Later this month - on Nov. 27, the first Sunday of Advent - we will implement the new English translation of the Roman Missal, which is the first major change in the Mass since the renewal of the liturgy promulgated by the Second Vatican Council in its 1963 Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.

Prior to the Second Vatican Council, the Mass was celebrated entirely in Latin - although many Catholics, especially in the years immediately prior to Vatican II, followed the celebration of the Eucharist by reading the English text of the Mass while the priest was reciting it in Latin.

The council called for the Mass to be celebrated in the vernacular. Commissions were set up to translate the Latin text into the various language groups (English, Spanish, French, Italian, German, Polish and so on).

The first translation of the prayers for the Mass were done according to the guidelines outlined in the 1969 instruction on translation - known by its French title, "Comme le Prevoit" ("As Foreseen") - which followed a principle of translation known as dynamic equivalency.

Translation styles
In brief, this means the translators were trying to express clearly the meaning of the original Latin vernacular, recognizing that each language has its own sentence structure, rules of grammar and idioms that often make a word-by-word translation seem stilted or even unintelligible.

The style for the new translation, however, is different. It is in accord with the revised guidelines for translation contained in the 2001 Vatican document "Liturgiam Authenticam" ("The Authentic Liturgy") issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.

This new translation seeks to follow the original Latin text more closely or literally. It insists on more formal equivalents and focuses on the exact, literal translation of the Latin text - including concrete images, repetitions, parallelisms and rhythms.

At times, this results in a good and faithful rendering of the original meaning. At other times, it produces a rather awkward text in English that is difficult to proclaim and hard to understand.

Most of these language problems affect the text the priest will recite, rather than the text belonging to the assembly as a whole.

These changes have been the result of a 20-year debate among bishops, translators and exegetes about how best to render the Latin text of the Mass into the vernacular. Some have rejoiced over the translation to be utilized; others are disturbed by it.

As a member of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), I have participated in these debates; and, while more comfortable with the original guidelines for translation, I believe that the new text is, in some instances, an improvement over the original versions to which we have become accustomed - and certainly, in accord with the Church universal, must be accepted with a sense of filial obedience.

Even a quick look at the forthcoming liturgical translations reveal they are not a new ritual for celebrating the Eucharist. As Rev. Lawrence Mich, a liturgist from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, points out in an article which appeared in the February issue of St. Anthony Messenger magazine, the Mass will still have the same parts, patterns and flow it has had for the past several decades. It is only the translation of the Latin that is changing.

Change is good
Over the past several months, our priests, deacons, parish life directors, musicians and liturgy team members have been attending workshops on the new text so that they may be familiar with what changes are to be employed, the rationale behind the changes and the resources necessary to introduce these changes to parishioners.

While the changes will require us to learn some unfamiliar language and change is always difficult - especially when it involves our faith life - I believe that the arrival of the new missal offers a prime opportunity to deepen our understanding and appreciation of the Mass as "the source of summit" of the Christian life.

Taking advantage of this opportunity is infinitely more important than debating the linguistic merits of the new text.

Based on 47 years of celebrating the post-Vatican II Mass and traveling throughout the parishes of our Diocese, let me cite several areas where I believe we need to improve our participation in the eucharistic liturgy simultaneously with implementing the new liturgical text.

UNDERSTAND SCRIPTURE

Our reading of and reflection upon the Scriptures at Mass must improve. One of the desired outcomes of the reforms initiated by the Second Vatican Council is that the Scriptures become more central to the lives of Catholics.

Thus, in contrast to the pre-Vatican II liturgy, which contained a one-year Sunday cycle of two Scripture readings, the revised liturgy offers a two-year cycle for weekly Mass and a three-year cycle of three Scripture readings for weekend liturgies, with passages from the Hebrew Scriptures, the Psalms, the Acts of the Apostles (also called the Epistles) and the Gospels. There is the expectation that homilies be based upon the scriptural readings of the day.

While Scripture scholarship has grown over the past half-century, unfortunately, for most Catholics, the Scriptures have not become a more integral part of their lives than they were prior to the Second Vatican Council.

Recently, Pope Benedict lamented that many Catholics "never read the Bible," and noted that "it remains unknown to most people, even good Christians."

Often, at Mass, people seem to be preoccupied or just settling in while the Scriptures are being proclaimed, tuning in only when the Gospel is read and the homily commences.

Also, while I have heard some dynamic proclamations of the Scriptures offered with careful pauses and pertinent inflections which make the readings come alive, too often the lector seems to be stumbling through the scriptural passages, as if reading them for the first time, and frequently drones on with all the excitement of reading the classified ads.

