An alert reader sent me the following. This is a talk given last month by H.E. Most Rev. James D. Conley, Auxiliary Bishop in Denver to the Midwest Theological Forum.
If I am not mistaken, Bp. Conley was one of the many converts who developed under the late, great mentor John Senior in Kansas.
Bp. Conley spoke about the new translation and sundry liturgical points. Let’s read along, you and I. I will offer my usual emphases and comments. This is on the website of the Archdiocese of Denver. It is long, and I will have to make a cut, I think. You can seek the original.
‘A Universe Brimming with Fruitful Spiritual Life’: Reflecting Transcendence in the Liturgy [I am immediately sympathetic, since this has been the constant concern of this blog, my articles, my talks and my preaching for years: transcendence in liturgical worship]
I want to begin our conversation by recounting a story a friend told me recently.During Lent this year, my friend’s parish started the worthy custom of praying the Sanctus and Agnus Dei in Latin. My friend is in his early 50s and we converted to the Catholic Church around the same time during our college years, through a classical “Great Books” program, which included the study of Latin. He and his wife taught their children Latin at an early age and they sent their children to a private Catholic school where they prayed these prayers in Latin every day at Mass.
But he and his family were by far the exception at his parish, which is a big, suburban parish made up mainly of young families. He looked around one Sunday and noticed that only his family and some of the older parishioners were praying the Latin. Everybody else looked a little confused. [The question of identity emerges. What does it mean when members of the Latin Church have no idea what is going on when Latin is used?]
This story gives us some important context for our conversation this evening.
The “new Mass” is almost a half-century old now. [Not very old.] A generation of Catholics has grown up knowing only the Novus Ordo. I would venture to bet that many younger Catholics have no idea that the prayers we say at Mass are translated from an authoritative Latin text.
In Advent, we are going to introduce a major new English translation of the Mass with the third typical edition of the Roman Missal.
[QUAERUNTUR:] What are Catholics in the pews going to make of the changes in the words they pray and the words they hear the priest praying? Will the changes make any difference in their experience of the Mass? In the way they worship? In the way they live their faith in the world?
These are important questions. And the answers are going to depend a lot on you and me.
Those of us who are priests, and those preparing to be ordained — we are the keys to the success of this next phase in the Church’s on-going liturgical renewal.
This new edition of the Missal is the Church’s gift to our generation. [He wants you to accept this premise. I am at least partially on board for the following reasons. 1) The Novus Ordo is here to stay for a while. 2) If Mass must be in the vernacular, and it will be for a while, then it is better to have a good translation than a bad translation. Some will say it is better to have a bad translation so that the Novus Ordo dies faster. I will leave it to you to decide what to think about that. Going on, H.E. adds a reason why this new edition is a “gift”.] It restores the ancient understanding of the Eucharist as a sacred mystery. It renews the vertical dimension of the liturgy — as a spiritual sacrifice that we offer in union with the sacrifice that our heavenly High Priest celebrates unceasingly in the eternal liturgy.i [There are footnotes, which I include at the end. Regarding his remarks, some will say that the Novus Ordo itself, even in the Latin original, compromises what the bishop is saying has been restored. Leave that aside. I ask: If we need to have these things restored, would not greater use of the older form of Mass be of great help right now?]
In order for the Church to realize the full potential of this gift, it is vital that we understand why we need this new translation. The changes are not superficial ritualism. There is a deep liturgical and theological aesthetic at work. And we need to grasp the “spirit” and “inner logic” underlying these translations. [Liturgical aesthetic. Hmmm… let’s see what he does with this. Was that a throw away? Will he come back to it?]
This is what I want to about this evening.
As a starting-point, I thought it would be useful to return to “scene of the crime” so to speak — that is, to the introduction of the Novus Ordo. [Bp. Conley seems to be offering a captatio benevonentiae here.]
Let me say up front: I’m joking here, sort of! I know that some people still talk about the Novus Ordo as if it was a crime. I have close and dear friends who feel this way. I can understand their frustration. And I’ll talk about that more in a minute.
But I want to be clear: I was ordained a priest and a bishop in the Novus Ordo. I have spent my entire priesthood praying this Mass with deep reverence. Although I have a great love and appreciation for the Tridentine Rite and I am called upon to celebrate this form of the Mass from time to time, I believe the Novus Ordo is a result of the ongoing organic development of the Roman liturgy.
I do think it’s important for us, however, to recall the “culture shock” caused by the Novus Ordo back when it was first introduced. That helps us better understand the concerns and purposes of this new edition of the Missal.
