Tuesday, November 22, 2011

More Tidbits from the Workshop: Liturgical Renewal is Nothing New

As we prepare to experience the first official use of the “new translation” this coming Sunday, it might be helpful to consider the general concept of liturgical renewal (including translation of the texts). This theme is explored in the second session of the Mystical Body, Mystical Voice workshop (MBMV).
Liturgical renewal is nothing new; it has been going on, in fact, for over one hundred years. The Church has been moving in the direction of “actual participation” since Pope St. Pius X first espoused that notion in 1903. In the opening paragraphs of his motu proprio Tra le Sollecitudine (Instruction on Sacred Music), he noted that the primary purpose for the faithful to assemble “in the temple” is
... for no other object than that of acquiring this [true Christian] spirit from its foremost and indispensable font, which is the active participation in the most holy mysteries and in the public and solemn prayer of the Church. (emphasis added)
By “active participation”, Pope St. Pius X did not mean singing in the choir, being an usher, or serving as an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion!
Throughout the past century, many fine minds have reflected on the liturgy, and worked at reforming and renewing it. For instance, there was Dom Prosper Gueranger, who re-founded the Solesmes Monastery, of Gregorian chant fame, in the late 19th century. Observing that less than ideal relations existed between Rome and the Church in France, he worked to improve those relations. To this end, he fought heresies, and launched a liturgical movement that he hoped would restore the unity of the Church.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Dom Lambert Beaudin, a Belgian monk, launched his own liturgical renewal. He saw that the life of monks led them to understand more completely than the laity the meaning of sacramental signs in the liturgy; they were better equipped to see how the relationship of those signs to Church doctrine and Scripture passages was woven together in prayer. His program for liturgical renewal included the notion that it was imperative “to have the Christian people all live the same spiritual life, to have them all nourished by the official worship of holy Mother Church”. In order to achieve that end, he said, there must be “active participation of the Christian people in the holy Sacrifice of the Mass by means of understanding and following the liturgical rites and texts.” (See more here.) So again we see the term “active participation” – and again, it is not referring to being an usher or a reader or an extraordinary minister!
Another important liturgical thinker was Fr. Virgil Michel of St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota. He linked participation in the Mass with understanding of the Mystical Body, which he maintained would then lead to correct Christian social action. Again, we see an emphasis on “participation”, but it is not a mechanical participatory action; it is an interior movement and understanding.
Fr. Romano Guardini authored The Spirit of the Liturgy, a book which inspired then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to write a book with the same title. Guardini’s work was influential in Germany, and subsequently influenced the liturgical reforms recommended by the Second Vatican Council.
Vatican II’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium) outlined several principles for the reform of the Sacred Liturgy. Some of the most important are unity, traditional restoration, modern adaptation, and noble simplicity. In the workshop, these principles are explained and illustrated, but I will leave them in abbreviated form here. Suffice it to say that over the years since the Council, these principles have developed, and essentially, all of them have come into play in the translation of the various editions of the Roman Missal.
Finding English words and expressions that maintain the dignity, beauty, and doctrinal precision of the Latin is a very complex task. As the principles mentioned above developed, so also did principles more specifically related to the translation of Latin into the vernacular - principles involved in the process that led to the creation of the new translation (3rd edition) of the Missale Romanum – the Roman Missal. The aim has been to create a translation of the text that is easily understandable and fosters actual participation, while simultaneously remaining elegant, noble, and sacred.
While it is almost certainly not perfect, the new translation certainly appears to be a major improvement over the previous edition.

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