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Roman Missal 3.0 —
Updates Installed

by Fr. David M. Friel

This article appeared in the 06 January 2013 online edition of Homiletic & Pastoral Review, and is reprinted with the kind permission of Managing Editor, Elenor K. Schoen, and of the author.

As a revision, the Roman Missal 3.0 has, as its obvious intention, to be an improvement upon that which came before … the highlights that follow will serve as fledgling insights into the treasures we have received.

Missal on the Altar The last time I put a pencil to music manuscript paper was 2008. That was the year I finally gave in and took advantage of my student discount to purchase one of the mainstream software programs for musical composition. I was absolutely delighted when it arrived, and I loaded it onto my laptop immediately. It was a moment of true emancipation for me as a freelance composer.

It was also the moment in which I became enslaved to unremitting advertisements for the 2009 version of the program. Six months later, the promotions began for the 2010 version. The commercials still come, both by regular mail and by electronic mail, though fortunately not over the phone. Software updates are standard procedure for those who choose to live in the digital age; nevertheless, I find myself easily exasperated with the arrival of each new promotion.

Almost a year has passed since the English-speaking world received Roman Missal 3.0, the new translation of the Missale Romanum editio typica tertia. Before its implementation in late November 2011, I encountered many priests and laymen whose reaction to the announcement of a new missal was as unenthusiastic as is my reaction to the promotional spam I receive for my music software. And, just as I typically spend little time investigating what improvements are being offered in the software update, many (though not all) of these members of our Church had given little time to the task of exploring what the new missal would offer. As a revision, its obvious intention is to be an improvement upon that which came before. But how, and in what ways?

This is too broad a question to be answered in fullness here, so I will limit myself to present only five "updates" offered by the new missal. These observations are not intended to constitute a comprehensive analysis of the missal, nor do they necessarily represent the largest or most significant improvements. Clergy and churchgoers, at this point, will be familiar with the large-scale changes that have occurred, but many perhaps have not plumbed the more minute aspects of the revision. My hope is that the highlights that follow will serve at least as fledgling insights into the treasures we have received.

Update 1: The Church as "She"

Our first "update" concerns reference to the Church as "she." This language appears at several places in the revised prayers. The beautiful new rendering of the Roman Canon, for example, includes these words:

Accept and bless these gifts, these offerings, these holy and unblemished sacrifices, which we offer you firstly for your holy Catholic Church. Be pleased to grant her peace, to guard, unite, and govern her throughout the whole world …

In the prayer that follows the Embolism, and leads into the Sign of Peace, we now pray:

Look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church, and graciously grant her peace and unity in accordance with your will …

And, in the Preface of Holy Pastors, the priest prays:

For, as on the festival of St. N., you bid your Church rejoice, so, too, you strengthen her by the example of his holy life, teach her by his words of preaching, and keep her safe in answer to his prayers …

The use of the feminine singular pronoun may strike our ears strangely, since we have been referring to Holy Mother Church as "it" for nearly the last half-century. The feminine pronoun is, however, a very fitting usage (and one we should endeavor always to employ in our own speech concerning the Church). Why?

Because the Church is the Bride of Christ, and She is our Mother.

The Bible uses lots of imagery, and one of the most pervasive, overriding images of Scripture is the marriage of Christ with the Church. The image begins in Genesis, and extends throughout all the prophets; it is mentioned in the Gospels, and it takes center stage as the wedding feast of the Lamb in the Book of Revelation. Cover-to-cover, the Bible is the story of the marriage between Christ and his Church. Just as in earthly marriage, this heavenly marriage necessitates the union of a man with a woman in an inseparable bond that is faithful, fruitful, and utterly free. For this reason, the Church has always been regarded as a feminine entity. Now, our English liturgical prayers reflect that great truth.

In the second century, Saint Irenæus (c. 120-200) made reference to "the ancient organism of the Church."1 In one of his classic theological texts, Henri de Lubac (1896-1991) took up the same theme, explaining that "the Church, composed of men, was not made by the hands of men. She is not an organization. She is a living organism."2 Blessed Isaac of Stella (c. 1100) makes a comparison between Mary and the Church, pointing out that both are Mothers.3 Both, moreover and mysteriously, are virgins: women blessed with generativity, though not with sexual union. The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) makes these same comparisons, describing Mary as a type of the Church. As such, the Council teaches, one of the chief actions of the Church is "imitating the mother of her Lord."4 Thus, we see the ancient understanding of the Church as a feminine entity present all throughout her history, still pertinent and vibrant even in modern times.

