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Priest: The Lord be with you.
People: And with your spirit.

Laura and I attended 10:30 Mass this morning at Sacred Heart Cathedral for the First Sunday of Advent, which was celebrated by Bishop Michael Burbidge. This morning also marked the first singing of the new Roman Missal, Third Edition, alluded to in a previous post.

The revisions of the collect had notable changes, emboldened in our bulletin. The bold letters helped, though the words, many of them so similar to the previous form, were often run over, as many, including me, naturally reverted back to the previous edition.

Most notably, The Lord be with you / And with your spirit

For many, the old response, And also with you, rolled off the tongue without a thought. In fact the five different exchanges were each a small collision of the old form and the revisions running headlong into each other.

Now, I can see some holding out, not changing the familiar for the revision. I could also see the same pride in those who had done their homework, holding their head up to say, ‘yes, we are doing this today, and you should, too.’

The Latin reads, Et cum spiritu tuo, which has been literally brought into the revision, “And with your spirit”. Having taught Latin for seven years, I note that the new translation is in fact more faithful to the Latin. But does it matter? What does “et cum spiritu tuo / and with your spirit” actually mean to the Laity? More importantly (?), what is it supposed to mean for the Laity to say back to the celebrating priest “and may the Lord be with your spirit.” Perhaps this is were good, sound catechesis must emerge to help the lay faithful.

Do the words matter?

In his thoughts on the Mass, Know Him in the Breaking of the Bread (1994), Father Francis Randolph said of the old Latin Mass: We may use the head during prayer, just as we use hands and voices, but the real business of prayer is at a much deeper level of our being… When we use words in prayer, they are only a preparation, a vehicle, a means by which God can speak to us. (195-96)

I’ve been Roman Catholic since Easter 2003, so I had learned a English mass, which has now been revised. I’ve studied the Latin Mass, and attended the Forma Extraordinaria a few times (the first Sunday of each month at Sacred Heart Cathedral).

My wife Laura has been attending Mass with me though she is not Roman Catholic; she’s Presbyterian (PC-USA). She had not memorized the previous Mass, and so it is unique to be saying a new translation with her. She even “struck her breast” during the mea culpa / through my fault.

We’re learning it together.

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From the recent First Things, the following is an excerpt from article on the new English translation of the Roman Missal (Third Edition) as compared to the old English translation of the Mass, dating back to 1967.

Here is the Collect for the First Sunday of Advent:

Da, quaesumus, omnipotens Deus,
hanc tuis fidelibus voluntatem,
ut, Christo tuo venienti iustis operibus occurrentes,
eius dexterae sociati, regnum mereamur possidere caeleste.

The first thing one notices about the Latin prayers is how rich they are in scriptural resonance. A whole scene from the Gospels may be intimated in the literal meaning of an otherwise figurative word. The word here is occurrentes. Its root suggests running, and its prefix, against or up to. The idea is that we are running forth to meet Christ as he comes along the way—waiting for the long-awaited, the anointed of God. We are meant to consider not only the nativity of the Christ child but the Lord’s coming again in glory, recalling his parable of the wise and the foolish virgins: “Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom” (Matt. 25:1).

The lamps of the wise virgins were filled with oil. We pray then that our lamps too will be filled, with iustis operibus, works of justice, or deeds of righteousness. That is the hinge of the poem, because if we answer the grace of God with obedient zeal, we will have those lamps filled and we will run to meet him. Then we will be numbered among the friends of the bridegroom, bound in love with him and with one another, at his right hand, eius dexterae. So the prayer ends by recalling another parable describing the second coming of Christ, not as bridegroom but as judge. For the sheep shall be set on his right, and the goats on his left, according as they did or did not meet him among the least of their fellows: “Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’” (Matt. 25:34).

Here is the prayer in the first version, with some English overtones:

All-powerful God,
increase our strength of will for doing good
that Christ may find an eager welcome at his coming
and call us to his side in the kingdom of heaven.

Let us notice what is gone. First, there are no verbs of request. The Latin phrase da, quaesumus, with its thoughtful pauses before the name of God, is eliminated. If people never use words like beg, implore, and even pray, they may in time forget how to beg, implore, and even pray. (Emphasis mine)

The works of justice too are gone, replaced by the vague phrase doing good. But words like justice and righteousness call forth all kinds of precise scriptural memories, including those that convict us of sin. Consider the powerful opening of the book of Wisdom: “Love righteousness, you rulers of the earth, think of the Lord with uprightness, and seek him with sincerity of heart.” We seek justice, as we seek God; in ourselves we possess neither. Instead it seems in the first translation that we already possess a strength of will for doing good, and we ask merely that it be increased.

Perhaps that is why the image of running is also gone, and why the echoes of the two parables are smothered. For if we remember that five of the virgins went prepared to meet the bridegroom, we may also remember that the other five were scurrying about looking for oil. And if we remember that the sheep were placed at the right hand of the Lord, we may remember that the goats were placed at the left. Those who are rewarded with love for love are the faithful, and we notice that those words too are missing.

Beyond the muffled meanings, there’s something else missing, hard to describe. Imagine a world of gray: gray skies, gray dress, gray language, gray thoughts, gray feelings, gray prayers. How to describe red and green and gold to someone whose life is enveloped in gray? The language of this collect rather spreads the gray. It avoids imagery and cadence, the soul of poetry. It is, at best, entirely conceptual. We do not see or hear or touch anything.

Here now is the English of the new translation:

Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God,
the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ
with righteous deeds at his coming,
so that, gathered at his right hand,
they may be worthy to possess the heavenly kingdom.

Behold that muscular line, the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ. He is coming our way, and we are running forth to meet him. We can see the scene. We can feel the strength of the verbs run and meet, and the tenderness of the possessive adjective, your. For it is the Christ of the Father whom we await, the anointed one of Israel. If we meet him with our lamps filled with righteous deeds, then, in a nice play on words that completes the run of alliteration, we will be gathered at his right hand. Then and only then will we be worthy to possess the heavenly kingdom, the one that Jesus says has been prepared for the faithful from of old.

From “Restoring The Words” by Anthony Esolen, First Things, Nov 2011

mis·sal
n.
(Roman Catholic Church) A book containing all the prayers and responses necessary for celebrating the Mass throughout the year.

[Middle English messel, from Old French, from Medieval Latin missale, from neuter of missalis, “of the Mass”, from Late Latin missa, “Mass”]

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