10 February 2007

"Ye who do truly and earnestly repent..."

I love the Mass. I never get tired of entering into the mystery of it all. The fact of God’s coming in that way fills me with astonishment. It’s being in Bethlehem on the night of the Birth and it’s standing on the hill of Calvary hearing “Consummatum est.”

And I have a high regard for the liturgy itself, for its form, for its connection to the earliest days of the Church, and especially do I have a deep respect for the words themselves. The Latin words are beautiful, and no doubt about it. They’re beautiful in the way they sound and they’re venerable because they have been prayed by Catholics for the bulk of the Church’s existence. But most of my experience has been with the Mass in English, and because it is a language I truly love so I have a deep interest in the English form of the liturgy. With the rest of English-speaking Catholics I am anticipating the new translation of the Missale Romanum.

But until then, the vast majority of English-speakers are stuck with the ICEL version of the Holy Mass. And when I look at that, it makes me deeply grateful for The Book of Divine Worship, especially for its English order of the Mass. Now please understand, I have no doubt about the validity of the ICEL version. Without any question it achieves what the Church intends. But when I look at it just as an example of the use of English, it’s pretty thin gruel.

Maybe it’s just that I’m looking for a more emphatic clarity when saying holy things. Maybe I need more substantive words when expressing the deepest things of my faith. Whatever it is, I have to say that as an English expression of the Holy Mysteries, the present translation of the Mass of Paul VI is like trying to live on a diet of bread and water with the occasional bit of butter for the bread. But when I use the words of the Anglican Use Mass I get the sense of robust prayer. It’s English of the manly sort, it’s a meat-and-potatoes-with-vegetables-and-dessert expression of worship.

Just as an example, I compared the penitential rite from the Missal of Paul VI with the Anglican Use Book of Divine Worship. Compare this introduction: My brothers and sisters, to prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries, let us call to mind our sins, with this: Ye who do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbors, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in his holy ways: Draw near with faith, and make your humble confession to Almighty God, devoutly kneeling.

With the second example, from the Anglican Use, there’s no doubt in my mind that something serious is going on. And then we get to the prayer itself, as it's found in the Missal of Paul VI:

I confess to almighty God, and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned through my own fault, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done, and in what I have failed to do; and I ask blessed Mary, ever virgin, all the angels and saints, and you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord, our God.

It’s a nice prayer, certainly. It does the job. But where’s the passion, where’s the sense of the tragedy of having disobeyed God? Again, maybe it’s just me. It says what needs to be said, and no more – and maybe that’s all it supposed to do. But I think the human heart needs more than that. I think it needs something like this:

Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, maker of all things, judge of all men: We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, which we from time to time most grievously have committed, by thought, word, and deed, against thy divine Majesty, provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us. We do earnestly repent, and are heartily sorry for these our misdoings; the remembrance of them is grievous unto us, the burden of them is intolerable. Have mercy upon us, have mercy upon us, most merciful Father; for thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ's sake, forgive us all that is past; and grant that we may ever hereafter serve and please thee in newness of life, to the honor and glory of thy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Say those two prayers out loud, and see if you sense the difference. When I use the second prayer, the one from the Anglican Use Mass, it makes me think twice about what I've done, and it makes me grateful for the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

I know people say “they’re just words.” And they are. But words have meanings, and meanings have consequences. One of the consequences is that it makes me think that I’d better stop offending God because it’s serious business.