Sunday, December 11, 2011

Yet another opinion about the "New" Mass

The new changes in the English translation for the Mass have led to all sorts of unexpected consequences, and I feel a bit out of sort. There was plenty of preparation, lots of discussion, and extensive coverage in the news and in the pews. But as with most things, the actual experience of change is often altogether different than one's expectations.

I remember going through the Latin-to-English transition period in the 1960's, when "And with you" sounded clunky and inauthentic, especially as an altar server who was used to the Latin responses. Now, "And with your Spirit" sounds clunky and strange. In that first transition, the move was from one language to another, and therefore everything was new. This present one is within the same language and seems so much harder, perhaps because only some things are new. The reason for some of the present awkwardness seems to be two-fold. One has to do with the subject of the change (the language) and the other with the context of the change (the ritual).

Having gone to Mass pretty much every day since 1970, the texts had become a part of me, like the Our Father, or fine poems, or parts of Shakespeare ("Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediment..."). They had become a highway for my prayers, my thoughts, my way of living, with the words and phrases both familiar and accessible. I could pray as easily as I could speak to another person. I didn't have to think about which words to use. The medium had become part of me, a spiritual home.

The present change pulls that familiar linguistic rug out from under me. There's no way that I can keep my balance, let alone pray. Over the last few weeks, the Masses have been stilted and hesitant, juggling pew cards and books and new music. This will not last, of course. But the question is not whether we will grow used to it. My question - and it still is a question - is whether we will grow more prayerful through it.

The present change is not only a change in language, it's a change in character. It's not like putting on prism-glasses that make the world look upside down; something that  the brain quickly adjusts to, and everything is soon "normal." This is more like a well-loved and comfortable folk-dance that is suddenly altered, just a bit here and there. And as a result, people (the "folk") are bumping into one another all over the place, the dance-leaders (generally non-"folk") are doing their best to put a good face on it all, and those participating in the dance aren't having such a good time, too careful to avoid making mistakes to be able to really do what they came there to do; i.e., dance.

Unexpected consequences include getting lost in the multiple clauses of the prayers, the use of translated words that distance ("chalice" and "prevenient grace" come to mind) or confuse (How are we to convey a radically incarnational theology by using "with your Spirit" so much?), the need for weight-lifting classes for altar servers so that they can carry the new missal (You think that there won't soon be an iPad hidden in a carved-out old missal?), and the temptation to design kitchens instead of truly listening to the Eucharistic prayer.

Just one small example of something unexpected: that use of "chalice" an average of three times during the consecration. Did Jesus use an Aramaic or Hebrew word similar to our word "chalice" at the Last Supper? Do we use that word anywhere else except for the Mass? If it's now only used at Mass (and movie dialogues dealing with Kings and vampires and the like), is it wrong to think that we're quietly drifting towards a linguistic Docetism or Monophysitism [Look it up]?

Perhaps a future blog entry will take all this back and wax eloquently about the beauty of the text and the "rightness" of the changes, as many others are doing today. I can't predict that right now.

But I do really, sincerely, and simply hope that I (we) will come to pray more deeply as a result of these present changes. I don't have a lot of time to wait for the next translation, and I'm really sorry to see so much of what I was familiar with and grew close to ride off into the sunset.

"Shane, come back...."

Tempus fugit. Omnes translationes imperfecta.