In about a month, all Catholics in the U.S.—
and in other English-speaking countries—
will begin using a new translation of Mass prayers.
And for the next few weeks,
all the priests here in Piqua are going to talk about this in their homilies.
If you know people who have questions,
maybe bring them to Mass the next few weeks.
Let me provide some history, first ancient, then recent.
While the Eucharist was celebrated in some form right away by the Apostles,
“the Mass” as we know it largely took shape between 4th and 6th century.
And while the first Catholics in Rome probably celebrated the Eucharist in Greek,
it wasn’t long before they began using Latin;
Latin has been the prayer of Roman Catholics for about 1,700 years.
Now skip ahead to 50 years ago.
Blessed Pope John XXIII called the Second Vatican Council.
The bishops did two things that are relevant here.
First, they gave the OK to use local languages in the Mass.
Second, they called for some revisions in the form of the Mass.
So, once the Council ended, the pope asked experts to carry this out.
The Mass as we know it was revised;
and then that revised Mass—still in Latin—
was then translated quickly into lots of languages, including English.
At the time, they expected to revise their work eventually.
One of the things folks are asking is,
does our new translation mean the Mass in English,
that we’ve gotten used to, is “bad”? Have we been praying badly?
I wouldn’t say “bad”—how about this instead?
When I was in high school and college, I wrote a lot of papers.
I used a typewriter. It worked great. I was very comfortable with it.
Then along came the computer.
Even though it took some adjustments,
I was happy to have something that gave me even more advantages.
One of the notable changes is that the new translation has a different style.
Why is that?
In the 1990s, Blessed Pope John Paul laid out guidance
for how to approach the new translation.
When translating something, there are two extremes:
a very literal translation, and at the other end of the spectrum,
a loose paraphrase.
Neither extreme is what you want.
The outgoing translation was more on the “freestyle” side.
It tended to use very ordinary language.
That has benefits, but also drawbacks.
Some people will say they prefer the Mass in a common style of language.
But through our entire history, back to the Bible,
the language of worship has always had a special character—
its own vocabulary and careful ritual.
The Latin texts of the Mass, after they were revised, after Vatican II,
continue to have a formal, elevated style.
This is something the new translation will bring out more.
There are times to use casual English;
and there are times to use a more formal style.
Similarly, we have occasions when we use rituals, and we take them seriously.
Think of when the flag goes up and the National Anthem is sung.
If anything, as our culture has gotten much more casual overall,
we can see the value of stepping out of that,
so that when we do something that is fundamentally different,
it sounds and feels different.
One of the benefits of a more direct translation
is that it also brings out, better, the Biblical images and language
that were always included in the prayers of Mass.
You’ll notice phrases in the newly translated prayers
that echo the familiar Scripture readings at Mass.
Also, the new translation does bring out more
the Roman character of our prayers.
Why is that valuable?
After all, when we call ourselves Roman Catholics,
that one, added word, expresses a long and vivid story
of how we came to be who we are.
Even if we don’t know that story,
it’s our story and it is part of us,
all the way back to Peter and Paul arriving in Rome—
and all that happened since.
This is our spiritual genealogy.
It’s worthwhile to keep it alive and become more familiar with it.
In the Gospel, the Lord teaches us the two commandments
on which everything rests: love God, and care for all his children.
They aren’t at odds; they go together.
We give God our best. Not because he needs it,
but because we are better people for it.
We’re better people when we recognize
our need for God and our need to worship.
Worshiping well makes us better people—
people who serve our neighbor better.
People who forgive more readily
because we know how much we are forgiven.
People who share more generously
because we know all we have comes from God.
People who work for justice in this world
because we know we will face God’s justice in the next.
So we want to worship well—
and the Mass is the supreme act of worship.
That’s why we want to do it as well as we can.