That image came back to me a few years ago when we were told that we were going to get a new translation of the Mass. Some weeks ago, I wrote in this column that I may at times bring back some of the thoughts I had on the new translation when I first wrote about it at Nativity Parish. This new translation would be more literal, more faithful to the Latin than the translation we had been used to. As a result, some have found it rather refreshing, but many have discovered that it can be something of a challenge. The former language was more of a free translation, trying to put the general ideas into language we are familiar with. So this current translation sounds less like the English we are familiar with, and thus the complaint that the Liturgy we are more distant from the action in the sanctuary. Why not leave it in and English that is accessible to the twenty-first century congregation.
As I was struggling with the new translation, I thought of my first experience with Shakespeare in junior high. The more we listen to Shakespeare, really trying to get the whole sense of the action, then the more we get from the beauty of his Elizabethan language. In the liturgy, we are moving into an entirely new realm. Part of the issue is that we are trying to keep a balance. Our faith teaches us the power and majesty of God, but we can never forget that Christ’s Incarnation bridges the chasm and allows us to approach the otherwise unapproachable God. So our liturgy should be both mysterious and familiar, both challenging and comfortable. In the theater, the language helps us get the feel that we are visiting England in the time of the Globe Theater. In an even deeper sense, the Liturgy truly makes present to us the events of 2,000 years ago. A more formal language, as challenging as it might be, helps us set aside the distractions of the modern world to allow us to be present at the Last Supper and to be caught up into heavenly realities.
For me as a priest, I have found that I have to be more attentive to how I can express the message of the printed words. As I gradually get more familiar with the new translation and less dependent upon the book, I am becoming more comfortable with the language. There are some parts that are more challenging than others. For instance, I have not been using the First Eucharistic Prayer nearly as much as I had in the old translation. But others prayers I am coming to see with a new sense of the beauty inherent in the Church’s liturgy. So I invite you to take some time and enter into the mysteries of God through the language of the liturgy. It is a challenge, but it can bring us closer to the mysteries we are celebrating.