To illustrate what I mean about “culture shock,” I want to recall the experience of Evelyn Waugh, the author of Brideshead Revisited and the Sword of Honor trilogy, among other memorable works.
Waugh was a brilliant novelist and essayist. He was a convert to the Catholic Church and he was not bashful about speaking his mind on what he thought was wrong in the Church. We converts can be like that! [Do I hear an “Amen!”?]
And make no mistake: Waugh thought the Church had a made a wrong turn at the Second Vatican Council. [Waugh was not alone.]
In his correspondence and writings in the Catholic press, Waugh was most disturbed about the Council’s plans for liturgical reform. The reformers, he complained, were [NB:] “a strange alliance between archeologists absorbed in their speculations on the rites of the second century, and modernists who wish to give the Church the character of our own deplorable epoch.” [Sound about right?]
Waugh certainly had a way with words, didn’t he? And here, as in so many cases, he was razor-keen in his insight. [NB: Bp. Conley did not disagree with Waugh.]
His worst fears came to pass when the Mass was finally introduced in the vernacular. In early 1965, he wrote to a friend: “Every attendance at Mass leaves me without comfort or edification. … Church-going is now a bitter trial.”
He complained often — as did many others — that the Novus Ordo stripped the Mass of its ancient beauty and destroyed the liturgy’s contact with heavenly realities. [While Bp. Conley mentions 1965, above, the Novus Ordo was not actually introduced until Advent 1969.] Waugh for one, never recovered from the shock. He would say things like: “The Vatican Council has knocked the guts out of me,” and “I shall not live to see things righted.”
Waugh’s end reads like something out of one of his novels. [Which doesn’t mean he didn’t mean it.]
On Easter 1966, he asked a Jesuit friend to say a Latin Mass for him and a handful of his friends and family at a private chapel near his home. [Remember: That’s not yet the Novus Ordo.] People later remarked that Waugh seemed at peace for the first time since the Council. About an hour after the Mass, he collapsed and died.ii
It was a dramatic ending to a fascinating and complicated life.
The lesson I want to draw here is this: Evelyn Waugh was on to something. He sensed that something had gone awry.
But [You knew there would be a “but” …] he was wrong not to trust the Holy Spirit’s guidance of the Pope, the Church and the Council fathers if, in fact, he did begin to despair with the direction the Church was headed. [QUAERITUR: Is what we got, what the Pope and Council Fathers intended? I wonder. But read on.] God in his kind providence spared him the experience of much of the post-conciliar silliness and the gross liberties taken with the liturgy. [The late Msgr. Schuler used to say, “Just do what the Council asked.” We could start with that. It hasn’t been tried yet.]
The Novus Ordo is an organic development of the Church’s ancient liturgical rites and traditions. [Card. Ratzinger said it was an artificial composition.] It is a genuine sign of Christ’s faithfulness to his promise — that his Spirit would guide the Church into all the truth and would glorify him in all things.iii [Some will not agree. But let’s take this up and go on with it.]
But [I did not think about another “but” so soon….] the new does not replace the old in the Church. There is always continuity and not rupture when it comes to the authentic development of doctrine — and also when it comes to the authentic development of the liturgy. [The key here might be “authentic” development.]
I believe our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, like Pope John Paul II before him, has given us a healthy way to think about the relationship between the Novus Ordo and what Benedict calls the forma extraordinaria. They are not two distinct liturgical rites. They are two expressions of the one Roman rite. [Here I detect a possible problem. I think that Summorum Pontificum is mainly a juridical document and Pope Benedict’s statement was that, from a juridical point of view, both Missals are to be treated as part of a single Roman Rite for the sake of priestly faculties, etc. However, I am not sure that that resolves the issue of whether or not they are the same rite or not.]
As I said, I have great love and appreciation for the Tridentine, or “extraordinary form” of the Mass. But I also see how the ordinary form, the Novus Ordo, has nourished and sanctified the spiritual lives of countless souls over the past 40 plus years. It has helped the Church to rediscover the Eucharist as the source and summit of our lives. And we cannot forget that this Mass nourished the spiritual lives of two great figures of our generation — Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta and the soon-to-be Blessed John Paul II. [Ummm… which Mass formed them?]
And yet I think many of us would agree with Waugh on this point: Something has been lost. Something of the beauty and grandeur of the liturgy. Something of the reverence, the mystery, the sense of the transcendent. This has been a persistent criticism since the Council — and not only from so-called traditionalists.
But I can’t agree with those who blame the Novus Ordo or the vernacular. This answer is too facile. [Not sure about that word “facile”. There is nothing “facile” about comparing the Latin text of the Novus Ordo and how the ancient prayers were edited for content, changed theologically. Also, could it be facile to dismiss as facile the effect of a sacred language? If we change our worship, we change a lot more.]
