Making the most of the Missal
Challenges and Opportunities in the implementation of the English Translation of the Third Typical Edition
The 2012 Crichton Lecture by Monsignor Andrew Wadsworth
to the Society of St Gregory
November 10, 2012 – Clifton Cathedral
Your gracious invitation to address you today reminds me of the story of the survivor of the famous Johnstown Flood which occurred on May 31, 1889. It was the result of the catastrophic failure of the South Fork Dam situated 14 miles upstream of Johnstown in Pennsylvania, made worse by several days of extremely heavy rainfall. The dam's failure unleashed a torrent of 20 million tons of water which killed 2,209 people. It was the first major disaster relief effort handled by the recently founded American Red Cross and support for victims came from all over the United States and 18 other countries, including this one.
As a major national calamity, it captured the popular imagination and stories about the flood abounded. In one such story, one of the survivors of the flood eventually dies and goes to heaven and arriving at the Pearly Gates is greeted by St Peter and on being admitted into heaven, is given one wish. Having had a long and interesting life after the flood and accustomed to speaking at length about his experiences, the survivor said: ‘What I would really like is to be able to tell everyone here about my experience in surviving the great Johnstown flood of 1889!’. Rather weary worn, St Peter reluctantly agreed and all of the residents of heaven were arrayed to hear the account. As our intrepid survivor was mounting the podium to begin his address, St Peter took him to one side and said: ‘I feel I ought to mention before you speak that Noah is in the audience!’. Well, I feel as though I am addressing a lot of Noahs this afternoon, those who certainly have a first-hand and often expert knowledge of the subject under consideration, but given the nature of liturgy, that is hardly surprising! For the liturgy is something which, of its nature, necessarily admits participants rather than spectators.
When I was a seminarian in the mid eighties, the writings of Mgr Crichton were standard fare and probably the largest single source of our information about the liturgy. His monumental works on the Study of the Liturgy, The Celebration of the Mass and The Sacraments have been reliable sources of liturgical formation now for several generations of English-speaking Catholics. His insightful studies, Worship in a Hidden Church and Light in the Darkness: Forerunners of the Liturgical Movement certainly played a significant role in galvanizing my own enthusiasm for a more profound study of the sources of our liturgy. In many ways, Mgr Crichton’s work was an obvious flowering of scholarship in the immediate wake of the Second Vatican Council. He was preeminent among those who attempted to explain the work of the Council and provide a scholarly matrix for the reception of the revised liturgical rites.
Some fifty years later, we find ourselves once again returning to the source of that renewal, the first utterance of the Council Fathers, mandating the process which essentially gave us the liturgy as we have had it ever since. The fiftieth anniversary of the start of the Council together with next year’s fiftieth anniversary both of Sacrosanctum concilium and the founding of ICEL, all provide ample opportunity for reflection, appraisal and renewal of the liturgy. It is with these things in mind that I would like to begin a consideration of the title of this lecture: Challenges and Opportunities in the implementation of the English Translation of the Third Typical Edition.
Very shortly we will reach the first anniversary of the implementation of the full text of the new translation of the Roman Missal in these isles. Any real assessment of the reception of the text still lies some long time in the future as we have only just begun the process of digesting it. That said, it is already possible to identify the areas which represent both opportunities and challenges in coming to terms with a liturgical text which in so many ways is quite different in character to the text it has replaced. In outlining both the opportunities and the challenges, we uncover some of the characteristics of the translation that were consciously willed in the long process of its gestation:
1. The elevated linguistic register of the orations
Although commentators vary in their treatment of the significance of this characteristic, it is fair to state that all agree that there has been a considerable move towards a greater formality of language in the prayers of the Missal. In this, the translation echoes some of the features of the original Latin text which is often distinguished by a beauty of form and balance. As a consequence, the internal rhythms of the text are considerably different from what they were, longer phrases and greater formality in syntax often need more time to be heard and even more time in their proclamation. The most common observation among priests seems to be that it takes longer. People generally agree that advance preparation of the text, taking care over phrasing that will afford the listener the greatest access to its sense, is an activity that is readily rewarded. Returning to a text, either in the course of the same day or possibly over a number of days can serve to shed greater light on the unpacking of texts which are often dense and rapid in the concentration of their ideas. The fact that we now potentially use a single English language text throughout the world bears witness to English which as a world language is subject to an almost infinite variety of uses and yet at a more elevated register is comprehensible across local and national boundaries.
2. Greater evidence of Scriptural allusions
Scripture is the greatest single source of our liturgical text, not only those elements which are the reading of the Scriptures in the strict sense but also the many prayers which either directly quote Scripture or clearly allude to it. Some prayers contain whole strings of Scriptural citations or images and their recognition has been greatly facilitated by an awareness of the various versions of the Scriptures that are habitually used in our territories. This has been a conscious part of the process of the preparation of the text and consequently this characteristic is now much more marked. In this way, it is hoped that the greater familiarity with the Word of God, so earnestly desired by the Fathers of the Council, finds an echo in the words which the Church places on our lips in the celebration of the Mass.
