This letter from a pastor to his parish about the New English Missal translation is a wonderful example of true pastoral care. It teaches truth with charity, it respects the souls–and the intelligence– of the faithful, and shows in each paragraph the importance of the beauty and integrity of the Church’s Liturgy. It is lengthy, as a pastoral letter might well be, but I print it here in full because it is so well worth the read. This parish is certainly blessed to have such a pastor, who seeks to carry out the will of the Church in her most important act of prayer.
On Earth as It Is in Heaven
The New Translation of the Roman Missal and the Authentic Celebration of the Mysteries of the Holy Mass
“Day and night they do not stop exclaiming:
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty,
who was, and who is, and who is to come.” Rev. 4:8
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
I am writing this letter to you as a brother in Christ and one called by God’s grace to be your pastor and your spiritual father. This letter is about the Mass and it is prompted by the new translation of the Roman Missal that we will soon begin using. I would like to ask you, each member of the parish of a suitable age, to take some time to read over this letter, as your time permits, and to reflect prayerfully upon these points. If possible, perhaps you could discuss these things in your family, with your friends, and among other members of the parish. I hope that it will challenge you and bring you consolation in Christ.
The Roman Missal is a book that contains the texts we use for the authentic celebration of the Holy Mass. This book is placed on the altar when Mass is celebrated. It contains all the different parts of the Mass, including the words sung and spoken by all in the congregation. The standard or normative language for our Church is Latin and the official prayers of the Mass are written in the Latin language. Since the 1970’s, the Universal Church has allowed the use of translations of the normative Latin prayers in the various countries though the Latin is the norm and can always be used. A number of language versions of the Missal have been translated more than one time. Now, the time has come to update the English translation to reflect more clearly the belief of the Church expressed in the Latin texts.
Happily, the new English translation of the Roman Missal is coming soon and we will start using it at the beginning of Advent, later this year. The new translation is based upon the experience of the Church since the introduction of the Mass texts in English in the 1970’s. We have learned a thing or two along the way about translations and the impact of the words we use to pray about what we believe.
In presenting the new translation, the Bishops of the United States have expressed the desire that this would be a time of catechesis so that the members of the Church can deepen their understanding of the Mass. This deepening includes reflecting more profoundly on the meaning of the words and gestures we employ at Mass. Thus, this new translation is not just a book of new words to use at Mass. It presents an opportunity to grow in faith and love for the Lord. This is a time to choose, again, to place the Lord Jesus at the center of our lives and turn to him for all our needs. The splendor of the Holy Mass becomes most clearly evident to the person who has chosen to place the Lord at the center of his or her life.
THE CELEBRATION OF MASS AS THE RE-PRESENTATION OF THE SACRIFICE ON THE CROSS
The central mystery of the Mass is the Eucharistic sacrifice. In the Eucharistic sacrifice we participate in the Lord’s sacrifice at Calvary. The implementation of the new missal provides us with an opportunity to come to understand anew what we actively witness and become part of at Mass. This renewal is not just an intellectual challenge. It is predominantly a spiritual opportunity. The way we approach the celebration of the sacred mysteries of the faith should reflect accurately those truths to which we adhere with our hearts and minds.
The Sacrifice of the Mass and the Sacrifice of Christ Are “One Single Sacrifice”
“Then he took the blood and sprinkled it on the people,
saying, ‘This is the blood of the covenant
which the Lord has made with you in accordance
with all these words of his.’” Exodus 24:8
Our understanding of the Mass begins with a reflection upon Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and the sacrifice of thanksgiving we call the Eucharist. The Catechism of the Catholic Church expresses the relationship between Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Eucharist with these words:
The Eucharist is thus a sacrifice because it re-presents (makes present) the sacrifice of the cross, because it is its memorial and because it applies its fruit:
[Christ], our Lord and God, was once and for all to offer himself to God the Father by his death on the altar of the cross, to accomplish there an everlasting redemption. But because his priesthood was not to end with his death, at the Last Supper “on the night when he was betrayed,” [he wanted] to leave to his beloved spouse the Church a visible sacrifice (as the nature of man demands) by which the bloody sacrifice which he was to accomplish once for all on the cross would be re-presented, its memory perpetuated until the end of the world, and its salutary power be applied to the forgiveness of the sins we daily commit.189
The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice: “The victim is one and the same: the same now offers through the ministry of priests, who then offered himself on the cross; only the manner of offering is different.” “And since in this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass, the same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross is contained and is offered in an unbloody manner. . . this sacrifice is truly propitiatory.”
