"You aim at a devout life, dear Philothea, because as a Christian you know that such devotion is most acceptable to God's Divine Majesty," says St. Francis de Sales in his book "Introduction to the Devout Life".
And we can all be Philotheas, as St. Francis notes: "I have made use of a name suitable to all who seek the devout life, Philothea meaning one who loves God."
I have no doubt that the new translation of the Roman Missal is a good thing.As a follower of Fr. Z’s articles on the collects and other prayers of the Mass, I’ve come to appreciate the Latin language and the way our Catholic identity and theology is wrapped up in the words of those prayers. A translation that is more faithful to the Latin and keeps Catholic theology in the forefront is most welcome.
The bottom line, though, in my humble opinion, is this: the new translation, in and of itself, is not enough to go very far in deepening our understanding of the Sacred Liturgy. Why? Well, for one thing, it’s really a small matter for the laity to learn a few new responses at Mass; the bulk of the changes are in the prayers the priest prays. Now I could be way off the mark here, but I have a feeling that most people will not notice most of the changes in the priest’s prayers. I’m not saying they don’t pay attention, and I’m not saying that the words are not important: they are. I’m just saying that the changes will not make a huge impact on the laity, unlessthere are other changes in how the Mass is currently celebrated in most parishes.
In its promotion of the new translation on its website, the USCCB noted that
[The Church] has been blessed with this opportunity to deepen its understanding of the Sacred Liturgy, and to appreciate its meaning and importance in our lives… [T]he parish community should be catechized to receive the new ranslation. Musicians and parishioners alike should soon be learning the various new and revised musical settings of the Order of Mass. [emphases added]
Some parishes prepared, and some didn’t; some did a little, and some did a lot.
But the above quote from the USCCB website hints at a very important component of the new translation which could make a big difference: “musical settings”.
The third edition of the Roman Missal contains more music than the previous editions, and it reflects the Gregorian chant roots of the liturgy. There has been much talk (at least in some circles) of “singing the Mass” instead of simply “singing at Mass”, and this is where the difference will be made, in my opinion. Singing the Mass – especially singing the Mass in the way it is presented in the new Roman Missal – is a much more far-reaching change than the changes in the translation. It’s a change not just in the words, but in how the words are presented – with music that is truly liturgical.
Singing the Mass requires a priest to be willing to sing his parts; it requires the choir director to motivate the choir to learn a new style of singing along with some changes in the words; and it requires a congregation that will embrace the effort to learn new, sung, responses. None of this is easy, but it would be well worth it. It would bring up the sense of awe and reverence in the liturgy by more than just a few notches. It would lead souls toward holiness.
I’m speaking here particularly about parishes like the ones I have access to, where guitars and tambourines abound, and Gregorian chant has been effectively banished. The preparation for the new translation in these parishes consisted of a few notices in the bulletin, and early distribution of pew cards with the new “people’s responses” printed on them. There was no talk about new musical settings.
For some time now, the wonderful pipe organ in our Cathedral has stood silent, and the choir loft is empty because the “Folk Group” plays and sings from just off to the side of the sanctuary. In another parish near us, the choir loft is used, but the singers share the space with guitars, piano, trumpet, and tambourine – and sometimes a CD player. The liturgical music is from JourneySongs or Breaking Bread, and Latin is used very, very sparingly. The new translation is not going to overcome the overwhelming mediocrity and self-absorption conveyed by this type of music.
Other liturgical changes must be made if the new translation is to have a chance at deepening our understanding of and reverence for the Mass. The priest will have to stop taking the role of talk-show host. He will need to make sure that he absolutely “says the black and does the red” – that is, that he faithfully follows the rubrics and does not ad-lib. He will probably need to introduce the people to Mass being said ad orientem.
And to be truly faithful to Vatican II, the priest should lead his parish toward a greater appreciation of Latin. That’s pretty easy to accomplish just by standardly singing the Gloria, the Agnus Dei, the Sanctus, Pater Noster, and even the Creed in Latin – the parts that we’re supposed to know as a minimum according to Vatican II’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium).
Granted, the typical parish would probably not be able to handle all of these changes at once. But changes could be introduced gradually, with appropriate catechesis and preparation. My experience has been that choir people who are shown how a properly sung Mass all fits together become very excited about leaving their guitars and folk songs behind. And if they are excited, they will infect the congregation.
All of this requires a pastor willing to implement these kinds of changes. But even more crucially importantly is a bishop willing to lead both the priests and the people in this direction, and to adequately support his priests who are working toward this goal.
It’s got to be a top-down effort: the bishop must encourage the priests, who must then lead the people into greater reverence for the liturgy. It can begin with the new translation, but it must not stop there…for the good of souls.