This weekend sees our Local Church, the Diocese of San Diego celebrating its 75th anniversary. As a church, our history is not defined by the building of churches, Catholic schools, hospitals or universities. Important as they are for the good of souls, as a Catholic people in this part of the world, we are defined by how we pray as a Church. The manner of how we pray and the words we use every Sunday have evolved and changed over a relatively short period of time.
It might be a surprise to many of our younger parishioners to know that in the two thousand year history of the Catholic Church, the Mass prayed in our own language is relatively recent phenomenon. Before 1962 everything you heard the priest say at Mass was in the ancient language of Latin. And all the responses to the prayers were also in the Latin language. Although not used as much today in the typical parish as it used to be, Latin has and is still the Church’s unique and sacred language for prayer.
If you walked into a parish before 1970, it was seldom you would find books in the seat. Instead, many Catholics owned their own prayer book and brought it to Mass every Sunday. Even though the Mass was prayed in Latin, some of the old prayer books used by families would be completely in English. But because Catholics are so familiar with how the Mass visibly unfolds, even though the Mass was in Latin, one could easily follow it with the help of an English prayer book.
These prayer books were called Missals (from the Latin word for the Mass, Missa). Some missals, would have Latin on one side and English on the other. Some would even have pictures of that was happening at various parts of the Mass.
With the help of a prayer book, and because it was also important to be attentive to what was going on at the altar in order to participate interiorly in the spiritual dynamics of the Mass, using a prayer book as an aid to worship meant there was less opportunities to allow the mind to wander too far away or become distracted unnecessarily as can happen to the best of us.
When the Mass is celebrated in another language, you have to be very perceptive and use all the senses to discern what the priest and the Mass are communicating. This takes a bit of work, it takes time and effort (the word ‘liturgy” comes from a Greek word denoting “the fulfillment of an obligation to to perform a pubic duty). It’s not on our terms it involves effort- in a way we have a duty to learn the unique unspoken language of the Mass which points us towards communion with God.
Even though, in the past, the majority of Catholics throughout the world attended Mass in a language they did not necessarily speak, with time and effort however, like getting used to wearing new glasses, the missal prayer book was a great tool to help understand, appreciate, pray and meditate on the meaning of the sacred words and actions of the Holy Mass.
When in 1962, the bishops of the world gathered in Rome with the pope for a General Council (commonly called Vatican II), among many other things, they recommended greater use of native languages in some of the parts of the older Mass in addition to the sacred language of Latin. By 1965, parts of the Mass were now spoken for the first time in English, especially the Scripture readings and some other parts such as the Creed, the Holy, Holy, Holy and the Our Father. However, the central part of the Mass, the Eucharistic Prayer (which includes the consecration of the bread and wine to become the heavenly Body and Blood of Christ) was still prayed quietly and intimately in the Church’s traditional sacred language of Latin.
It wasn’t until 1970 that a new order of Mass, completely in English which we use today, was presented to Catholics. Not only had various elements and parts of the older Mass used in the1960′s been removed, some of the ancient prayers were replaced with new compositions. Within this new template, the modern Mass could now be, as needed, spoken by the priest and the people in the common language of modern English.
However, because we were celebrating a new Mass for the first time in our own common language, it has taken us a good thirty years to understand the complexities of translating from the ancient and sacred language of Church Latin into the modern common language of the home, street and coffeehouse. As an illustration, when you translate poetry from one language to another, not only can you change its meaning unintentionally, but you can also loose the rhythm and the poetic flow of the words. Sometimes, words from one language do not translate at all! Translated from an ancient language to a modern one, a poem, like a prayer, can arrive at your doorstep flat, uninspiring and even misinterpreted.
Put this in the context of worship. The English language is a living language. Because particular words are used constantly in everyday circumstances, over time words they can change their meaning and evolve according to fads, fashions and needs. Because the official language of the Church is Latin, a dead language – (and this is not necessarily a bad thing!) it no longer evolves, the meanings of its words do not really change, their meaning is somewhat fixed. In a way, the flavor is “locked in”!
So, how do you translate an ancient Latin word which has a fixed meaning, into modern English which is spoken differently, not only from coast to coast, but has different rules and meanings in American as it has in Australia and is spoken differently in Ireland as it is in the United Kingdom? How do you translate ancient sacred prayers from Latin that have remained the same for hundreds and hundreds of years into a modern language that changes and grows with every generation? In short, very carefully!
Next week, we will take a look at some examples of the new English translations we will be using soon!
Why is this important? The more fully we understand the meaning of the prayers of the Mass and allow their words to inspire us to look towards heaven, the more confidently can we unite ourselves with our Catholic brothers and sisters throughout the whole world, together professing the one true faith that has been handed down to us intact, generation after generation from the time of the apostles, and by the Church through every century.
Saint Diego, Patron of the Diocese, City and County
St. Diego is living proof that God “chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Corinthians 1:27).
As a young man in Spain, Diego joined the Secular Franciscan Order and lived for some time as a hermit. After Diego became a Franciscan brother, he developed a reputation for great insight into God’s ways. His penances were heroic. He was so generous with the poor that the friars sometimes grew uneasy about his charity.
Diego volunteered for the missions in the Canary Islands and labored there energetically and profitably. He was also the superior of a friary there.
In 1450 he was sent to Rome to attend the canonization of St. Bernardine of Siena. When many friars gathered for that celebration fell sick, Diego stayed in Rome for three months to nurse them. After he returned to Spain, he pursued a life of contemplation full-time. He showed the friars the wisdom of God’s ways.
As he was dying, Diego looked at a crucifix and said: “O faithful wood, O precious nails! You have borne an exceedingly sweet burden, for you have been judged worthy to bear the Lord and King of heaven” (Marion A. Habig, O.F.M., The Franciscan Book of Saints, p. 834).
The city and the Diocese of San Diego, California, is named for this Franciscan, who was canonized in 1588.
21st Sunday after Pentecost (1962 Calendar)
La ley de la caridad y de la misericordia, que nos recuerda el evangelio es de una exigencia absoluta: “¿No debías haber tenido compasión de tu compañero como la he tenido yo de ti?” El perdón de las ofensas y el amor al prójimo son la réplica necesaria y como la prolongación en nuestra vida del magnánimo perdón que nos otorga Dios.
En Dios encuentra el cristiano la ley de su vida: “Sed buenos porque yo soy buen. Sed perfectos como lo es el Padre celestial. Amaos los unos a los otros como yo os he amado.
Our Lord teaches us in the Pater Noster: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”. Also, Our Lord reminds us to “Be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect”. How is God perfect? He is perfect in love and mercy, which is everlasting. It is with this love and mercy, radiated out to us by God, that we in turn pass on.
The gospel reminds us of the absolute requirement to show mercy and charity at all times. “Should you not have had mercy on the one who offended you in the same way as I forgive you?” is asked in the Gospel. If it is our Christian nature to forgive, then the Kingdom of God’s mercy is extended. Forgiveness does not mean we forget the wounds of past offenses. Forgiveness means not holding the offender responsible for ones present suffering.
To know God, not as a concept or idea, but as our heavenly Father to reaches out to us in tender kindness and merciful love, allows us be formed in a new manner of interacting with the world, not based on simple practical standards. Instead, our standard is modeled on a real live person the God the Son, Jesus Christ, through his Sacred Heart, his teachings, his life, his death, his resurrection and his merciful and loving intercession to God the Father, he still pleads, intercedes for you and me sinners. We owe him nothing but humble gratitude.