Here's a new critique of the new translation of the Roman Missal — this time looking at the translation in the context of a Funeral Liturgy. In this extensive 3-part analysis, Fr Daniel Donovan, breaks apart the New Text of the Second Eucharistic Prayer. Parts 2 and 3 will follow tomorrow and on Saturday.
How the Roman Grinch Stole the Missal Part 1...
With the first Sunday of Advent 2011 the "new translation" of the Revised Roman Missal (RRM) was imposed upon English speaking Catholics. The event called to mind the children's story by Dr Seuss, How the Grinch stole Christmas! The Grinch was a "bitter cave dwelling creature with a heart two sizes too small". The Grinch lived on a high mountain north of Whoville. The Whos (the inhabitants of Whoville) were the complete antithesis of the Grinch loving and warm hearted, they celebrated Christmas with great festivity, presents, decorations and great merry making. Annoyed and unable to understand the Whos' rejoicing and happiness, the Grinch decides to steal all the Whos' Christmas festivities and thereby "to prevent Christmas from coming". However the Grinch discovers that despite his success in taking away all the Christmas trapping that Christmas still comes. The Grinch learns that Christmas is more than the Christmas trappings and through this insight his heart suddenly grows "three sizes" so that he returns all the stolen presents, decorations and foods and is "warmly welcomed" into Whos' community to celebrate with them.
Recently, with three other priests, I concelebrated the funeral Mass of a close friend to whom I had ministered during a protracted battle with cancer. A man of faith who endured the months and years of doctors' appointments, tests, x-rays, scans, hospital treatment, pain and finally, those words which no one really wants to hear from a specialist that "...there is nothing more I can do for you." In less than forty-eight hours, this courageous man was dead and while his relatives and friends knew that his death was inevitable, there was still that sense of shock and loss among those who had known him as a family man, a committed Catholic and a forthright businessman... Perhaps my own feelings were best expressed by the Jesuit poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins [1844-1889] who wrote of his journey through illness with another terminally ill man, Felix Randal; "Felix Randal, the farrier, O he is dead then? My duty all ended... This seeing the sick endears them to us, us too it endears."
Funerals are about what Hopkins terms "endearment". The Christian community welcomed the person at baptism/Eucharist and now gathers again with symbols of baptism, the paschal candle, water, white garment (or funeral pall) and word around the Eucharistic table to commend a brother or sister to God's open presence in the Kingdom. The community gathers in hope precisely because the person's life and witness to Christian living had endeared the community in their faith commitment to live and die in Christ or in Hopkins' words; "Thy tears that touched my heart, child, Felix, poor Felix Randal." Funerals allow for tears and other cultural expressions of human solidarity and Christian hope that for those who have died in Christ; "Death will be swallowed up in victory" [1 Cor 15:54a].
The "New Text" of Eucharistic Prayer II
At the funeral referred to above, the "new text" of Eucharistic Prayer II was used. The text was verbose, lacked correct punctuation and truncated the meaning of the ritual. Dr Seuss' Grinch was appropriate as the principal celebrant struggled to proclaim the "mystery of Christ" in words and images which were awkward and foreign to a community whose internal participation was stifled by the Prayer's content and style. The inability of the text to communicate in meaningful and clear language is perhaps the most obvious shortcoming and certainly debunks any expectation that it would facilitate the people's understanding and participation in the Eucharistic liturgy. Therefore this article will consider in particular the Intercessions for the Dead and the related Invocation of the Saints in the "new text" of Eucharistic Prayer II (or Anaphora) in the Revised Roman Missal (2010). To distinguish between the two texts of Eucharistic Prayer II, this article will refer to the text in the Roman Missal of Pope Paul VI (1969), as the "Present Text" (PT) and the version in the Revised Roman Missal as the "new text".
The Intercession for the Dead in PT simply prays that God might "...bring them and all the departed into the light of your presence." This encapsulates the community's hope that the dead "in Christ" will enjoy the fullness of life through Jesus, in God's presence [Jn 10:10]. There is continuity between their presence to God through faith on earth and the fullness of that presence and belonging in God's Kingdom.
The "new text" on the other hand, has replaced the reference to God's bringing the dead "into the light of your presence" with a rather odd petition especially in English, that the dead would be "...welcomed into the light of your face." Images in ritual are meant to foster internal participation and to nourish faith therefore it is imperative that prayer images be culturally, relevant and meaningful for the gathered assembly. So what would "...welcome into the light of your face," suggest to a typical Australian assembly? Not much! Although "the light of your face" does suggest for Sydney people that big glowing face at Luna Park. Unfortunately the image fails to convey the assurance that "death will be swallowed up in victory" for those who have put on Christ [Gal 3:27; Col 3:10; Rom 13:14; 1 Cor 15:54].
Then there is the use of the Greek verb "koimao" which in Greek can mean "to sleep, to fall asleep and to die" [See notes #17 & 18 below]. Since the Christian Scriptures were written for Greek speaking communities which would be familiar with the meanings of the verb and would understand that death could be considered as "falling asleep". However the metaphor does not translate meaningfully from Greek into English because the English verb "to sleep" does not necessarily have the connotation of "to die" and could be confusing for members of an English speaking community.
Generally, death is perceived as the antithesis of life but the First Preface for the Dead presents death as "life changed not ended". This preface is a tapestry of hope and victory assuring Christians that when their mortal body lies in death they will gain an "everlasting dwelling" or eternal inheritance in God's Kingdom [Rom 6-8; 1 Cor 15 especially, vv.50-57; 2 Cor 2:16, 4:12, 7:10; Phil 1:21]. This eschatology reflects Paul's insight that "alive or dead" we belong to the Lord [Rom 14:7-9; 2 Cor 4: 7-17].
At Eucharist, the whole Christ [SC# 6-8] is present (head and members) and this would necessarily include those who have died "in Christ". This fellowship [Rom 6: 8-11, 8: 11; 1 Cor 15: 22-23] is a present reality but also, has a "not yet" dimension or fulfilment when Christ returns (Paousia) "to be all in all", [1 Cor 15: 23-28]. This dynamic theology of Paul is rooted in Jesus' victory over sin and death [Phil 2:5-11] which through baptism belongs to all Christians whether "alive or dead" [1 Cor 15:57]. The "new text" drops the PT's reference to baptism from its Intercession for the Dead and replaces it with a rather ambiguous phrase "being united with your Son in a death like his."
Fr Daniel Donovan, submitted to Catholica 29 Jan 2012
What are your thoughts on this commentary?
©2012 Fr Daniel Donovan