The problem has been with the way the New Mass has sometimes been understood and implemented. [No dispute there! And I not that he is still calling it the “New Mass”.]
I, along with not a few friends, have had the unfortunate experience that Pope Benedict has described in his 2007 Letter to the Bishops of world when he issued his Apostolic Letter, Summorum Pontificum, on the use of the Roman Liturgy prior to the Reforms of 1970:
“In many places celebrations were not faithful to the prescriptions of the new Missal, but the latter actually was understood as authorizing or even requiring creativity, which frequently led to deformations of the liturgy which were hard to bear. I am speaking from experience … I have seen how arbitrary deformations of the liturgy caused deep pain to individuals totally rooted in the faith of the Church.”iv [We all have lived this.]
Again, the problem is not the Novus Ordo — but the license that people sometimes take in celebrating it.
I would add that another big part of the problem has been the translations we’ve been using. [Do I hear an “Amen!”?]
There is a banal, pedestrian quality to much of the language in our current liturgy. The weakness in the language gets in the way and prevents us from experiencing the sublime spiritual and doctrinal ideas woven into the fabric of the liturgy.
The translators had well-meaning pastoral intentions. They wanted to make the liturgy intelligible and relevant to modern Catholics. [Which is laudable, but dangerous.] To that end, they employed a translation principle they called “dynamic equivalence.”
In practice, this led them to produce an English translation that in many places is essentially a didactic paraphrase of the Latin. [The Novus Ordo itself, one can argue, has introduced greater didacticism into liturgical worship.] In the process, the language of our Eucharistic worship — so rich in scriptural allusion, poetic metaphor and rhythmic repetition — came to be flattened out and dumbed down.
Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Canberra, Australia has observed that our current translation “consistently bleaches out metaphor, which does scant justice to the highly metaphoric discourse” of the liturgy.v
This describes the problem well.
Archbishop Coleridge, by the way, is a translator by training. He headed the committee of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) that produced the new translation we will begin using in Advent.
He has pointed out serious theological difficulties with our current translations, including problems related to ecclesiology and the theology of grace. [Wholehearted agreement.]
The key point here is that the words we pray matter. [This wills ound familiar.] What we pray makes a difference in what we believe. Our prayer has implications for how we grasp the saving truths that are communicated to us through the liturgy.
For instance, our current translation almost always favors abstract nouns to translate physical metaphors for God. If the Latin prayer refers to the “face” of God, “face” will be translated in abstract conceptual terms, such as “presence.” References to God’s “right hand” will be translated as God’s “power.” [Good observations.]
This word choice has deep theological implications.
The point of the Son of God becoming flesh is that God now has a human face — the face of Jesus. Jesus is the image of the invisible God. Whoever sees him sees the Father.vi
Yet if in our worship we speak of God only in abstract terms, then effectively we are undermining our faith in the Incarnation. [Very good.]
As Archbishop Coleridge says: “The cumulative effect [of abandoning human metaphors for God] is that the sense of the Incarnation is diminished. God himself seems more abstract and less immediate than ever he does in Scripture or the Church Fathers.”
I want to say this again: I don’t believe there were bad motives involved in the translations we have now. [I think the translators wanted to change our beliefs. Is that “bad”? You decide.]
I think the root problem with the translations we have now is that the translators seriously misunderstood the nature of the divine liturgy. [!]
Our current translations treat the liturgy basically as a tool for doing catechesis. That’s why our prayers so often sound utilitarian and didactic; often they have a kind of lowest-common-denominator type of feel. That’s because the translators were trying to make the “message” of the Mass accessible to the widest possible audience.
[NB:] But Christ did not give us the liturgy to be a message-delivery system. Of course, we pray what we believe, and what we pray shapes what we believe. Lex orandi, lex credendi. But the liturgy is not meant to “teach” in the same way that a catechism teaches, or even in the same way that a homily teaches. [I think he is settling in and is on firmer ground now.]
On this point, the words of the great liturgical pioneer, Father Romano Guardini, are worth hearing again:
The liturgy wishes to teach, but not by means of an artificial system of aim-conscious educational influences. It simply creates an entire spiritual world in which the soul can live according to the requirements of its nature. ….
The liturgy creates a universe brimming with fruitful spiritual life, and allows the soul to wander about in it at will and to develop itself there. ….
The liturgy has no purpose, or at least, it cannot be considered from the standpoint of purpose. It is not a means which is adapted to attain a certain end — it is an end in itself.vii [As St. Thomas Aquinas teaches, prayer and play both have the action itself as its own end.]