3. Increased sensitivity to the fundamental sung character of the liturgical text
Most texts of the Missal are intended to be sung, at least at more solemn celebrations. The Missal itself contains more music than any of its predecessors or indeed any ritual book promulgated by the Catholic Church thus far. In addition to those elements of the Mass which are notated for singing, there are the orations which are ideally sung at a solemn celebration. This will continue to present something of a challenge, particular in those places where the priest is not generally used to singing even in a celebration of Mass that already contains much music. The history which explains how we ever became separated from the notion of singing the orations and the proper chants at Mass is very complex and we don’t have time to rehearse that whole story here today. Suffice to say that we find ourselves at a new moment in this regard in that we face the possibility of maybe choosing to do things in a different way from the way in which we have done them over the past forty years.
Having travelled the English-speaking world very widely in preparation for the implementation of the English translation of the third typical edition of the Missale Romanum, and having experienced the liturgy in a wide variety of circumstances and styles, I would have to say that I have generally encountered among our people a very great desire for change, although this desire is not always to be found among those who are most directly responsible for the liturgy. I think we are currently very well placed to respond to this desire and this is evidenced by the fact that many things which were indicated fifty years ago, such as the singing of the parts of the Order of Mass, and perhaps more particularly the singing of the proper texts rather than the endless substitution of songs and hymns, are only now being seriously considered and in some places implemented. I think it is earnestly to be desired that such developments continue to flourish in such a way that an improved liturgical culture is accessible to everyone in the Church. Time will tell whether the musical resources necessary to the success of such a development also flourish in our midst. This is a very considerable creative challenge as many people believe that the question boils down to whether to use chant or not. I do not personally believe that this is ultimately the case and I am convinced that a variety of musical styles could easily be admitted in the realization of this important principle. On the other hand, if such necessary musical resources do not emerge, then I fear that many of the less desirable features of post-conciliar liturgical music may be here to stay.
For all of us who habitually use the Roman Missal in English, our liturgy has changed considerably over the past year – it sounds different. The change of text is indicative at a deeper level of the possibility of doing things differently which will hopefully bring us all a little nearer to a more faithful realization of the liturgy willed by the Church as expressed in Sacrosanctum concilium. It is true to say that considerable improvements in the liturgy have already been in evidence in more recent years, and many people such as yourselves have been essential in this endeavour. Crucial to this peaceful revolution, however, has also been the leadership and example of the present Holy Father who has consistently studied and written about the liturgy in a long life of scholarship which now informs his governance of the Church’s liturgical life. Much that he commends was already evident in aspects of liturgical scholarship from the early twentieth century onwards and in many ways the work of Mgr Crichton is a significant contribution to the whole liturgical debate.
In our own time, perhaps we have a sense that for many Catholics the renewal of the liturgy is finally being received with the joy and enthusiasm that it merits. A new generation of Catholics eagerly awaits a greater experience of the basic Catholic truth that the liturgy is always a gift which we receive from the Church, rather than something which we make for ourselves. As those most intimately concerned with the liturgy, you all have a highly significant contribution to make to this process. If I may be so bold as to profit from the opportunity of addressing you to make some practical suggestions that may be of assistance in supporting the on-going work of renewal both for each of us individually and all-importantly for the diverse communities we serve, I would like to suggest that:
- as those who love the liturgy, you persevere in your study of the liturgy. The fiftieth anniversary of the Council should engender in all of us a return to the source documents – a careful re-reading of Sacrosanctum concilium in such a way as to establish what it does and does not say, I dare say that for some people there will be surprises in both categories.
- a careful reading of the General Instruction on the Roman Missal which really reveals to us how the wishes of the Fathers of the Council are applied to our celebration of the Mass. In the latest edition of the Missal the GIRM has been expanded to include a considerable amount of new material. In some cases this offers a development of thought or even a corrective that will necessarily have an impact on our celebration of the liturgy. This is the charter by which our celebration of the Mass is ordered.
- I want to encourage you to share your very considerable knowledge and experience in such a way that patterns of good practice in the celebration of the liturgy are established and strengthened. This is much easier now thanks to the internet and it is always very encouraging to learn from the insights and experience of others.
- to make your observations in relation to the new translation known to your bishops or directly to us in the ICEL office. In this way you will contribute personally to the necessary process of appraisal of the text in its use and assist in the process whereby liturgical translations are prepared in the future. Please don’t say ‘nobody asked me!’, I am asking you now.
- please offer as much support and assistance as you can to your priests who inevitably have a primary responsibility with regard to the liturgy. If you are a musician, please offer your expertise in assisting those who are less confident in responding to the most recent invitations to sing the Mass. This will require patience and often ingenuity in building confidence.
- if you are a composer, please think carefully about the challenge that the Church places before you at this time and perhaps consider the possibility of setting the proper texts of the Missal, particularly the antiphons and psalms as proposed in the Missal and the Graduale Romanum for the entrance, offertory and communion processions.
And finally, please pray that all of us will come to a far greater experience of what God wills for us through the liturgy. For the greatest number of our people, the Sunday Mass is their principal point of contact with the Church. For that reason, it is always something of a surprise to me that the liturgy is not immediately identified as a primary instrument of the New Evangelization and that programmes do not tend to see the fundamental importance of the liturgy implied in the endeavour of evangelization.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for all that you do so generously in the service of the Church and to ask you to please continue to do it – we all have a very important part to play in this sharing in the leitourgia, this liturgy which is genuinely a work of the people in which there are only participants and beneficiaries and no spectators. May God bless us all as we share in his work.