During the entire course of her life, Mary is always a model of the Church in nucleo: at Bethlehem, at Nazareth, at Golgotha, at Pentecost, and at the Assumption. Like Mary, the Church is, indeed, our Mother, so we should always honor her as such.

Update 2: The Beauty of Repetition

The second highlight we shall offer concerns the beauty of repetition. We encounter repetitive phraseology at several points in the ordinary of the new translation. For example, in the Roman Canon, the priest now prays:

This pure victim, this holy victim, this spotless victim …

In the Confiteor, all pray:

Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault …

And, in the Gloria, we sing:

We praise you, we bless you, we adore you, we glorify you, we give you thanks for your great glory …

The most obvious and basic reason for adopting these new texts is that they reflect more accurately what is contained in the normative Latin liturgical text. There are better reasons given for this, even more than that, though. Looking specifically at the Gloria text, each of these phrases conveys, in a general sense, the same notion of worshipping God. But, upon closer inspection, these five descriptions of worship actually do present subtle distinctions. To "adore" does not mean exactly the same thing as to "glorify" or to "bless," or else this multiplicity of words would not exist. Together, these near-synonyms combine almost synergistically to express the extraordinary extent to which we, as Christians, are bound to glorify God.

Liturgical prayer, moreover, is enhanced when it is graced with poetic repetition. This kind of repetition is not dry or banal or purposeless. Instead, it is beautiful, artistic, and poetic. Liturgy is supposed to be beautiful, and God certainly deserves the gift of our artistry and poetry. Just as the sacred liturgy has inspired a multiplicity and abundance of beauty in the various arts (music, painting, architecture, etc.), so it has inspired a wealth and diversity in our phraseology of prayer.

It is, perhaps, germane to observe that prayerful repetition is well utilized in the "Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite," as well as in other rites of the Catholic Church. One unfamiliar with the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, for example, could easily be astonished by the number of times, "Lord, have mercy," is uttered. Another major component of that Liturgy is the Trisagion, an ancient hymn that is always sung three times, in honor of the thrice-holy God.5 It would be difficult to refute the value of these prayers as they contribute to the holiness, and cohesive beauty, of the Byzantine liturgy. The new English version of the Roman Missal now permits the anglophone world to share in some of these same riches.

As the Psalmist declares: "All your creatures shall thank you, O Lord, and your friends shall repeat their blessing."6

Update 3: The Orientation of the Canon

We turn now to the third update included in the implementation of the new Roman Missal: the orientation of the canon.

The Roman Canon, sometimes also called Eucharistic Prayer I, is one of several different canons the priest may choose to pray during the Liturgy of the Eucharist. There are four main options, plus several others, but the Roman Canon is the canon with the longest history in the Roman Rite. In fact, it has been prayed almost unchanged for roughly 1500 years.

By comparing the first words of Eucharistic Prayer I in the new and old English translations with the Latin original, one discovers a remarkable shift. First, this is the official beginning of the Canon in Latin, employed from time immemorial:

Te igitur, clementissime Pater …

This line, in the English translation of the former Sacramentary, was rendered:

We come to you, Father …

Now, with the newly translated Roman Missal, the following begins the Canon:

To you, therefore, most merciful Father, we …

In Latin, the words of a sentence can be placed almost anywhere, and still maintain sensibility. Thus, the placement of words is empowered as a manner of conveying meaning. It is not by mistake, then, that the very first word of the Roman Canon is Te (“To You”), referring to God. That the prayer begins with Te tells us the orientation of the whole prayer: toward the Father.

Word placement commands power in English, too, although there is less freedom in its regard than there is in Latin. What we have been praying since 1973, noticeably, changes the initial focus from Te (God) to we (us). This translation fails to capture the fundamental orientation that is so clear in the Latin, instead placing undue emphasis upon the worshipping community.

The new English translation has masterfully restored the essential orientation of this prayer. In addition to reinstating the loving description of our Father as "most merciful," the placement of the word "you" at the outset of this prayer faithfully accomplishes the same nuance realized by the Latin.

Guided by the tremendous fidelity of our new translation, we can see, with newfound clarity, the orientation of our earthly pilgrimage toward the Father.

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