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New Mass Prayers Will Bring Faithful Closer to ‘Mystery of God’
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CNS photo/Nancy Weichec
NEW RESPONSES—When the Roman Missal is introduced at Masses on Nov. 27, some of the prayers recited by the congregation will change. Missal page, above, illustrates one of them: When the priest says, “The Lord be with you,” the people will respond, “And with your spirit,” a closer translation of the original Latin.

The new translation of the Roman Missal—the text for the celebration of the Mass—will more fully present “the mystery of God” and will also be more poetic and beautiful, said an archdiocesan official who is helping to introduce the changes.

Msgr. William Belford, vicar for clergy, is part of a three-person team that is speaking throughout the archdiocese on the new Mass prayers and how they will affect Catholic worship. Working with him are Father Matthew Ernest, parochial vicar at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Scarsdale, and Sister Janet Baxendale, S.C., adjunct professor of liturgy at St. Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie.

The new translation will go into effect on the First Sunday of Advent, Nov. 27. It will be used in all English-speaking countries.

The Roman Missal, revised following the Second Vatican Council, was issued by Pope Paul VI in 1970 and was translated into various languages for international use. The English edition was published in 1973, and a revised text was issued in 1975. Pope John Paul II issued a new edition in 2002. It is this edition that has been newly translated.

Msgr. Belford said in an interview last week that the newly translated prayers more accurately reflect the Latin text and therefore “express the mystery of God” more perfectly.

“In our praying, we express our theology, so what we say when we pray tells us and teaches us what we believe,” he said. He added that the new Mass prayers also offer a deeper understanding of who God is because they are more closely connected to their biblical roots.

“But it’s not just about being theologically precise,” Msgr. Belford said. “It’s also about being inspired, and having language that is more poetic and more beautiful in style than what we have now.”

He has already distributed printed material on the changes; one article points out that the earlier translation of the Mass into English “was not wrong, but it was not close enough to all that the Latin actually said.” It was Pope John Paul II who ordered “every language group” to “make a new translation to gain a greater sense of the beauty and dignity, the biblical references and theological precision that the prayers have in Latin.”

Many of the prayers used at Mass have existed for centuries and have their own rich history, Msgr. Belford said. He noted, however, that “missals have always been changing,” for example, when new Masses are created in honor of Mary or newly canonized saints.

What’s really at issue, he said, is not the prayers themselves but how they are translated into the vernacular—the language of a particular people and place. The new English translation “is not a least-common-denominator translation,” he said.

“It is closer to the style of the Roman prayers, and will require more effort on the part of the clergy to say the words, to convey the meaning. It will call people to listen to the prayers more closely.” It is asking the faithful to “reach to the ineffable,” he said—to draw closer to the inexpressible mystery of God.

Msgr. Belford said that the changes “are not huge or hard to learn,” especially for the laity. The parishes will have new missalettes, Msgr. Belford said, and some churches will use cards that are easy to hold, easy to read and can be left permanently in the pews.

“It’s up to the individual parish to see what meets their needs,” he said.

Some Catholics have expressed apprehension about the new translation. Msgr. Belford says that many people dislike change at first because they are more comfortable with what is familiar, but when he speaks before a group, he finds that people are open to the new prayers when they understand the reasons for the new translation.

“There’s an appreciation that somebody explained it to them,” he said. “Once people have an explanation, then their resistance melts away, and there’s an upsurge (of interest), and an eagerness to actually start to use the prayers.”

He added, “Change brings the advantage of a freshness. It gets you to look at something that you were taking for granted…It’s not an end on November 27, it’s a beginning, (like) a commencement from school.”

He noted that with the presentations that he and others are giving, “a foundation has been laid” in advance of the introduction of the missal. But that is only the first step; he is calling on Catholics who have heard a talk to “be good ambassadors to others” and to “have a positive approach to this.”

“We really need to be spreading the word that this is coming, and that responsibility is very much shared by everybody in the Church, clergy and laity,” he said.

Don’t count out those who are not regular churchgoers, he advised.

“Many more people are interested in the Church than we realize,” he said. “They may not all come on Sunday, but they want to know what’s going on.” It will do a great deal of good to let people know that “after a lot of work, an improved translation with beautiful prayers and wonderful imagery is now going to be available, and it will be better than what we’ve had,” he added.

He compared encountering the Roman Missal with using an ordinary television set and then seeing high-definition television for the first time—and being eager to make the switch.

“The new translation is like a new technology,” he said, “or the availability of a clearer picture, and more vivid imagery.”

Msgr. Belford will speak on the Roman Missal at the archdiocesan Catechetical Convention at Cardinal Spellman High School in the Bronx on Saturday, Oct. 22, at 10:15 a.m.


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