More on Mass changes

By Bishop Edward Risi OMI

In this article I would like to look at some of the words which the new translation has brought back into the Mass texts. But firstly, I would like to explain why the bishops of Southern Africa went ahead of other bishops’ conferences in the implementation of the new Mass texts.

The Conference viewed the implementation of the new third edition of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal and the renewal of the Mass texts as a unity. The original time frames made it a wonderful opportunity to engage the faithful in our dioceses in the renewal of the liturgical celebration of the Holy Mass.

We produced the Pastoral Introduction to the Mass, a project that took us five years, as a user-friendly application of the new General Instruction of the Roman Missal. The Pastoral Introduction was first released in draft form and three years later, in 2007, in its final form. It was our hope that diocesan and parish liturgical committees would use the Pastoral Introduction, and so we would have one increasing movement of renewal under way. It was, therefore, appropriate and timely, I believe, to see the introduction of the revised Mass texts as part of the same movement of renewal.

Unfortunately, a number of priests and communities had already gone ahead in implementing the new ICEL version of the Mass texts without the prior permission of their bishops and we reached the point in the Conference where we either had to say to them “You are out of order” or to bring everyone on board together. We unfortunately, presumed too much, namely, that the ground work at the level of dioceses and parishes had been keeping pace with our timetable.

The book, The Pastoral Introduction of the Mass, has not been implemented sufficiently, mainly in urban parishes. Questions such as, for example, standing or kneeling for Holy Communion, have already been covered in the Pastoral Introduction. The choice lies with the communicant, something which must be respected by the celebrant as well as the community.

Words which have been restored in the new texts:

“my sacrifice and yours”

At the end of the rite of the offerings, which corresponds with the action of Jesus who at the last supper “took bread” and “took the cup”, the celebrant invites us to pray “that my sacrifice and yours be acceptable …”.

The separate reference to the celebrant and the congregation emphasises the role of the priest in the celebration of the Mass: he is there in persona Christi (in the person of Christ) whose offering the Mass is. The faithful, who are gathered around the altar, make the sacrifice of Jesus their own.

“holy Church”

In response to the invitation of the celebrant to pray that “my sacrifice and yours be acceptable to God…”, the faithful respond with the formulation we have used since the first official English text with one addition: “holy Church”.

The importance of qualifying the Church as “holy” allows one to keep in mind that we strive to be part of the Body of Christ by breaking with sin and striving to live the holiness of the Head who said to us: “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect”, echoing the words of Exodus: “Be holy because I the Lord your God am holy”.

This is also consistent with what we profess in the creed: “I believe…in one holy catholic and apostolic church.”

The special anointing by the Holy Spirit of the priest is also recognised in the response “And with your spirit”. This has been discussed before. I will just note here that recognising the priest as especially anointed by the Holy Spirit to represent Jesus, our High Priest, in the celebration of the Mass — as in any of the sacraments — is not a focus on the unworthy person clothed with such priestly dignity, but a focus on the Lord Jesus who acts through his lowly servant. Still less is it a denial of the body or a type of dualistic thinking about our humanity.

“greatly sinned…grievous fault”

Several changes have been made to the English rendition of the Confiteor or “I confess”. Among these changes one meets in particular “greatly sinned” and “…through my most grievous fault”. Some of the correspondents in The Southern Cross thought that this could tend towards an excessive emphasis on guilt.

A reference to the Catechism of the Catholic Church gives an appropriate synopsis of what is involved in these renewed texts. The whole question of holiness and sinfulness is inter-connected and the renewed Mass texts therefore create a fuller picture of our Christian faith.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (823-827) says: “The Church…is held, as a matter of faith, to be unfailingly holy. This is because Christ, the Son of God, who with the Father and the Spirit is hailed as ‘alone holy’, loved the Church as his Bride, giving himself up for her so as to sanctify her; he joined her to himself as his body and endowed her with the gift of the Holy Spirit for the glory of God”

“The Church, then, is ‘the holy People of God’, and her members are called ‘saints’ (Lumen Gentium, 39,12; cf. also 1Cor 6,1). United with Christ the Church is sanctified by him; through Christ and with him the Church becomes sanctifying… It is in her that “by the grace of God we acquire holiness’. In her members perfect holiness is something yet to be acquired.

“‘Christ, holy, innocent, and undefiled, knew nothing of sin, but came only to expiate the sins of the people. The Church, however, clasping sinners to her bosom, at once holy and always in need of purification, follows constantly the path of penance and renewal’ (Lumen Gentium 42). All members of the Church, including her ministers, must acknowledge that they are sinners. In everyone, the weeds of sin will still be mixed with the good wheat of the Gospel until the end of time.

