learning as a family: the new translation

Bet you thought I forgot about this one…

Back when the new translation of the Roman missal was front-page news, I wrote about my struggles in coming to terms with the change. I celebrated words I loved and would miss. And I promised I’d turn to what I could embrace in the new prayers at Mass.

And then life – and work and holidays and travel and illness and everyday chaos-with-kids – interrupted. And I never got to that third post, the hopeful one. Despite its persistent nagging at me every time we slid into the pew on Sunday.

But as the weeks passed and I guiltily thought of how I hadn’t made good on my promise, I started to see that perhaps it was better this way.

I needed time for the new words to bounce off my ear, roll off my tongue, rattle around in my head. I needed space to accept the awkwardness of “chalice” instead of “cup,” “consubstantial” instead of “one in being,” “was incarnate” instead of “born.”

I needed to grumble a bit. I’ll always miss “protect us from all anxiety,” among others.

I needed to stumble a lot. I still mangle the “enter under my roof” prayer every single Sunday.

And through my grumbling and stumbling, I came to realize something important about the new words we now say and pray at Mass each week:

We are learning them together.

It’s rare for a whole family to learn something brand-new. Usually the expert teaches and the novice learns. But as a young family in today’s Catholic Church, we find ourselves in the unique position of learning right alongside our children.

At this point I don’t know the words of the Mass any better than my toddler. We both scramble for pew cards: he pretends to read them, I pretend to memorize. He chimes in on the creed; I jump in late to stutter “and with your spirit.” We each make mistakes, and what can we do but smile? We’re learning as a family. Adults and children alike, back to the beginning together.

Our kids will never know anything but this Mass. For a while that brought me sadness. I liked the words I knew and I didn’t like the reasons behind the change. But now I find myself turning to hope, because that is our Christian calling. I hope that my children will come to love church: listening to Scripture, breaking bread, going forth to serve. I hope that our praying together as community will both comfort and challenge our family. And I hope that my wrestling with the new translation will give my kids a glimpse of what it means to be Catholic.

Our faith is beyond words. It is lives given in love and service to God and each other. You can call that by a thousand different names, but it remains truth. And yet all we have are words – imperfect, human words – with which to pray and wonder and celebrate and question. So without further ado, here are a few of the new words I’m learning to love.

We praise you, we bless you, we adore you, we glorify you, we give you thanks for your great glory, Lord God, heavenly King, O God, almighty Father. The words of the Gloria have been inverted. We used to address God first (“Lord God, heavenly King, almighty God and Father”) and state our praise second (“we worship, we give you thanks, we praise you for your glory”). But now we explode into this exultation of verbs – praise! bless! adore! glorify! give you thanks! – which crescendos into an explosion of God’s names. I love the build-up of phrases, heaping glory upon glory.

I also celebrate, here and elsewhere in the Mass, the change from “worship” to “adore.” More loving, more intimate, “adore” reminds me of the way I love my husband and my boys: with such sweet joy I can’t help but grin. I like the reminder to love God like that, too.

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is right and just. We used to respond to the priest’s opening of the Eucharistic Prayer by saying, “It is right to give God thanks and praise.” Which I always liked. Except that the addition of the word “just” has brought echoes of justice into the liturgy. We need more words that call us to justice, so I’ll take this small step.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets. I can’t be the only faithful feminist out there who noticed that every “he” in the Creed which referred to the Spirit got replaced with “who”? Probably not the translators’ intention (ha!), but I celebrate it nonetheless. I love Spirit as Spirit – creative, powerful, life-giving, beyond-gender Spirit – so I secretly delight in stringing together clauses of “who.” Leaves a little to mystery and imagination, which are the root of faith.

I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. At the end of the Creed we used to say, “We look for the resurrection of the dead,” which for me evoked images of running around the house, searching for my keys (“What are you looking for?” “THE RESURRECTION OF THE DEAD! I CAN’T FIND IT ANYWHERE!” “Well, where did you last see it?”)

One directional adverb later, and suddenly I switch from scanning the horizon to focusing on the attitude with which I search. I look forward: I anticipate, I hope, I eagerly await. I like looking forward to things – Christmas, birthdays, my youngest child sleeping through the night – much more than I like looking for my keys. So Amen to moving forward.

How about you? What words of the new translation are you coming to love?

(And does anyone else just love the new Mass settings we’re singing? All praise to those liturgists who slogged through tangles of translation to create beauty out of unfamiliar territory. Our parish’s settings of the Hosanna and the Mystery of Faith are simply gorgeous – I’ll have to find out the composer and note it here…)

9 thoughts on “learning as a family: the new translation

  1. I’m also digging the learning together…I love the people who show up for mass one sunday and old people who’ve been going forever are all slogging through together.

    Even our priest can be sloppy with it all. Such a rich experience in that!

    1. Great point, Rachel – we’re all in the same boat whether Christmas-Easter Catholics or daily Mass-ers! And I, too, love when the priest gets mixed up, I must admit. It gives a lovely humanity/humility to our prayer when we admit we’re all struggling to learn the changes.

  2. you will all have a chance to learn again when the corrected translation comes out…hopefully, it won’t take 40 years.

    Regardless, your posts continue to be amazing and full of such wonder and insight! <3 to all!

    1. LOL, so true. Your comment made me think of Bobertz describing how the Catholic Church issues its official changes: “As we have always taught, [new change inserted here].” 😉
      Love to you, too.

  3. I find it interesting, I hadn’t noticed that all of the “he”s had become “who”s…but, as a bit of a feminist myself (and raised in a very progressive church…yes, we had blue candles) I have always had issue with “for us men and for our salvation”, which hasn’t changed. I was honestly surprised it hadn’t just become “for us and for our salvation”. I know that “men” in this context means “mankind”…but I never saw why just saying “us” wasn’t enough. Who else would it be?

    Just my two cents. Wonderful examination of the new translation!

    1. Agree wholeheartedly. So disheartening that this kind of exclusive language continues. But what I find interesting is that at my parish (and many others I’ve been to), people always just dropped “men” and said, “for us and for our salvation.” And with the new translation, this has continued – even though people are reading from the pew cards that still say “men”! In our family we intentionally drop the exclusive language from such prayers whether we’re praying at home or at church – we think it’s important for our kids. Language is formative, and exclusive language in this day and age is frankly inexcusable in my book when we have a richness of words that more aptly describe our humanity.

    1. Love it, Sherry – you’re just covering all your bases! I secretly whisper YES, GOT THAT ONE under my breath every time I remember the right response. With wriggly little ones in the pew, I fear it will easily be a decade before I actually know all the Mass parts. Sigh.
      And thanks for the award! Your words are so kind. 🙂

  4. When I was a freshman in college, I changed the way I say the Creed. I created my own little jumble of credal insanity. It was, at the time, what I needed to do. When I came to graduate school, I finally reached a place where I could say the Creed as it was and mean it. Mostly. Two areas of rebellion persisted: I say that Jesus became “flesh” rather than “man” and I changed those “he”s in reference to the Spirit to “she”s. (How the heck is one supposed to punctuate those? Whatever…you know what I mean.)

    A few weeks ago I was making my usual changes to the pneumatology when I realized what I was saying did not make any sense with the new translation. And then I looked at it again and saw that the way it’s been translated makes sense! It works! I don’t have to mumble my favorite part of the Creed now.

    And I completely agree with you about the Gloria. Over the past few years I have realized what a powerful prayer that is. The Gloria has become one of my favorite parts of the liturgy. It’s such an exuberant exclamation!

    Thanks for sharing your reflections.

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