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Recovering the liturgy's splendor

New Missal translation offers Church numerous important prospects for worship

  • Deacon Sherman Kuek, Johor Bahru
  • Malaysia
  • December 13, 2011
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On the first Sunday of Advent this year all dioceses within the Bishops’ Conference of Malaysia-Singapore-Brunei officially implemented the New Translation of the Roman Missal in the celebration of their liturgy. This is not a New Mass or a New Missal; it is merely a new translation of the same Misale Romanum, albeit of the Third Edition.

In an era that favors expertise, specialization and niche over mere simple obedience, I am not presumptuous enough to analyze this change as if I were a liturgy expert. What I hope to offer here is a very personal observation which does not suppose to represent any view of the hierarchy, and I do so as nothing more than a deacon who loves my Church and the liturgy she celebrates.

When change takes effect, it is only natural that all sorts of sentiments are invoked. Some are very much excited about it, while others are suspicious at best and negative at worst. I would like to propose that the implementation of this New Translation of the Roman Missal offers the Church several important prospects.

First, it helps us recover our ecclesial language of prayer. Perhaps we have for far too long been speaking to God in our public worship the way we would speak to our neighbors and relatives. For those of us who come from countries that have retained various forms of monarchy, we would know better than to approach our monarchs the way we would approach people on the street; yet this is how we have been speaking to God in our Mass for several decades. This New Translation, whatever liturgical linguistic analysts may say about it, reminds us of the vitality of relearning the language of sacred prayer. Even in its original language, the prayers of the liturgy are not written in “street” or “popular” Latin but in another level of Latin that addresses the divine with utmost reverence. The translators have now endeavored to reflect this in the New English Translation of the Mass. We will once again learn to speak of the divine, to the divine, with appropriate vocabulary.

Secondly, it provokes a greater mindfulness among the faithful of how our liturgy is celebrated. Up until now, the faithful have by and large put up with almost any liturgical innovations brought in by clergy and laity alike. It would appear that this new implementation has, intentionally or otherwise, brought about a concern among many laity for a stricter observance of liturgical rubrics. Of course, some people may dismiss this as a silly type of mindless “rubricism”. But nothing could be further from the truth. Rubrics, being our liturgical body-language, express the soul of the liturgy. When a heart is truly lifted up to God in utter worship, it expresses itself not just through sacred words but also through profound bodily gestures which have to be appropriate in the eyes of the Church.

Thirdly, it offers an opportunity for the faithful to be re-catechized on the theology underpinning the liturgical practices and prayers of the Church. Many of our lay faithful have participated in the Mass with a rather deficient understanding of the meaning of the prayers spoken and the gestures accompanying these prayers. In fact, over the years, many have even come to create their own unnecessary gestures, although these are often done most sincerely. All the faithful need to be catechized in the aspect of liturgical theology, but a very small minority would seek opportunities to learn it. This New Translation provides a crucial opportunity to catechize the lay faithful by helping them to understand not just how to participate practically in the Mass but also the theology that underpins each segment of the Mass.

It continues to inspire me when I think of how we, the Christians of this generation, are living through a very historic moment of the Church. I can imagine how fifty, or even a hundred, years from now students in English-speaking seminaries and laity in English-speaking parts of the world will be calling to mind the First Advent of 2011/2012 when a large segment of the English-speaking world celebrated its first Mass according to the New Translation of the Roman Missal; you and I were there participating in this historic event. We witnessed first-hand the little chaos that arose from this new implementation, and we experienced in person the anxieties of being unsure how this first Mass would turn out.

We have a story to pass on to our next generation; it will be a story of how we journeyed with the Holy Catholic Church into a deeper appreciation of her liturgical life. Just by being there.

Sherman Kuek is a theologian and a married permanent deacon of the Malaysian Church.  He also serves as director of the Diocesan Pastoral Institute of Melaka-Johor diocese.
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