realize the depth of God’s mercy, and can fully appreciate the gift of salvation, and respond in love.
- In the Gloria, we used to proclaim, “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to His people on earth.” It now ends “and on earth peace to people of good will.” It’s a minor change, intended to be more faithful to the angelic chorus in Luke 2:14.
- The second part of the Gloria is more radically changed, going from “Lord God, heavenly King, almighty God and Father, we worship you, we give you thanks, we praise you for your glory,” to “We praise you, we bless you, we adore you, we glorify you, we give you thanks for your great glory, Lord God, heavenly King, O God, almighty Father.” Remember that the Gloria is a hymn of praise. It’s effusive: it sounds like we’re singing a love poem to God, which is exactly what we’re doing. You’ll notice this trend throughout: the new Mass translation will often say the same thing in more than one way, in an outpouring of praise, reaching something of a crescendo. The new translation is also an accurate translation of the Latin, while the old omitted two of the five verbs, and switched the order around.
- The Gloria now refers to Jesus as the “Only Begotten Son,” instead of the “only Son of the Father.” We become sons and daughters of the Father through Christ (Romans 8:15), but Jesus is the only begotten Son (John 3:16). So the new translation is more theologically sound, and it’s also more faithful to the Latin (Fili Unigenite).
- After calling Him Fili Unigenite (“Only Begotten Son”), the Gloria declares Jesus Fílius Patris, or “Son of the Father.” The old translation omitted this title completely (or perhaps merged the two title together). The new translation restores it.
- One final point on the Gloria. Here’s what the new translation says (and what the Latin says):
“you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us;
you take away the sins of the world, receive our prayer.
you are seated at the right hand of the Father, have mercy on us.”
We ask repeatedly for Christ’s mercy. Look at the tax collector Christ holds up as a model of prayer in Luke 18:13, or the man in Mark 10:47-48, or the men in Matthew 20:30-31: we’ve got something similar here. The old translation was more of a rewrite than a translation. It cut out the first half of line 2, cut out the second half of line 3, and then tacked the end of line 2 where the end of line 3 used to be (so that it read “you are seated at the right hand of the Father: receive our prayer,” a line appearing nowhere). It also now reads the “sins” of the world, rather than the “sin”: both versions find textual support in John 1:29, since there are differences between manuscripts. The new translation also foreshadows the Agnus Dei (“Lamb of God”) prayer that comes later.
- At the Gospel, we now say, “Glory to you, O Lord.” The “O” is new, and is an added touch of reverence.
- The Nicene Creed is now prayed in the singular: “I believe,” rather than “We believe.” This was one of the changes I found most fascinating, because there are good arguments both way. The Creed was originally in the plural, because it the was the Council of Nicea’s statement of faith. But it entered the Mass through the Rite of Baptism, in which the candidate to be baptized would recite the Creed (in the singular) as a confession of his or her faith. We now pray the Creed in the singular to emphasize that these aren’t just the beliefs of the Catholic Church, but are things that each of us actually believe in. This is also how it is in the Latin (Credo), and throughout the rest of the world.
- We declare the Father Maker of “all things visible and invisible,” rather than “all that is seen and unseen.” It’s a reminder that God created both the material and the spiritual world. “Unseen” was an inaccurate word choice: as the USCCB’s commentary explains, “a child playing hide-and-seek may be unseen yet is still considered visible, whereas one’s guardian angel is indeed invisible by nature.”
- As with the Gloria, the Creed now refers to Jesus as the “Only Begotten Son of God,” instead of the “only Son of God.” See the note on # 5.
- Jesus is referred to as “consubstantial” with the Father, rather than “One in being.” This part of the Creed was included in the 4th century to explain that Jesus was of the same substance (homoousios), rather than a similar substance (homoiousios), as the Father. That sounds like a needless technical debate, but it’s the difference between Jesus being God, or being God-like. So the difference is huge, even if the words are similar. “Consubstantial” is a technical term that helps preserve this important distinction.
- There are a lot of other minor tweaks to the language of the Creed. Since this is our individual and collective declaration of Faith, it makes sense to have everyone saying the same thing (imagine if each member of Congress took a slightly different oath of office, for example). The only other one I want to point out is that where it we used to say, “We look for the resurrection of the dead,” we now say, “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead.” Bring it on! St. Paul describes our belief in the resurrection of the dead as part of our “hope in God” as Christians (Acts 24:15). It’s something we should look forward to eagerly: the promise of Heaven. If we’re living in dread fear of the Final Judgment, we’re probably not living right.
- During the Preface to the Eucharistic Prayers, when the priest says, “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God, we respond “it is right and just.” That’s exactly what the Latin says (“dignum et iustum est”), and what other languages say. We used to say “it is right to give Him thanks and praise.”
- The Sanctus used to begin “Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might.” It’s now “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts.” The imagery there is of an angelic army, as Luke 2:13 describes, and the sort that Jesus refers to as at His disposal in Matthew 26:53.
- When the priest holds the Host up after the Agnus Dei, he now declares, “Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.” This is a bit different then the old translation, and incredibly theologically rich, weaving together Pilate’s words from John 19:5, John the Baptist’s words from John 1:29, and the angel’s words from Revelation 19:9. Our response echoes that of the centurion in Matthew 8:8, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof, but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.” There are two changes. First, it used to say “I am not worthy to receive you,” but the new translation restores the parallel to Mt. 8:8. Second, it used to say, “only say the word, and I shall be healed.” The new translation clarifies that we’re seeking spiritual healing here, not bodily.
Feast at the House of Simon (detail) (1570)
|Giovanni di Paolo, St Ansanus Baptizing (c. 1440s)|
|Govert Flinck, Angels Announcing the Birth of Christ to the Shepherds (1639)|
|Elizabeth Barrett Browning|
Elizabeth Barrett Browning, begins her beautiful Sonnet XLIII, by telling her husband, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” So it is with the Bride of Christ. The language of the new translation bubbles up and overflows, as we tell God we love Him in a number of different ways: “We praise you, we bless you, we adore you, we glorify you, we give you thanks for your great glory, Lord God, heavenly King, O God, almighty Father.” This Advent, as we prepare for Christ, pay close attention to what we’re praying at Mass, and why. There are incredible depths to be explored there, and a world of beauty to be uncovered.
*I initially wrote, “Today marks the halfway point of Advent,” having badly miscalculated. Kudos to Tito Edwards for pointing this out in the comments (and rather politely, too!).