This is a great disservice, because God's word is a living word that does what it says and brings about what it proclaims. However, it requires human instrumentality if it is to be presented in the way that touches lives and changes hearts.

I encourage lectors and homilists to do the necessary preparation to make the scriptural texts meaningful and relevant to the hearers assembled at the liturgy.

Prep work
To get more out of the scriptural readings each weekend, I would encourage parishioners to spend time during the week reading and reflecting upon the Scriptures for the forthcoming weekend. These are printed each week in The Evangelist (see page 12), along with an explanation of the scriptural readings. There are also many inexpensive pamphlets available, with monthly readings for the Mass, which give context for and instruction about the weekend readings.

Then, when the word is proclaimed publicly at the liturgy, it is more likely to have the desired effect upon the hearer.

MORE MUSIC

Another area which often needs to be improved in our liturgy is the music. It was the hope and goal of the revised liturgy that there be more congregational singing - drawing people into a more full, active and participatory involvement in the Mass. As St. Augustine noted, "He who sings, prays twice."

Some parishes do not utilize cantors to lead congregational singing. In many parishes, the choir dominates and parishioners are more in the mode of attending a concert rather than joining in the singing of the hymns.

Please do not misinterpret the point I wish to make. We have wonderful choirs, organists and music directors who enhance the liturgy enormously; also, there are appropriate times in the liturgy - for example, at the offertory or during the communion procession - where a purely choral rendition is appropriate.

Further, we need to retain some of the beautiful Latin chants and hymns which are such an invaluable treasure of our rich liturgical heritage. In many instances, it is for the choir to preserve this heritage.

However, we need to improve our congregational singing by introducing parishioners to new hymns or rehearsing old hymns before Mass and having trained cantors to encourage congregational participation and homilists who occasionally remind the worshipping assembly of the importance of singing as a form of prayer.

SSHH: SILENCE

On the other side of the coin, silence has a valued place in our liturgies, but it is frequently absent. For example, there should be a prolonged pause during the penitential rite when we are asked to call to mind our sins, so that we can exercise this recollection in more than a perfunctory fashion.

There is also need for a pause after the scriptural readings, giving people a time to digest the passage just read. After the reception of communion, especially, people need a time of silence to reflect upon the precious gift of the Body and Blood of Christ they have received and how during the forthcoming week they may truly be the Body of Christ in the home, the workplace and the community.

Sadly, however, it is not uncommon for the celebrant to be reciting the prayer after communion before those at the rear of the communion procession have returned to their pews.

BODY AND BLOOD

This leads me to my final point: I am astonished by how few of our people receive communion under both species, the Body and the Blood of Christ.

The opportunity to receive both the Body and Blood of Christ at Mass was introduced by the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council to more fully respond to the words of Christ: "Take and eat;" "Take and drink."

While we believe that Christ is fully present in both the consecrated bread and wine, I would estimate that less than a third of our parishioners receive from the cup. Why is this so? Let me make some educated guesses.

Some are reluctant to receive from the cup because of the concern about contracting germs. Obviously, if someone has a cold or a fever, that person should refrain from receiving from the cup in such a circumstance.

However, regarding the larger fear about disease being transmitted through the reception from the cup, our national bishops' conference monitors this issue closely, in conjunction with the national Centers for Disease Control.

Generally, the alcohol content itself is sufficient to block the transmission of germs. After 40 years of using the cup, there is no demonstrable scientific evidence that, except in an unusual circumstance to which parishes would be alerted, there is any likelihood of contracting disease through reception of communion from the cup.

Second, sometimes the way the cup is administered creates the impression that the reception from the cup is accidental or unnecessary.

Often, the priest-celebrant or deacon distributes the Body of Christ from the ciborium, while the laypersons serve as cup bearers. This triggers in the mind of some that partaking from the cup is less important.

Longer Masses?
Very pragmatically, when many receive from the cup, it frequently prolongs the communion rite, so people avoid partaking so that the liturgy will conclude more expeditiously.

It is true that when most parishioners receive from the cup, the communion procession is prolonged. But this need not be the case. If there are two cup bearers for each minister distributing the Body of Christ, the procession moves smoothly.

Some older churches built before the Second Vatican Council were not designed for communion under both species. But with logistical and creative innovation, this delay in receiving from the cup can be rectified.

It also requires more instruction from the pulpit about why this option is offered and the importance of such.

On the first Sunday of Advent, then, I hope that our people will be prepared to understand and adapt to the new responses in our liturgies and to the new translations of the prayers of the Mass.

Equally, if not moreso, I hope that these changes will be a grace-filled opportunity to deepen our appreciation of the meaning of the Eucharist for our lives and to recommit ourselves to celebrate "the Word made flesh coming among us" with the dignity, reverence and fullness of participation it deserves.