Sunday, November 20, 2011

On the New Mass Translations

I saw this painting at the Dublin National Gallery when I visited Ireland for St. Patrick's Day 2010. Ever since then, I've been looking for an occasion to write about this picture, and finally decided to just go for it.

I loved this painting on sight. Irish families gathered in simple love and devotion to celebrate the Mass, in an intimate setting like that of the Last Supper. Nothing could destroy their constant faith - not devastating famines nor English persecution.

I love that I'm part of a religion that calls families "the domestic church." I love that our church leaders place so much trust on mothers and fathers to raise their children well, to be their primary educators, to catechize them in the faith.

I love that poor humble peasants like the ones in this painting worship the same God before Whose name high kings and queens kneel down. I love that in God's eyes, there is no distinction between peasant and king, and that we are all worthy to eat and worship the same Eucharist, the same Body of Christ.

Now, about that Eucharistic celebration. One week from today, the new English Mass translation will go into effect. The Mass that I have grown up with will change irrevocably.

I am so excited for the change, but I would be lying if I didn't admit that I'm a little afraid too. The words of the Mass, as they are now, form the fabric of my soul. I lisped them as a little child when I could barely even form the words. I've prayed them almost every day since my early teens. They're comfortable. They're familiar. And for me, any change, no matter how good, is always unsettling.

Yet, the new translation will go back to the literal meaning of the Latin words. It will be more true to the ancient texts, and will conform to what our brethren in other countries pray.

Looking at this painting, I see that the new Mass will recall us more closely to a form of prayer that these Irish peasants would have recognized.

The new translation will bring us more fully in line with the faith of our fathers. It will draw us more fully into the communion of the saints. And I know that that, despite my hesitations, can only be a good thing.

And so, with only a little nervousness, I'm prepared to joyfully welcome the wonderful new translations. One more week!

Post-edit: I just read this great article about living liturgically and thought that this little description seemed to go perfectly with the picture above:

"Everywhere vigil lights flickered in homes of the Irish emigrants who began the custom in penal days when priests were being hunted. Telling of the custom in The Christmas Book, Father Francis X. Weiser, S.J., writes:
The people had no churches. Priests hid in forests and caves and secretly visited the farms and homes to say Mass there during the night. When Christmas came the faithful placed burning candles in the windows so that any priest who happened to be in the vicinity would be guided to their home through the dark night. Silently he entered and was received by the devout with fervent prayers of gratitude that their home was to become a church during the Holy Night. To justify this practice in the eyes of the English soldiers, the Irish people used to explain: ''We burn the candles that Jesus and Mary looking for a place to stay will find their way to our home.'' The English authorities finding this superstition harmless did not bother to suppress it."


  1. "The new translation will bring us more fully in line with the faith of our fathers. It will draw us more fully into the communion of the saints. And I know that that, despite my hesitations, can only be a good thing" - that's a really good way of looking at it. I'm a bit nervous and excited too. I just hope I don't accidentally blurt out all the old responses!

  2. haha same here. I think the pew cards will really help. It's definitely going to take some getting used to though.