When priests throughout the archdiocese intoned, “The Lord be with you” at the beginning of Mass last Sunday, they probably heard a double response. Some of us in the pews were ready with the words of the new Roman Missal: “And with your spirit.” Others, understandably, forgot about the change and replied with the familiar, “And also with you.”
It will take us a while to get used to the new translation of the Mass prayers, but soon it will be as familiar as the old form was. And we stand to gain much by reflecting on the changes, reading the revised prayers and using the new responses wholeheartedly.
It was especially appropriate to introduce the new translation on the First Sunday of Advent, the start of the liturgical year. That is when the Church begins the annual cycle of readings that trace the story of our salvation through Christ and his Church. Advent, of course, is the time of preparation for the coming of the Redeemer. The Church invites us to consider our spiritual lives, to spend time in prayer, to receive the sacraments and to reflect on God’s love, made present to us in the life, death and resurrection of Christ.
These great mysteries find their fullest earthly expression in the Mass, the central act of Catholic worship and the heart of Catholic life. One of the reasons for the new translation is to bring us closer to the original Latin prayers of the Mass and their scriptural references. Another reason is to take the prayers to a higher level of language, different from the kind of speech we use in everyday life. The new translation uses language that is more reverent, more beautiful and more poetic than before, to raise our minds to God and to emphasize the difference between worship and the ordinary things we do.
Consider the prayer we recite just before receiving the Eucharist, newly revised to conform to the original: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” Substitute “servant” for “soul” and these are the words spoken by the centurion who implored Christ to heal his gravely ill servant. The revised prayer instantly evokes the biblical account (Matt. 8:8), and is more vivid and more humble than the one it replaced.
Some have criticized the new translation as archaic and too far removed from everyday language. But our worship benefits from drawing on our 2,000-year heritage of faith and prayer. We also need to remember that as the Catholic—or “universal”—Church, we pray with one voice, a voice that is different from common speech.
It’s not that the words we use daily are not adequate for prayer. No prayer is more powerful than the one that comes straight from the heart of the believer in humility and love. But personal prayer is different from formal, communal prayer. In church, we need a language that transcends the ordinary.
And while our worship reflects the times in which we live, it also brings us outside time and away from the mundane. With Jesus present on the altar at Mass and united with us at communion, eternity enters time and time touches eternity.
One way to grow in appreciation for the new prayers is to learn more about them, to learn more about the Mass itself and to attend Mass reverently every Sunday.
What a Christmas gift that would make, to ourselves and to the Lord for whose coming we prepare.