Mahalo nui loa Bishop Larry for a wonderful letter regarding the new Mass translation!
To the Priests, Deacons, Liturgical Ministers, and all the Faithful of the Diocese of Honolulu
Why a new translation? How will this change our way of worshipping? How will we go about learning the new translation? All of these questions will be addressed in this letter, but more importantly in the catechetical opportunities that will follow before Advent 2011 and in the first months of the use of the new translation. Before we take up those details, however, let’s talk about some more essential items.
The Central Place of the Eucharist in Catholic Life
God has blessed us with incredible gifts: the people we love, the ability to work, our beautiful islands. These are just of few of the multitude of gifts God pours out upon us. The finest of all gifts, however, is the gift of Jesus Christ, God and man, who was sent to save us from our sins. Jesus left us a legacy of his teachings in the New Testament, particularly the Gospels. He formed a Church to carry on his mission. But there is much more! He is physically present to us in the Eucharist! He died on the cross for us, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven. But he is the living bread come down from heaven; a real, living person who loves us so intimately that he offers himself to us as real food and real drink. (See John 6.)
When the apostles encountered the risen Jesus, he transformed their fear into fire, their timidity into a tempest of joy. They who were simple uneducated men became the voices of the Word of God. They whose lives were confined to the territory around a little lake now went out to the ends of the earth to witness to Jesus. The small band of disciples has grown into billions who have come to know the risen Lord Jesus. And now we come to know him in the “breaking of the bread,” the Eucharist. (See Luke 24:13-35.) It is in the power of Christ that we go out to continue his work of healing the sick, teaching, changing hearts and cultures, casting out the demons of falsehood, bringing good news to the poor, and in all this proclaiming the wonderful works of God.
The Eucharist is the source and summit of who we are as members of the Body of Christ. Without it we could not accomplish much, and with it God can work miracles through us. This Eucharist, which our most ancient ancestors celebrated and which our most distant offspring will celebrate until the end of time, is indeed a living reality that maintains its essential identity even as its rites and language evolve.
A New Translation
If the Mass has always been the same essential reality, why do we need to change it? Aren’t there more important things the Church should be concerned about? These are among the many questions that have been asked regarding the new translation. So why did Pope John Paul II, and Pope Benedict XVI after him, call for a new English translation?
When the Roman Missal was first translated from Latin to English in the late 1960’s, there was a rush to have a vernacular translation available. It was a good translation, but it was judged to be less than it could be. Pope John Paul II, in order to better guide the various translations of the Third Edition of the Roman Missal he published in 2002, issued a document called Liturgiam Authenticam. This document called for a different principle of translation called formal equivalency. He wanted the translation from the original Latin to be as precise as possible so that it would preserve the echoes of Sacred Scripture that are contained in the prayers of the Mass, assure a better precision of theological language, and provide a better unity even in the diversity of languages.
Let us take as an example one of the new texts that will probably be most noticeable to us. In the Latin the priest says, “Dominus vobiscum,” and the people answer, “Et cum spiritu tuo.” In our current translation the priest says, “The Lord be with you,” and the people answer, “And also with you.” In the new translation the priest says, “The Lord be with you,” and the people answer, “And with your spirit.” As you can see, the people’s answer in the new translation is much closer to the original Latin than our present response. Moreover, it corresponds more closely to the translation that has been in use for decades in other Western languages: “Y con tu espíritu,” in Spanish; “Et avec votre esprit,” in French; “Und mit deinem Geiste,” in German; and “E con il tuo spirito” in Italian.
This change, of course, will seem awkward to us. We might say, “This is not the way we normally speak to each other.” The awkwardness will wear off once we have become accustomed to the new translation. And there is also some value to having a “sacral language,” that is, a form of language that is not simply mundane but takes us to a higher plane. When I was growing up, the Mass was only celebrated in Latin, but already there was a concern that people understand what was being said. So we had missals with Latin on one side and English on the other. As I checked my old boyhood missal, I noticed that “Et cum spiritu tuo,” was translated, “And with your spirit.” If we had stuck with that translation in the first place it would not have seemed awkward at all. It is the novelty that will throw us off for a while, but once we become accustomed to the new translation, we will learn to appreciate it.
We Are All In This Together
The implementation will take a good bit of effort from many people, and every Latin Rite diocese in the English-speaking world will be taking part in this change. While it will be challenging, it is an opportunity to renew and sharpen our understanding of the Eucharist and to come to appreciate even more the great gift it is to all of us.
Father William Kunisch, Director of our Office of Worship, will oversee the process, following up on the preliminary work done by Sister Helene Wood, SS.CC., the recently retired Director of the Office of Worship.
Attitude is Important
I pray that we will all keep a positive attitude about this new change in our liturgy. We all know that change is sometimes difficult, but a positive attitude will help us all. A negative or a passive-aggressive attitude will really help no one, so I ask your prayerful reflection on the following points.
• Experts in both the Latin and English languages have worked on this translation. It will be tempting for any individual to say, “I think it should have been said this way instead,” and to change the words given to us. I ask that we use the words given to us. No translation is perfect, but this translation was reviewed again and again by many people who have true expertise in language and liturgy.
• The liturgy belongs to the whole Church, not to a particular priest, deacon, parish, or congregation. Our unity is expressed in the way we worship, so no one should take it upon himself or herself to change the liturgy according to personal tastes. There are places in the liturgy where something may be said “in these or similar words,” and in those places the designated minister is free to improvise appropriately. Where that directive is not present, however, we should say what is written, not what we think should have been written.
• Patience will be an important attitude. We may be frustrated when we forget the new formula and revert to the old, and we probably will do that in the first several months. But after a few months, the new translation will be second nature to us, so let us be patient with ourselves and each other.
• Above all let us remember that the supreme law is love, and love is what (or rather Who) we are meant to encounter in the liturgy. Let our renewal of words serve also to renew our hearts in love for the Lord and for one another.
As we begin our catechesis on the new translation, we should also take advantage of this time to renew our liturgy in other ways as well. Some parishes did very well in their catechesis on the General Instruction of the Roman Missal and their implementation of it. Others still need to fine tune their liturgy according to these norms.
When all is said and done, our celebration of the Eucharist should be truly engaging, lifting our minds and hearts to God, renewing us in our commitment to be the Body of Christ, and setting us on fire with the Holy Spirit for our mission to the world.
May God bless you all!
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Most Reverend Larry Silva
Bishop of Honolulu