“Hence the Church gathers sinners already caught up in Christ’s salvation but still on the way to holiness: ‘The Church is therefore holy, though having sinners in her midst, because she herself has no other life but the life of grace. If they live her life, her members are sanctified; if they move away from her life, they fall into sins and disorders that prevent the radiation of her sanctity. This is why she suffers and does penance for those offences, of which she has the power to free her children through the blood of Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit’ (Paul VI, CPG §19).”

“recognising the victim”

In Eucharistic Prayer III we have grown accustomed to the following sentence: “Look with favour on your Church’s offering, and see the Victim whose death has reconciled us to yourself.”

A little study and reflection will reveal the different emphasis of the new text: “Look, we pray, upon the oblation of your Church and, recognising the Victim by whose death you willed to reconcile us to yourself…” It revolves around the question, which people raise in various situations today, as to whether the Father demanded the death of his Son in order to reconcile us with himself; or whether the Son, in making himself an offering on behalf of humankind, sought to reconcile his fallen brothers and sisters with the Father.

The new text places the emphasis on the Son, as our High Priest, offering himself on our behalf to the Father and hence the prayer calls upon the Father to recognise the sacrifice/total self-gift of his Son, made on our behalf.

The new Mass texts profess and celebrate the intimate connection between the sinful people that we are and the sinless, all holy Priest, Jesus Christ, who reconciles us with his Father and makes us holy.

Bishop Risi heads the SACBC’s Department for Christian Formation, Liturgy and Culture.

  • David

    “Look, we pray, upon the oblation of your Church and, recognising the Victim by whose death you willed to reconcile us to yourself…”

    Could Bishop Risi explain why we need such tortuous and contrived English constructions in the first place and how these can aid the prayer of English and non-English speakers alike.

  • Martin Keenan

    Let’s start with the word “oblation” which has an honoured place in Catholic culture.

    Bishop Risi belongs to a world-wide religious congregation called “The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate”, and in South Frica there are also Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, and Oblate Sisters of St. Francis de Sales. Benedictine “tertiaries” are known as “Oblates of the Order of St. Benedict”.

    In “Story of a Soul” (autobiographical essays by St. Thérèse de Lisieux) we find her “Act of Oblation to Merciful Love”. When we make a gift of goods or money for some pious purpose, it is an “offering”. When we offer ourselves, it is an “oblation” – an entire giving of self.

    We need to re-acquaint ourselves with the concept of “oblation”.

  • Martin Keenan

    As for the grammatical construction of the prayer, in the new translation it comprises two requests (in the old version there were three):-

    (1) “look, we pray, upon the oblation of your Church” and
    (2) “grant that we . . . may become one body, one spirit in Christ”

    The first is in simple form and requires no further treatment. But the second is complex, because the main verb “grant” is framed by two subordinate constructions [“recognising X, grant that we who are A and B, may become C”].

    The construction which follows the word “grant” takes substantially the same form in the new translation as it did in the old version and raises no grammatical issues. Compare:

    old version [grant that we, who are A, may be B and become C];
    new translation [grant that we who are A and B, may become C].

    The only structural novelty in the prayer, therefore, arises in the participial phrase which precedes the word “grant”. Broken into its elements, it reads:

    “recognizing the Victim || by whose death || you willed || to reconcile us to yourself ”.


    old version [A, whose P has Q’d us];
    new translation [A, by whose P you willed to Q us]

    The construction [“willed” + infinitive with “to”] is unusual, but that hardly justifies a complaint that the prayer (in whole or part) is “tortuous and contrived”. The economy of salvation is the deliberate working out of God’s will and plan for us, and it is salutary to have this truth impressed on us.

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  • Rosemary Gravenor

    Martin, your comment about Catholic culture, if to be taken seriously, needs to be fleshed out.

    Whose Catholic culture, which era, which country gave birth to this Catholic culture you so glibly parade as a flag in an issue which affects the spiritual and religious lives of so many?

    Furthermore, why should we HAVE to reacquaint ourselves with any concept that does not bring us closer to the God of our understanding?

    Your response under (3) promotes the need for ordinary people to become schooled in the language of science, (genetics), not philosophy, in order to pray effectively to the God who deemed us so valuable that the Christ not only incarnated from the same dust as humanity but died to show us how almightily beloved we are of God.

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