Liturgical language meant to reflect moment set apart
By Bishop Robert Vasa
BEND — It is my intention to make use, during the course of 2010, of the weekly bulletin notices from my office as a vehicle for instruction related to the upcoming liturgical enrichments. While it is not yet known when the final approved version will be announced nor when it will be published in usable books nor how soon, after publication, it will become the new Official Roman Missal but we can say with certainty that the work is drawing nearer to completion. I think it is fairly safe to say at this point that the end of the process is in view and that, barring major unforeseen difficulties, most of us will live to see the finished product. If I were to put on my prognosticator hat I would guess that a year from now we will have received definitive word about both the dates of publication and implementation. Since I believe this to be true I do want to begin some remote preparation and catechesis regarding this latest liturgical work.
I suspect that the parochial catechesis which I hope to prepare will begin with the same kind of catechetical citations regarding the Sacred Liturgy which I have cited here on other occasions. Since the last time I talked about the Sacred Liturgy I have had the opportunity to review a few more passages which speak very directly to the meaning and purpose of the liturgy. The first of these is from paragraph 1091 of the catechism: “In the liturgy the Holy Spirit is teacher of the faith of the People of God and artisan of ‘God’s masterpieces,’ the sacraments of the New Covenant. The desire and work of the Spirit in the heart of the Church is that we may live from the life of the risen Christ. When the Spirit encounters in us the response of faith which he has aroused in us, he brings about genuine cooperation. Through it, the liturgy becomes the common work of the Holy Spirit and the Church.” The Holy Spirit is identified as the teacher and the artisan of the Sacred Liturgy. In the liturgy, he works to draw each of us into the life of Christ, into the Paschal Mystery of Christ and into deeper union with God. The liturgy is God working in the world, making present again the saving words and deeds of Jesus. Our efforts on behalf of appropriate liturgy are to make this reality more accessible but they are not to create a new or different reality. We, therefore, do not create the liturgy, nor do we technically “plan” it for the liturgy has already been created by God and planned by the Church. It is important that we, as servants of and participants in the Sacred Liturgy prepare ourselves for a worthy participation, a full, active and conscious participation, so that we might derive the fullest possible benefit from that which the Holy Spirit is doing in our midst.
The catechism continues in 1092: “In this sacramental dispensation of Christ’s mystery the Holy Spirit acts in the same way as at other times in the economy of salvation: he prepares the Church to encounter her Lord; he recalls and makes Christ manifest to the faith of the assembly. By his transforming power, he makes the mystery of Christ present here and now. Finally the Spirit of communion unites the Church to the life and mission of Christ.” If one were to ask at this point, “Whose work is being accomplished in the Sacred Liturgy?” it would be necessary to answer, “The Holy Spirit’s.” The language we use in these sacred events needs to be a language that is understandable but it also needs to be a language suitable for the occasion. The language we have used and are using is perfectly understandable but it does lack a certain element of dignity and it lacks, in some instances seriously lacks, an appropriate similarity to the original and official Latin texts. The Spanish translation I have occasion to use makes this difference entirely clear. There is an extended use of adjectives in the Latin and in Spanish which has been largely suppressed in the present English translation. For some this inclusion of additional adjectives in the latest translation may seem like the gratuitous addition of extra descriptive words and yet it is much more than that. First, it is a more determined attempt to be faithful to the original which is a good thing. Next, it is a concerted effort to elevate the language from that which is very common to something that is a bit more uncommon.
This communicates in a very subtle way that the liturgical action to which we are invited is not common at all but rather something unique and wonderful and set apart. I also believe that the use of uncommon language stretches us in ways in which we need to be stretched. Now I need to be clear, we are not talking here of Olde English like that which we might have encountered in some reading of Shakespeare which can often reach the point of unintelligibility.
The enhanced and more accurate translation uses perfectly ordinary and understandable English but it does not shy away from the more colorful and descriptive. Hopefully, this positively draws us to listen more attentively to the words and their meaning, to enter more efficaciously into the sacred action and to participate in it more fruitfully. For instance, and this is purely of my own creation, there is a difference between saying , “Lord, hear me,” and saying, “Most, gracious, merciful, loving Lord, I, your poor servant, beg you, hear me.” Admittedly, they both say nearly the same thing. They do, however, say it quite differently. It seems to me that the second is richer, more descriptive, more cognizant of the lordship of Jesus and the neediness which we experience. It communicates the same basic message but it also communicates so much more. It is my founded hope that this is what the effort on behalf of the new translation will accomplish.
Since, “In the liturgy of the Church, it is principally his own Paschal mystery that Christ signifies and makes present” (CCC, 1085), I do think it is right and just that we seek to give him thanks and praise in the most proper and dignified fashion possible and how we use language and its concordance with the original is tremendously important. I trust we will all be enriched by the enrichment of liturgical language.