My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
As has been widely reported, next weekend marks the introduction of the new English translation of the revised Roman Missal. Much information and catechesis about the new version of prayers that we use at Mass and the reasons for these changes has been shared in print, from the pulpits of our churches, and in classes, seminars and workshops. My purpose here is not to try to explain it all to you or even summarize it in these brief remarks, but rather simply to give you my perspective on this as your bishop.
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (no. 92) says, "Every legitimate celebration of the Eucharist is directed by the Bishop, either in person or through Priests who are his helpers." As the "chief liturgist" of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, I welcome the new translation of the Mass that we will be using starting with the liturgies for the First Sunday of Advent. I also fervently pray that it will be embraced and esteemed by all priests, deacons, consecrated religious and laity in our diocese.
I am old enough to remember the changes in the Mass following the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, not only going from Latin to English and other vernacular languages (I grew up in a trilingual parish with Masses in English, Polish and Spanish), but also in the style of celebration, such as having the priest face the people. While the transition was not always easy, over the years most Catholics have grown accustomed to these changes.
I do not see the new translation that we will begin using in the Mass next weekend to be experienced as being as dramatic as the changes following Vatican II. For one, we are not changing the rubrics, order or style of celebrating Mass, just the translation. Nevertheless, it still may be a challenge for some to make the transition from the wording that we have used for the past 40 years. On the other hand, it has been suggested that the translations should be revised every generation or so as a safeguard against the words becoming so familiar and routine that the prayers are mouthed without much thought or expression.
In fact, the new translation is designed to reflect the Latin text more closely, since the Latin Missale Romanum is the basis for all other translations into the various modern languages. Our English translation will also be the same throughout the English-speaking world. This will add to the "catholicity" of the new Roman Missal, since it will be more standard in the universal church throughout the world.
The new translation is also designed to highlight certain scriptural and theological themes. This is not to suggest that the old translations were wrong, but rather that the revised translations can help to bring certain concepts into a clearer focus or brighter view, somewhat the way the cleaning of Michelangelo's frescoes in the Sistine Chapel brought out the bright colors that had grown dull over time.
An example would be the change in the Eucharistic prayer from the priest saying "the cup of my blood ... will be shed for you and for all" to "the chalice of my blood ... will be poured out for you and for many." The change from "cup" to "chalice" brings out the unique and special nature of the "chalice" as a sacred vessel used only for the Blood of Christ, while a "cup" is a more generic term that is commonly used to refer to the container for ordinary beverages such as milk, juice or coffee.
"For many" is not only a more accurate rendering of the Latin "pro multis" (since "for all" would be "pro omnibus" in Latin), it also reflects the Gospel accounts where Jesus says that he came "to give his life as a ransom for many" (cf. Mark 10:45 and Matthew 20:28). Similarly, at the Last Supper, Jesus is quoted as saying "... this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins" (Matthew 26:28).
Theologically, St. John Chrysostom gives a helpful explanation: "Why of many and not of all? Because not all have believed. Certainly he died for all, so that he could save all. ... However, he does not take away and cancel the sins of all, because they themselves have not believed." In other words, Christ's offer of salvation is made to all, but not all accept it.
In some ways, I think the simplest changes will be the most difficult. By this I mean the seemingly minor change of the response, "And also with you," to the revised wording, "And with your spirit." The reason I see this as so challenging is because it will require breaking a rote response that we have acquired by habit over the years. Nevertheless, the phrase "And with your spirit" will not only be a more faithful rendering of the Latin, "Et cum spiritu tuo," but also brings into clearer focus that this is more than a mere greeting. The expression "Et cum spiritu tuo" is only addressed to an ordained minister. Some scholars have suggested that spiritu refers to the gift of the spirit that the priest received at ordination. In their response, the people assure the priest of the same divine assistance of God's spirit and, more specifically, help for the priest to use the charismatic gifts given to him in ordination and in so doing to fulfill his prophetic function in the church.
I am confident that changes such as these will be appreciated in time and I pray that they will help all of us to experience a more fruitful expression of our prayers to God in the liturgy.
May God give us this grace. Amen.