Why a New Translation Won’t Help (Pt I)
By Matthew J. Bellisario 2011
By Matthew J. Bellisario 2011
Coming soon to your Catholic parish near you will be a new English translation of the Novus Ordo Liturgy. There is a fierce war going on over this new translation between those who think it will add orthodoxy to the liturgy, and those who like it just the way it is. But it is my personal opinion that neither outcome will satisfy the deficiency of the Mass in its present form. By deficient, let me clarify before I get attacked for saying such a thing. I do not mean deficient in the sense of validity, or even “orthodoxy”, but in the Liturgy’s ability to give the best we have to God in proper form in all of its components, including prayer composition and gesture. I must also make it clear that what the Church did in the Second Vatican Council, which was to develop a new Liturgy, it absolutely has the right and authority to do. The keys that were given to St. Peter afford the Pope and the Church to make changes in an effort to communicate the faith to the world, and I believe it did so with all of the legitimate authority given to it under heaven by Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. In these changes we are guaranteed a valid Liturgy, and we do have that. We are however not guaranteed that the changes will be the most effective or even the best solution for the faithful. We know that the many of the Sacraments have undergone structural, not doctrinal, changes over the centuries. Men and women stood before the entire church to confess their sins once upon a time, and this had to be changed. So, the Church moves on through time trying its best to live and communicate the Catholic faith as best she can, yet never losing the essential truths of the faith. That being said, I believe that the liturgical change made at Vatican II did not improve the Mass, and so I believe that the Church will at some point move back to what came before the liturgical changes.
The first and most important object of the Mass is to give proper worship that is due to almighty God. The Catechism of the Council of Trent tells us of the importance of right worship on the Sabbath, for in doing so, “they will be disposed to observe, with their whole heart, the law of the Lord. Hence the sanctification and observance of the Sabbath is very often commanded in Scripture,.. The worship of God and the practice of religion, which it comprises, have the natural law for their basis. Nature prompts us to give some time to the worship of God.” That means that the Mass, or what is commonly called the Divine Liturgy in the Eastern Catholic Church, is not an invention of man, because at its core it is divinely instituted. That does not mean that every prayer, every action of the priest or even every component of the Liturgy is a direct command from Our Lord, but still, at its very core it is such an action commanded by Our Lord. “Do this in remembrance of me.” Do what? Of course, remembrance means much more than painting a mental nostalgic picture in the back of our heads in imagining what Our Lord said. It is operative in nature and contains an active component to it directly linking Our Lord’s words and actions to the Liturgy. The Church does what Christ did, in the Liturgy we take bread, give thanks, bless and break it, say the words of institution, give it to to others and likewise with the chalice. The Church has taken this divine command, with the Eucharistic Sacrifice at its core and has developed prayers and rubrics from Scripture and Tradition, and has composed many liturgies over the centuries which magnify and glorify this core of the Eucharistic Sacrifice. This is how she carries out Christ’s divine command, the command to do “this in remembrance of me.” In other words, the Church has in the past tried as best she could in every time and place to give proper honor and place to the Divine Liturgy in all of its components, including action and prayer. We see this in all of the ancient liturgies both East and West. It is in the Liturgy where the Catholic faith should be seen at its most solemn and yet glorious fashion. Nothing in its composition should distract or take away from giving to God what is due to Him. St. Thomas Aquinas went so far as to hold up the Mass alongside that of Scripture and Tradition. As we know, the Church, Scripture, Tradition and Liturgy were all tightly wound together in the mind of St. Thomas, and none of them could stand alone from one another in his mind, and we should also have this same mindset.
Secondly, the element of sacrifice is to be regarded to be of the utmost importance to the Liturgy, since we will step into Our Lord’s passion, death, and resurrection in the Mass. In the Summa Theologica Saint Thomas opens his treatment of the Rite of the Mass by focusing on its sacrificial aspect. (III, Q83) All of the Church Fathers likewise emphasized the sacrificial element of the Mass. Ignatius of Antioch wrote in 110AD, "Make certain, therefore, that you all observe one common Eucharist; for there is but one Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, and but one cup of union with his Blood, and one single altar of sacrifice (Letter to the Philadelphians 4) It is in these two areas that I think that the Novus Ordo is deficient. It is deficient in communicating these two realities in its prayer structure and in its rubrical structure. In my opinion, it is not the best we have to offer to God in action or in prayer in order to give what is due to Him in worship, nor does it offer an image that best emphasizes the sacrificial nature of the Mass. In contrast, its predecessor, the Classical Latin Rite, or what is now known as the Extraordinary Form, does indeed communicate these realities.
Since the first and most important aspect of the Liturgy is to give what is due to God in worship, and secondly to call to mind Our Lord’s sacrifice in the Mass, then it stands to reason that a Liturgy which is structured to give attention to these elements would be objectively superior than one that focuses on these elements in a lessor manner by focusing on ourselves, our community, or our personal likes and dislikes. If we can prove this difference of focus by comparing the two liturgies in their actions, prayers and gestures, then this criticism would not be subjective, or my opinion, it would be an objective reality. In other words, I am not going to criticize the Novus Ordo liturgy based on my personal likes and dislikes for Latin, Gregorian Chant, or my personal taste for antiquity, etc. It will be based first on which liturgical structure gives more glory to God, which offers the proper worship that is due to Him, and finally that which brings to the Catholic mind and heart, the sacrifice of Our Lord in the Mass. I will examine each Liturgy’s ability to communicate these Catholic realities. It is my point here to propose that the Classical Latin Rite Mass, also commonly called the Tridentine Mass, is superior to the Novus Ordo in this fashion. It is also my opinion that a new translation is not going to change this fact. It is only going to prolong the inevitable, which will be the complete scrapping of the Novus Ordo Liturgy.
It has been said that Msgr Ranjith has made reference to the Novus Ordo giving way to the Classical Latin Rite (Extraordinary Form) over the next 20 years, and I wholeheartedly agree. Many clergy in the Church also share the same opinion. Once one examines all of the components of the Novus Ordo, and assesses the repairs, the adds, or the changes that need to be made to improve it, we will essentially end up with the Latin Mass. In fact, trying a “Reform of the Reform” will only prolong the inevitable. Once the Church realizes that trying to reform the Novus Ordo will only lead to ridiculous quarreling over translations and other proposed changes, the easiest and most effective way to restore the Liturgy will be to revert back to the old. I believe that as the Church battles its way through time, the Novus Ordo will only be small blip on the radar of liturgical history. One to be examined by future liturgical scholars as to how and why complete liturgical overhauls are doomed to failure. All of the ancient liturgies grew out of the core Eucharistic worship given to us by the apostles, and they were only gradually improved over the years. The Novus Ordo is unique in that it was a new liturgical structure composed by “liturgical experts” who thought they could fashion a liturgy similar to that of the ancient Church. Unfortunately they composed only a figment of their imagination, since they were not there in the first centuries of the Church. In the upcoming posts I will examine both liturgies and explain why I believe that the Classical Latin Mass is superior to the Novus Ordo, and why I believe it is in the interest of Catholics world wide to support the Latin Mass in an effort to replace the Novus Ordo. My opinions will not be shared by many, and they are sure to stir up some controversy. That is of little matter to me. The next part of this series will focus on the prayers at the foot of the altar, which have been sadly gutted from the Novus Ordo, and why this removal matters.