This is the authentic spirit of the liturgy.
As Guardini says, the liturgy aims to create a new world for believers to dwell in. A sanctified world where the dividing lines between the human and the divine are erased. Guardini’s vision is beautiful: “The liturgy creates a universe brimming with fruitful spiritual life.” [Beautiful, yes. And terrifying. It is the locus of an encounter with the mysterium tremendum et fascinans.]
The new translation of the Mass restores this sense of the liturgy as transcendent and transformative. It restores the sacramentality to our liturgical language. The new translation reflects the reality that our worship here joins in the worship of heaven. [That is very optimistic. It puts a lot on the translation. I respond that the new translation could help that along, help with the restoration. However, if the ars celebrandi, the rest of the liturgical worship of Mass is imbued with the horizontal, the ephemeral, the immanent, not to mention liturgical abuses, the new translation won’t help much.]
The new edition of the Missal seeks to restore the ancient sense of our participation in the cosmic liturgy.
The Letter to the Hebrews speaks of the Eucharist bringing us into the heavenly Jerusalem to worship in the company of angels and saints.viii The Book of Revelation starts with St. John celebrating the Eucharist on a Sunday. In the midst of this, the Spirit lifts him up to show him the eternal liturgy going on in heaven.ix
The message is clear: The Church’s liturgy is caught up in the liturgy of the cosmos. And our Eucharistic rites have always retained this vision of the cosmic liturgy. [In theory, yes.]
The Gloria and the Sanctus are two obvious points of contact. In the first, we sing the song that the angels sang at the Nativity. In the latter, we sing in unison with the angelic choirs in heaven; we sing the song that both St. John and the prophet Isaiah heard being sung in the heavenly liturgy.
The oldest of our Eucharistic Prayers, the Roman Canon, lists the names of the 12 apostles along with 12 early saints. This is meant to correspond to the 24 elders who John saw worshipping around the heavenly altar.x
The Roman Canon also includes a prayer for the holy angels to bring the sacrifices from our altar up to God’s altar in heaven. [It is nice that His Excellency is referring to the Roman Canon. But in many places the Roman Canon is not heard.]
And of course the Communion Rite includes the Vulgate’s translation of the invitation that St. John heard in the heavenly liturgy: Blessed are those who are called to the Supper of the Lamb.xi
Yet we need to recognize that this experience of the heavenly liturgy has been lost since Vatican II.
This loss is reflected — I’m tempted to say abetted — by our current translation. [Agreed. It is a major culprit in the English speaking world.] For the last 40 years we have erased this heavenly reference in the Communion Rite with our bland translation: Happy are those who are called to his Supper.
Again: the words we pray matter. What we pray makes a difference in what we believe.
The Mass is truly a partaking in the worship that St. John saw around the throne and the altar of God. This is not a beautiful idea, but a sacred reality. [Sacramental reality, met with in the sacred liturgical action, iis not less real than sensible reality. The outward signs must bring us toward, not away from, that sacred and sacramental realm.]
This is the teaching of the New Testament, the Church Fathers, the Second Vatican Council, and the Catechism, which contains numerous references to the heavenly liturgy.xii
And for years now, Pope Benedict XVI has been urging the Church to reclaim this appreciation of the cosmic liturgy, to reclaim our great liturgical patrimony. [And I have argued that he has a kind of “Marshall Plan” for this.]
I want to underline these words of the Holy Father: “The essential matter of all Eucharistic liturgy is its participation in the heavenly liturgy. It is from thence that it necessarily derives its unity, its catholicity, and its universality.”xiii
The essential matter of our Eucharist is its participation in the liturgy of heaven. In other words: that’s what the Eucharist is all about. The Eucharist we celebrate on earth has its source in the heavenly liturgy. And the heavenly liturgy is the summit to which our Eucharistic celebration looks. [Very good. I tend to put this is different terms, to which I advert above.]
Yet how many of our people in the pews — how many of our priests at the altar — feel that they are being lifted up to partake in the heavenly liturgy? [Tens of people?]
This is why this new translation is so important.
I want to look briefly now at some of the changes in this new translation. I want to meditate on these changes and suggest some ways in which these changes might enhance our appreciation of the essential transcendent dimension of the liturgy.
[…] [I simply had to edit some of this. You can find his interesting examples in the original. Here is a link.]That’s why it is so important that we implement this new translation with a profound Eucharistic catechesis and mystagogy.
