Wednesday, October 12, 2011

New Mass, Old Mass...and New Translation

Most of this post is excerpted from my article "We've Been Robbed!" which appeared in Homiletic and Pastoral Review in May 2008. Comments about the new translation have been added.

The present situation in my parish is not much different from that in many parishes, I suspect: before Sunday Mass begins, the Rosary is prayed. This is wonderful. Then there follows something of a “social” time, which seems to me to detract from the preparation for the Mass that the Rosary has just afforded us. People in the pews chat for a few minutes before the announcer stands before the microphone and bids us “good morning” and other platitudes meant to welcome us and make us feel good. He or she announces the name of the priest, the acolyte, and tells us who is singing. We are invited to “take a moment of silence to prepare out hearts and minds for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass” (although a few announcers cannot bring themselves to say “holy sacrifice” and deviate from the script by substituting “celebration”). After 30 seconds or so, the “opening hymn” is announced, and Mass has officially started. Personally, this scene makes me feel like I've turned on the TV to watch a talk show,

This is in stark contrast to the start of Mass in the forma extraordinaria. The Mass is not "announced"; it begins.When the Asperges is included, this seems to me to be a wonderful preparation. It reminds us of our sinfulness and of God’s mercy in cleansing us of that sin. In fact, throughout the prayers of the Mass of the extraordinary form, I find this constant reminder of the tension between our sin and the mercy of the Father. Not only this, but the penitential rite of the forma extraordinaria continues this examination of conscience and petition for forgiveness in a more intense way than occurs in the Novus Ordo, or forma ordinaria.

Of course, the Novus Ordo also offers an opportunity to examine and confess our sins in a meaningful way. The problem is that liturgical abuses have so marred the ordinary form that the differences between it and the extraordinary form are exacerbated. The fault lies not in the Novus Ordo itself, but rather in its implementation, in the flagrant disregard for the norms set forth in the GIRM.

Returning to some of the differences between the two forms, let us examine, for example, the offertory prayer. From the forma ordinaria, we hear “Blessed are you, Lord God of all Creation; through your goodness we have this bread to offer, which earth has given and human hands have made. It will become for us the bread of life.”

But in the forma extraordinaria, we find a much richer prayer: “Accept, O Holy Father, Almighty and Everlasting God, this unspotted Host, which I, Thine unworthy servant, offer unto Thee, my living and true God, to atone for my countless sins, offenses, and negligences: on behalf of all here present and likewise for all faithful Christians, living and dead, that it may avail both me and them as a means of salvation, unto life everlasting.”

To me, the difference between the two prayers is like the difference between sending a text message on a cell phone, and having an actual face-to-face conversation with the Person. Have we reduced ourselves to prayers of the form “Tnx. Pls bless r gifts”?

The difference between the prayers points to something greater than the spoken (or silent) words for me. For one thing, the prayer of the 1962 missal seems to imply a much greater God than the newer prayer. Also, our sins are acknowledged and forgiveness asked within the context of the offertory. And finally, the older prayer underscores the role of the priest: the very words tell us that he is making the offering on our behalf, and acknowledging our sins as well as his own, and asking for us and for himself “life everlasting”.

This issue of the role of the priest is an important one, and, to my way of thinking, it constitutes a major difference between the two forms of the Mass. This was an issue I pondered before I knew about the forma extraordinaria: the priest as priest versus the priest as narrator and commentator. The more I experience the "old Mass", the more I see the priest in the Novus Ordo - as it is currently practiced in the parishes I attend - is that of a talk show host.  

Some of these disparities will be addressed by the new translation. I am looking forward to hearing all the changes. The talk show host mentality, though, in my opinion, will be expunged only by a return to ad orientem worship: when the priest and the faithful face God together, things are different. The priest leads, rather than announces. He prays, rather than performs. He's a priest, rather than a lay person in special garb.

And finally, if the Mass is sung, as the new Roman Missal encourages us to do, the "logic" of how the liturgy is constructed becomes more clear; the priest's parts are followed by the people's parts in a less disjointed way. The beauty of the liturgy is enhanced.

My preference is for the extraordinary form of the Mass. But I have high hopes for the ordinary form - if the changes in the new translation are faithfully implemented.

That's a big "if".

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