Full and Active Participation in the Mass: A Choice To Be United to Christ’s Sacrifice
In the heavenly liturgy, described in the book of Revelation, the sacrifice of the cross is revealed as the instrument of the redemption of the world with profound historical and mystical meaning. The book of Revelation describes the heavenly liturgy as the chorus of heavenly hosts falling before the Lamb, “as one who had been slain.” The hosts of heaven sing a new song:
Worthy are you to receive the scroll and break open its seals,
for you were slain and with your blood you purchased for God
those from every tribe and tongue, people and nation. Rev. 5:9
Our worship on earth is a participation in the heavenly reality even as it re-presents Calvary to us. Thus, the Mass we celebrate is not only a local occurrence. Each Mass is a re-presentation of the one sacrifice that is the source of the world’s salvation. This sacrifice is at the center of the worship around the throne in heaven. Our song, our words, our gestures, our posture, indeed everything that is prescribed at Mass, is ordered to bring us into ever greater union with the hosts of heaven in the heavenly feast.
The privilege of being at Mass is something God offers to us. The Church, like a woman in prayer with hands uplifted, sings her song of grateful love in heaven. The Mass is not an event that we craft to our own tastes and for our entertainment. The times that Masses are made available to us in our churches point to the deeper reality that God has blessed us with a supernatural offer, an opportunity to be present before the court of heaven when we celebrate the holy mysteries of the Mass.
Many spiritual writers point to the mystical reality of the worship of Christ who remains both our High Priest and Victim and intercedes for us in heaven. Their spiritual treasury echoes the words of Revelation, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength, honor and glory and blessing.” (Rev. 5:12) The words of Revelation cause us to reflect further on the meaning of this vision for our authentic worship of God “on earth.” In offering himself to his Father in the sacrifice re-presented in the Mass, Christ offers his mystical body also, that is, the community of all those who belong to the Church on earth, in heaven or purgatory. Thus, Christ offers not only himself. He offers the Church on earth in communion with him, with the saints, and with the poor souls in purgatory. This offering in heaven is beyond time and place. We are, by Christ’s power, brought all together before the throne in heaven.
Full and active participation in the Mass requires our own freely chosen participation in this supernatural offering that Christ makes of his mystical body along with himself to the Father. Our desire to be united to Christ in his sacrifice is our response to the gift of the Mass as it unfolds around us in sight, in sound, in the smell of fire and incense, in the words proclaimed and heard, in the postures of each movement of the liturgy, and, above all, in our reception of his sacred Body and Blood in Holy Communion.
The Sacrifice of the Head and the Body of the Church
“…Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her…that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing that she might be holy and without blemish.” Ephesians 5:25-27
In the Eucharist the sacrifice of Christ becomes the sacrifice of the members of his body. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that the mystical body of Christ, which is the Church, participates in the offering of Christ the Head. (1368) The Church unites herself to his intercession. “The lives of the faithful, their praise, sufferings, prayer, and work, are united with those of Christ and with his total offering, and so acquire a new value. Christ’s sacrifice present on the altar makes it possible for all generations of Christians to be united with his offering.” (CCC 1368) To this offering of Christ, the Catechism says, are united also the members of the body already in the glory of heaven. The Church offers the Eucharistic sacrifice in union with and commemorating the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the saints. (1370) The sacrifice is offered also for those who have died in Christ but are not yet wholly purified, the souls in purgatory, that they may be able to enter into the light and peace of Christ. (1371)
As the Catechism goes on to say,
Saint Augustine admirably summed up this doctrine that moves us to an ever more complete participation in our Redeemer’s sacrifice which we celebrate in the Eucharist:
This wholly redeemed city, the assembly and society of the saints, is offered to God as a universal sacrifice by the high priest who in the form of a slave went so far as to offer himself for us in his Passion, to make us the Body of so great a head. . . . Such is the sacrifice of Christians: “we who are many are one Body in Christ” The Church continues to reproduce this sacrifice in the sacrament of the altar so well-known to believers wherein it is evident to them that in what she offers she herself is offered. (1372)
THE MISSION OF OUR LADY OF PROMPT SUCCOR PARISH AND THE EUCHARISTIC LORD
As one can see, brothers and sisters, in the offering of the Mass, the Church, the mystical body of Christ, truly becomes what the Church herself is meant to be for the world. As Saint Augustine makes clear, just as Christ is offered, the Church is offered. That means that Christ offers each one of us along with his own life and death to the Father in the sacrifice of the Eucharist. This mystical reality has meaning for our spiritual lives if we are to be true disciples. By his gift of self, the Lord enters the sanctuary of heaven and also is present to us. If our Lord Jesus is sacramentally present in the Eucharist for us through his gift of self, we learn how to be members of his body, the Church, by imitating his self-gift.
