Posted November 25, 2011 in New Millennium:
Send Down Your Spirit Like the Dewfall

by Fr. David May.

On the first Sunday of Advent, November 27, the English-speaking world will begin to use the new translation of the Mass.

After a discussion that went on for years, Rome and the bishops of the various countries involved have agreed upon a text that conveys as accurately as possible in English the beauty, elegant simplicity, and poetry of the Latin original.

While there will be changes in some of the people’s responses, and in prayers we all recite or sing together, such as the Gloria or the Creed, most of the modifications have to do with the prayers recited by the priests.

It will take time to become familiar with all this, but the sense of the Pope and the bishops is that it will be well worth the difficulties of adjustment.

I can still remember the time when, as a boy of thirteen or so, I first heard the prayers of the Mass in my own native tongue. Although I was then studying Latin and enjoyed it a lot, it was still a thrill to hear the ancient prayers of the Church being prayed in English.

What I didn’t know is that those early translations of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s were never intended to be final or definitive. It’s simply taken 40 years or so to correct the situation.

While there are those who appear to thrive on innovation, change, and improvisation, when it comes to my prayer life, and especially liturgical prayer life, I’m not one of them.

I like to become familiar with the prayers (and rubrics), follow them over and over again, and let the prayer of Christ in the Mass take me deeper and deeper into his Heart.

I don’t like to have to think about this too much when I pray, but let what is given carry me where it will by the grace of the Spirit.

I’m not talking about being attentive, which is always important, but about being preoccupied.

But for the next while, you and I will need to be preoccupied with the liturgy again, to learn and become familiar with the new ways of praying the ancient prayers.

I personally believe it will be worth the effort, so beautiful is the new translation. But like all fruitful efforts in the spiritual life, there will be a sacrificial element entailed.

Versions of some prayers we know by heart will be discarded. New versions will require pew cards or booklets for awhile in order to be prayed properly.

Prayers I’ve memorized as a priest—the words of consecration, silent prayers before or after the Gospels, before receiving Holy Communion, or while purifying the sacred vessels afterwards—are all slightly different.

The four principal Eucharistic Prayers themselves, while still recognizable, are noticeably changed. I will do no more than mention the opening prayers, the prefaces before the Sanctus, and other orations spoken aloud by the priests. They have all been translated anew!

And then there’s the musical adjustment that goes with all this!

Whatever the challenges, the new translation will continually convey the Roman liturgical sense of awe, wonder, and loving reverence in the presence of the Holy One.

The goal this time has not been conciseness and simplicity so much as fidelity to the poetic, elegant, and yes, repetitive style of the original Latin.

Hopefully, the fruit of all this, reverently prayed, will be to help us all enter more deeply into the splendor and beauty of God, made present in the holy mysteries.

So, in an age of rapidity of movement, anxiety-driven time constraints, and preference for sound bites, our Mass will now slow down, bask more in the eternal, and lovingly extend phrases that we have heard for a generation in a rather truncated fashion. Here are some examples:

In Eucharistic Prayer #1, the so-called Roman Canon (which we already use each Sunday in MH), note the contrast between how the current translation begins and then how the new one does it:

The current one is: We come to you, Father, with praise and thanksgiving, through Jesus Christ your Son. Through him we ask you to accept and bless these gifts we offer you in sacrifice.

The new translation is: To you, therefore, most merciful Father, we make humble prayer and petition through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord: that you accept and bless these gifts, these offerings, these holy and unblemished sacrifices which we offer you…

Similarly, listen to the contrast between the prayers said just before the consecration:

Currently: Bless and approve our offering, make it acceptable to you, an offering in spirit and in truth. Let it become for us the body and blood of Jesus Christ, your only Son, our Lord.

Our new translation: Be pleased, O God, we pray, to bless, acknowledge, and approve this offering in every respect; make it spiritual and acceptable, so that it may become the Body and Blood of your most beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Do you see how the new translation, in its fidelity to the Latin, retains the repetitive phrases that build one upon another to convey the reverence and loving awe appropriate to human beings in the presence of the Holy One who loves us and gave his life for us?

Words that were simply omitted in the current translation (such as "holy and unblemished" sacrifices, "most beloved" Son) are now restored.

Rather than tersely telling God to "bless and approve our offering," there is the sense of confident yet humble petition contained in the phrase ‘be pleased, O God, we pray, to bless…’

One of the great and terrible wounds of the Church today has been a loss of a sense of the Holy. With that loss, we, in a sense, lose everything we have to offer, because what our faith offers to the world is not more of the world, but a vision of transcendent Love that alone can heal this world’s longing and bring it to fulfillment.

Experience of the centuries assures us that this work of salvation is not instant. It takes time. It takes effort to raise us out of ourselves so as to live in the presence of God. Something has to die in us if Christ is to live in us.

How gently yet how strongly, and with such deep assurance, does the liturgy have the power to lift us out of ourselves if we but surrender to it!

I would like to conclude with one further example, this time from Eucharistic prayer # 2, the shortest and simplest one, often used for weekday Masses:

Currently it begins as follows: Lord, you are holy indeed, the fountain of all holiness. Let your Spirit come upon these gifts to make them holy, so that they may become for us the body and blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

The more accurate translation of these phrases is: You are indeed holy, O Lord, the fount of all holiness. Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray, by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall, so that they may become for us the Body and Blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

In this epiclesis, or prayer invoking the Holy Spirit over the gifts of bread and wine, we hear the sentiment of the entire Church in its longing: that in our time the Spirit "come down" upon us, "like the dewfall," that the Lord may grant us the time of refreshment and restoration, even as he refreshed his people in the desert with manna that fell each day with the morning dew.


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