We worship with mere words, whatever the translation


The Sunday Mass congregation I was in on the first Sunday of Advent responded to the priest’s opening greeting, “The Lord be with you,” with a booming, “And also with you.”

Oops, wrong! Time to look for that “cheat sheet,” the card from the Knights of Columbus with the appropriate English responses for the new translation of the Roman Missal.

While the new words at Mass haven’t been all that distracting, they have added a new attention to the prayers and erased decades of automatic responses one could recite while one’s mind drifted away occasionally from the mystery being celebrated in church.

For all the preparation for the new missal, the Mass is the same. Whether some of the new English is unwieldy or some of the words are now more reverent or closer to the Latin grammar, what we say, what we pray at Mass can only be small attempts to approach God with mere language.

When the priest asks the Father to send the Holy Spirit so the gifts of bread and wine may become the body and blood of Christ, when the priest consecrates the bread and wine, when we pray to recall the death and resurrection of Christ, when we pray the sacrifice of the Mass is joined to Jesus’ death on the cross, what words in any language can suffice?

So, if the new translation is making us more mindful of the ineffable nature of God and what is actually happening during Mass, that’s good.

Paying attention to our words at Mass is a perfect way to renew our attention to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit during Advent.

Words, if we’re listening to them, can speak volumes. While what we say can hardly reflect the enormity of God or the central events of the liturgy, our new prayers during Advent are preparing us to hear anew the Good News of God’s greatest gift to us, Jesus, God’s Son born into history, physically present both 2,000 years ago and in the Eucharist today. God is with us and with our spirits.

Ryan is Editor/General Manager of The Dialog.