Monday, November 28, 2011
New Translation: Words Are Sacramental
I visited the Huffington Post website at the suggestion of Fr. Z to participate in their poll (“Which Catholic Mass Language Do You Prefer?”), and stumbled upon this quote from a parishioner:
"It's not shaking my church experience," said McCormack, as she handed out church bulletins. "You have the spirit between you and God and the words are insignificant."
The words are insignificant? Wrong! The words are very significant. And that is precisely why we have a new translation.
In fact, the words of the liturgy are a most significant sign – a sacrament. The words of the liturgy are sacramental in themselves. This is an important idea behind the Mystical Body, Mystical Voice presentation developed by Fr. Douglas Martis and Mr. Christopher Carstens of The Liturgical Institute in Chicago; this presentation is the foundation of the “new translation” workshop which our local Society of St. Gregory the Great has conducted in two locations in our diocese (look around that blog for a couple of posts on the MBMV workshops).
Jesus is not only the Son of the Father; He is also the Word of the Father. He is THE Word! The Church has developed a liturgical language which “sacramentalizes” and makes present the Word. Our choice of words for liturgical prayer is critical because language itself is sacramental. There are realities in the liturgy that our language communicates and makes present. Therefore we must find the best words – the ones that express faithfully and beautifully the unseen realities celebrated in our worship.
When the Church uses certain words, She expects certain images to be evoked from Scripture. For instance, if we hear “water” in the liturgy, we should immediately be thinking about baptism; about the blood and water flowing from the side of Jesus; about the crossing of the Red Sea; about Moses striking the stone with his staff so that water would gush out; the “living water”; and so on. When the Church uses the word “sin” in our prayers, She really does want us to think about our sin – not about the fact that, hey, nobody’s perfect and God will forgive us anyway. No: She means sin. That’s why we are to strike our breast at the words “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault” – we’re supposed to really be grieved by our sins!
The type of language we use also indicates the relationship between ourselves and others – this is the notion of “register”. For example, we generally speak to our boss at work in a different register than the one we use for our children. Similarly, the language we use to address the King of the Universe really ought to have a little different “flavor” than that which we use to address the plumber or others we meet in our everyday life.
Along this line of thinking, Stacy Trasancos has a post on her blog entitle “Liturgy and High Words” – go, read it! It’s very good. She quotes Frank Sheed, who in his book Theology and Sanity (1946),wrote:
That is the way of advance for the mind. Human language is not adequate to utter God, but it is the highest we have, and we should use its highest words. The highest words in human speech are not high enough, but what do you gain by using lower words? Or no words? It is for us to use the highest words we have, recognize that they are not high enough, try to strain upward from them, not to dredge human speech for something lower." (emphasis added)
That said…I will lament that at the Mass I attended yesterday, it was painfully clear that the priest, whose first language is not English, was not overly familiar with the new words he was to pray in the Mass. His stumbling and hesitation distracted from the beauty of the words, but I’m sure he will improve! And I hope the people who hear him will gain an appreciation of the changes in the language we use to worship God.