Through this new translation, we need to invite our brothers and sisters to know the liturgy as a mystery to be lived. As Pope Benedict has said, our Eucharistic mystagogy must inspire “an awareness that one’s life is being progressively transformed by the holy mysteries being celebrated.” xix [“Mystagogy” is the term for what in ancient times was post-baptismal “continuing education” especially about the sacred liturgical mysteries which had not been taught to catechumens before their baptism”. For us it can be taken perhaps as ongoing liturgical catechesis. How to do this without making Mass a didactic moment? Parish workshops, teaching in bulletins, some explanations in sermons without overdoing it… the choices we make about music, vestments, language, vessels, architecture, clarity of roles, decorum and reverence, ars celebrandi, etc.]
That is the great promise of this new translation and new edition of the Missal. The promise of a people nourished and transformed by the sacred mysteries they celebrate. The promise of a people who are able to offer themselves as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God. A people who experience Christ living in them, as they are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another.xx
I want to leave you with one last image. I hope it will inspire you to always celebrate the sacred liturgy with passionate intensity and a keen awareness of the liturgy of heaven.
One of his altar servers left us this description of how St. Josemaría Escrivá used to pray the Mass. [Not, by the way, the Novus Ordo.]
For [St. Josemaría], the liturgy was not a formal act but a transcendent one. Each word held a profound meaning and was uttered in a heartfelt tone of voice. [Except for the silent parts. Sorry… couldn’t resist!] He savored the concepts. … Josemaría seemed detached from his human surrounding and, as it were, tied by invisible cords to the divine. This phenomenon peaked at the moment of consecration. … [and yet many liturgical liberals have sought to diminish the moment of the consecration…] Josemaría seemed to be disconnected from the physical things around him … and to be catching sight of mysterious and remote heavenly horizons. xxi [There’s that encounter with mystery I am perpetually harping about.]
Thank you for your attention this evening. I look forward to our conversation.
i. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1187.
ii. The story of Waugh and the new Mass is told in Joseph Pearce, Literary Converts: Spiritual Inspiration in an Age of Unbelief (Ignatius, 1999), 333–343. See also, Scott M. P. Reid, ed., A Bitter Trial: Evelyn Waugh and John Carmel Cardinal Heenan on the Liturgical Changes, 2nd rev. ed (St. Austin Press, 2000).
iii. John 16:12–14.
iv. Letter to the Bishops of the World to Present the “Motu Proprio” on the Use of the Roman Liturgy prior to the Reforms of 1970.
v. “‘The Norm of the Holy Fathers’: Liturgical Renewal Past, Present, and to Come,” Address to National Liturgical Conference, February 5, 2010. Available at: http://www.cg.catholic.org.au/_uploads/rsfil/02179.pdf.
vi. Col. 1:15; John 14:8.
vii. The Spirit of the Liturgy (Herder, 1998 ), 66–67.
viii. Heb. 12:22–29.
xiv. Rev. 1:10.
x. Rev. 4:4, 10; 19:4, etc.
xi. Rev. 19:9.
xii. Catechism, nos. 1090, 1111, 1136, 1187, 1326, 2642 (“heavenly liturgy”); 1139 (“eternal liturgy”); 1195, 2855 (“liturgy of heaven”).
xiii. Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith: The Church as Communion (Ignatius, 2005), 110–111; compare A New Song for the Lord (Crossroad, 1996), 175.
xiv. Matt. 26:64; Col. 3:1.
xv. Heb. 7:25; 8:1; compare Rom. 8:34 (ad dexteram Dei qui etiam interpellat pro nobis).
xvi. See Exod. 16:13, 14; Num. 11:9; compare John 6:50.
xvii. Sacroscanctum Concilium, 24.
xviii. Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Liturgiam authenticam, Instruction on the Use of Vernacular Languages? in the Publication of ?the Books of the Roman Liturgy (March 28, 2001), 19–20.
xix. Sacramentum Caritatis, 64.
xx. Rom. 12:1; Gal. 2:20; 2 Cor. 3:18.
xxi. Quote in Andrés Vázquez de Prada, The Founder of Opus Dei, vol. 1 (Scepter 1997), 206.
WDTPRS KUDOS to Bp. Conley.
I think he was aiming in exactly the right direction, though I disagree with some of his rather soft-edged premises. In the final analysis he put the emphasis on just the right thing: we must recover a sense of the transcendent which is essential to liturgical worship. The new translation won’t do that on its own, but there is almost no way to do it with the present translation. I say, if we must have vernacular liturgy, then let the translation be accurate in content, at least. With am improved sense of language and content, hopefully we can get the ball moving on some of the other essential elements of liturgical worship as well.