Baptism, the Eucharist, and Our Mission as Disciples
“Since through the blood of Jesus we have confidence of entrance into the sanctuary by the new and living way he opened for us through the veil, that is, his flesh, and since we have ‘a great priest over the house of God,’ let us approach with a sincere heart and absolute trust, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water.”Heb 10:19-22
By grace, we can be united mystically to Christ in his offering. We begin with this fact: through baptism, we are grafted onto Christ, the root of all holiness. Through baptismal grace, as St Paul asserts, “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20).
Our late beloved Holy Father, Blessed John Paul II wrote these words on the relationship of baptism to the Eucharistic Sacrifice in his encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia (The Church Draws Her Life from the Eucharist):
Incorporation into Christ, which is brought about by Baptism, is constantly renewed and consolidated by sharing in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, especially by that full sharing which takes place in sacramental communion. We can say not only that each of us receives Christ, but also that Christ receives each of us. He enters into friendship with us: “You are my friends” (Jn 15:14). Indeed, it is because of him that we have life: “He who eats me will live because of me” (Jn 6:57). Eucharistic communion brings about in a sublime way the mutual “abiding” of Christ and each of his followers: “Abide in me, and I in you” (Jn 15:4).
The mutual abiding of which Blessed John Paul II writes, the mutual exchange in Holy Communion, constantly enlivens us, drawing us more deeply into Christ’s grace. This grace flows from the sacrifice of Christ, Head of the Body which is the Church: “Christ, Himself as Head, has made satisfaction for us and has merited in strict justice all the sufficient and efficacious graces that we are receiving and will continue to receive in the future.” Everything comes from Christ, “the mediator of the new covenant,” and the “eternal redemption” he has accomplished through shedding “his own blood” on the cross (Heb 9:12-15). From the moment Christ accomplished the paschal mystery until the end of time, “he is in Heaven making intercession for us.”
“Thy Will Be Done on Earth As It Is in Heaven”
“Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,
but a body you prepared for me;
holocausts and sin offerings you took no delight in.
Then I said, ‘As is written of me in the scroll,
Behold, I come to do your will, O God.’” Hebrews 10:5-7
How do we share fully in the life and the sacrifice of Christ? We are to live centered upon the Eucharistic mystery of Jesus Christ, who becomes present to us in the sacrifice of the Mass and remains present for us in all the tabernacles of the world. We learn to live always in his presence just as, in our churches, he is always present to us. One of the great spiritual writers of the last century, Father Reginald Garrigou-LaGrange, gives us guidance, saying: “We must frequently call to mind and repeat to ourselves, this truth: Christ desires to live in me, to pray, love, act and suffer in me.” Of course, we are most generally talking about the Gospel’s call for renunciation of self (see, e.g., Lk 9:23-24), a dying to self in order to rise to new life. Or as St Paul reminds us, we must put to death of the old man in order to live the new life of the Spirit (Rom 8:2). The renunciation of self is of vital importance. We must come to understand and live more deeply the meaning of the words of John the Baptist, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn 3:30).
The Gospel teaches that, by degrees, the spirit of Christ will replace our spirit. Our spirit is “a way of thinking, feeling, judging, loving, willing, doing and suffering, a mental outlook which is extremely cramped and superficial since it is materially dependent upon our physical temperament, on our heredity, on the influence of our surrounding circumstances and on the ideas of time and locality.” This mental outlook must be given up in order to make room for the spirit of Christ, in order to adopt his way of looking, feeling, judging, loving, acting and suffering – in order to “have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16).
The lives of the saints abundantly witness the results when we live in the spirit of Christ; consider for example St Thomas Aquinas, St John of the Cross, St Teresa of Avila, St John Vianney, St Catherine, and St Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein). For many, putting on the mind of Christ has meant a life of suffering or martyrdom. If we adopt this way of the saints, we will accept Christ’s invitation: “Allow me to live in you, while you die to yourself.”
Our Lady of Prompt Succor, A Eucharistic Community
“There they crucified him, and with him two others,
one on either side, with Jesus in the middle.” John 19:18
In the parish mission statement, we declare that we are a Eucharistic community. Of course, we are! We’re Catholic! But what are we trying to say about ourselves beyond the fact that we belong to the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church? Are we not saying that we want to live out the spirit of self-sacrifice and self-gift in union with Jesus Christ? Are we not saying that we want to be the fullest expression of what the Church is meant to be in our own parish? The Lord has shown us the way. He teaches us. He gives us example. He gives us grace upon grace. We want to imitate his example of the Holy Eucharist, his self-emptying.
