HE SEASON OF ADVENT arrives today, bringing with it a whole new “Year of Grace.” Perhaps we should use this phrase, “Year of Grace,” more frequently, as I think it is fuller & richer than simply speaking about the start of a new “liturgical year.” It’s not that there is anything wrong with the idea of the liturgical year and its various cycles; it’s just that “Year of Grace” sounds so less calendar-based.
At any rate, today we call to mind the words of Isaiah, the great Advent prophet: “Oh, that You would rend the heavens and come down!” This is a sentiment that so many people in history have shared: the people of Israel, your ancestors, my ancestors, probably even the cavemen. They have all cried out to God, saying, “Oh, Lord, if you would just come down here!” It’s a human desire that is universal to every time & place: the desire to have God come down and be close to us.
The extraordinary thing for us, as Christians, is that God has done just that. He has “come down” here to Earth. That is the unbelievable reality we will celebrate on Christmas—what we might call Christ’s coming in history. But, it is important to remember that God’s coming down to Earth was not a once-and-done deal. The Lord comes to us in prayer, in the Sacraments, in the ordinary affairs of our daily lives, does He not? That is what we might call Christ’s coming in mystery. And, we believe, the Lord will come back to Earth at the end of time to judge the living and the dead. That is what we might call Christ’s coming in majesty. So, the fact that we weren’t alive at the time Jesus walked the Earth does not put us at a disadvantage. Christ came once in history, but He comes to us in mystery all the time, and He promises us that He is coming again in majesty.
It was three years ago today that the Roman Church in the Anglophone world began using the Roman Missal, Third Edition. To commemorate this occasion, I would like to reflect on how the three comings of Christ parallel three blessings I have experienced in the new Roman Missal.
IRST, this new translation has put us in touch with our history. There is no question that the words we now pray are more faithful to the Latin original than the texts of previous editions. Why is this important? Because these words & sentiments & images have been prayed by generations & generations of Catholics. These new prayers connect us with our great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparents in a new and deeper way. They also connect us with all our brothers & sisters throughout the world who pray the same words & sentiments & images—just in other languages.
ECOND, this new translation has put us in touch with mystery. Some of the new words and phrases might not have been immediately understood by all Catholics worshippers at first glance. But that is not a bad thing. If anything in the Mass causes us to ask a question or wonder about what we mean—can that possibly be a bad thing? It is not necessary, for example, to understand at the outset and in completeness every Scriptural allusion made by the ordinary & proper prayers. There is a role for personal & group study, so that these texts can be understood more deeply. Everything that may have seemed at first mysterious has really been nothing more than an invitation—an invitation to greater, deeper understanding.
HIRD this new translation has certainly put us in touch with God’s majesty. We have all heard in the proclamation of these texts how sacred the new language is. And that, too, is good. The language we use at Mass should not be ordinary or everyday, pedestrian or colloquial. Our private prayer can be in informal, everyday language. But, when we gather as a community to celebrate the sacred liturgy, our language, too, should be sacred. The language of this Missal is beautiful, and the world is in dire need of true beauty. The beauty of these new prayers is a definite reminder to us of God’s majesty.
I have made no secret of my support for this Missal. In an article for Homiletic & Pastoral Review (Roman Missal 3.0: Updates Installed) and in numerous blog posts (for example, HERE, HERE, & HERE), I have praised, defended, & explored this new Missal. It is not, of course, above critique; there are changes I would make. On the whole, however, it is such a vast improvement over the previous Sacramentary that my overwhelming response is one of gratitude.
I am grateful to those who labored to bring us this Missal, and I am grateful to the Holy Spirit, Who guided their work. May Christ continue to come to us through these sacred words!