We are instructed in the very act of the sacrifice of the Mass. Pope Benedict tells us, “The more lively the eucharistic faith of the People of God, the deeper is its sharing in ecclesial life in steadfast commitment to the mission entrusted by Christ to his disciples.” If we are to carry on the mission of Christ Jesus, as his very own Eucharistic Community, we must let the Holy Eucharist teach us how to do this. We place the Eucharistic Lord at the center of our lives. With St Augustine we say that we want God’s will to be done in our hearts, on earth, just as it is in heaven. Jesus Christ, present Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Holy Eucharist, is the way to the Kingdom we seek.
In the Mass, the Lord and the Church have provided a context and meaning for all the sacrifices of all the faithful, your sacrifices, through your families, your work, your hardships and sufferings, as well as your joys and blessings. During the sacrifice of the Mass, we join all of our spiritual sacrifices to the Lord’s offering and we gain strength in the hope that comes from his victory. We know the sacrifice of his death is not the end. We find the deeper meaning of our lives, especially our sufferings, as we grow in understanding the Mass. There, the Lord receives us, and all that we offer, as it is joined upon the altar with Christ’s sacrifice. We cannot fail to appreciate the great consolation flowing out of the Mass as we participate faithfully from week to week, or even daily.
“They Will Worship God in Spirit and in Truth” (John 4:24)
“That is not how you are to worship the Lord, your God.
Instead you shall resort to the place which the Lord, your God, chooses … and designates as his dwelling and there you shall bring your holocausts and sacrifices, your tithes and personal contributions, your votive and freewill offerings, and the firstlings of your herds and flocks.” Deuteronomy 12:4-6
A while back, at the seminary where I taught for fifteen years, I was faced with a particular problem of disagreement over liturgical matters in the seminary. I gave an address to respond to the situation. I felt compelled to remind the community that the Mass is not crafted and regulated according to one’s personal preference. “The expression of the rule of faith in divine worship is entrusted to the Church. The celebration of the Holy Mass is regulated by the Roman Missal. … The rule of faith and prayer in the Church requires that one recognize that the proper celebration of the Mass is determined by the Apostolic See [the Bishop of Rome], with certain concessions granted in law to local bishops and territorial bodies of bishops. The Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum concilium states,
1. Regulation of the sacred liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church, that is, on the Apostolic See and, as laws may determine, on the bishop.
2. In virtue of power conceded by the law, the regulation of the liturgy within certain defined limits belongs also to various kinds of competent territorial bodies of bishops legitimately established.
3. Therefore no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority.”
These normative statements establish the secure and clear guidelines promoting respect for the profound reality regarding the Holy Mass that we have been considering: The Mass is an earthly manifestation of the heavenly liturgy with the Lamb of God, once slain, in the midst of the throne. The Church, by the authority given her by Christ, regulates the way we worship in accordance with God’s will, “on earth as it is in heaven.” The mysteries we celebrate bring together the power of Truth himself and the worship of Truth, again, “on earth as it is in heaven.”
In the new translation, some words we say at Mass will change. We will learn these new words that, experience teaches, will more clearly reflect the mysteries we celebrate. More importantly, we want to follow through with a renewed awareness of the truth about the Mass and about the Holy Eucharist. We want to let our hearts and souls be formed by the experience of Mass just as we are nourished by the Holy Eucharist.
There are certain pastoral matters that must be attended to as the parish implements the new translation. I ask that you would be so kind as to be patient as all of us work to make the necessary changes. We will be implementing new musical settings for the common parts of the Mass. We will also have cards placed in the pews for Mass that contain the new texts for you to use. In addition, there are a few things that the parish needs to do in order to respond to updates in liturgical policies and norms that have been given to strengthen our bonds with the local and universal Church. In conformity with policies established for the Diocese of Lake Charles, as we begin to use the new musical settings for the Mass, we will also be placing the tabernacle with the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament at the head and center of the church, inside the sanctuary. We will also be moving the altar of sacrifice to the center of our sanctuary. The purpose of this is to respond to the desire of the Church that we place renewed emphasis upon and deepen our understanding of the central mystery of our faith, the Holy Eucharist.
Thank you so much for your attention to the points of this letter. Let us entrust our efforts of renewal to the Holy Queen of Heaven, the Mother of the Savior and the Mother of each one of us. May she, the Patroness of our parish family, Our Lady of Prompt Succor, and mediatrix of all graces, grant us her motherly guidance as we seek to do the will of her Divine Son.
“To the one who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor,
glory and might, forever and ever.”
Yours in Christ, Our Savior,
Rev. Edward J. Richard, MS
Pastor, Our Lady of Prompt Succor Parish
August 15, 2011
Solemn Feast of the Assumption Of the Blessed Virgin Mary