New Words on Our Lips

As we approach the date for the implementation of the Revised English edition of the Roman Missal on November 27, 2011, it is fitting to look carefully at the changes in the words spoken by the assembly at Mass. In this article we will consider the changes in the Introductory Rites and the Liturgy of the Word.

Response to the Greetings

Every celebration of Mass begins with the priest extending a biblical greeting to the assembly. These greetings are, for the most part, taken from the letters of St. Paul. To each of these greetings, the people will respond: And with your spirit. The reason for the change is to accurately reflect the Latin response: Et cum spiritu tuo. In making this response, we acknowledge the gift of the Spirit bestowed upon the priest at his ordination to preside at the Eucharist and transform the gifts of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. At the same time, we acknowledge the presence of the Holy Spirit in all the baptized who have gathered to offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving to God in union with Christ.

Penitential Act

In the first form of the Penitential Act, often referred to as the Confiteor, we will notice several changes. At the present time we say: I have sinned through my own fault. In the revised text we will say: I have sinned greatly. This accurately translates the Latin: peccavi nimis. These words were once on the lips of King David as he came before God to acknowledge his sin (see 1 Chronicles 21.8).

Later in the prayer we will say: through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault. This corresponds to the Latin: mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. As we say these words we will strike our breasts once. For Catholics who remember the initial changes in the liturgy after the Second Vatican Council, these words will be familiar. They were used in the provisional texts before the approved texts were finalized in 1969.

One other small change will be found in the Confiteor. At present we say: and I ask blessed Mary, ever virgin… The new text reads: therefore I ask blessed Mary ever-Virgin… This more accurately translates the Latin and makes clear the reason for invoking the intercession of Mary and the saints. It is because we have sinned, that we rely on the prayers of the saints and our brothers and sisters.

The words of the second form of the Penitential Act have been completely recast to match the Latin text and evoke the words of the Scriptures. The priest says the first sentence and all respond with the second.

Have mercy on us, O Lord. / For we have sinned against you. (Baruch 3.2)Show us, O Lord, your mercy. / And grant us your salvation. (Psalm 85.8)

Glory to God

One of the biggest changes we will notice is in the words of the Glory to God. Prior to the final publication of the Roman Missal in English in 1970, efforts were made to have a common version of this and other prayers which could be used ecumenically. Following the rules for translation at that time, fidelity to the Latin text was sacrificed in order to have texts which were agreeable to all the major Christian denominations. The new translation more faithfully translates the Latin. Hence, the first part of the hymn is noticeably different:

Glory to God in the highest,and on earth peace to people of good will.We praise you,we bless you,we adore you,we glorify you,we give you thanks for your great glory,Lord God, heavenly King,O God, almighty Father…

The new text poses a great challenge and opportunity for composers as they set these words to new music.

Apostles’ Creed

The changes in the Apostles’ Creed are few but significant. First of all, the nine sentences in English have been reduced to three as in the Latin. Secondly, the words: He descended to the dead have been changed to: he descended into hell. These words translate the Latin: descendit ad inferos. Older Catholics will recognize these words as the ones they learned in their childhood.

The word ‘hell’ used in this context does not refer to the place of the damned or to the abode of Satan. Rather, it refers to the place of the dead, the underworld of the just, where those righteous persons who died before Christ were awaiting resurrection. The action described in the Creed is the action of Christ going to that place to bring those righteous persons to share in his victory over sin and death. It expresses the truth that Christ died, not only for those who came after him, but, indeed, for all people of every time and place. The action of Christ, in which we profess our faith, is beautifully depicted in many icons of the Eastern Church where we see the Risen Lord reaching down to bring Adam and Eve from hell to share in his victory.

Nicene Creed

The most notable change in the Nicene Creed is the first word. Instead of saying: We believe, we will say: I believe. This is consistent with the Latin text: Credo. In its original form, the Nicene Creed began with the words: We believe. However, when used in the liturgy, it has always begun with the words: I believe. St. Thomas Aquinas reminds us that when we make this profession of faith in the liturgy, we are speaking and acting as one body. Therefore, we say: I believe.

Other words have been incorporated into the Nicene Creed. In speaking of Jesus Christ, we will say he is the Only-Begotten Son of the Father. This translates the Latin: Filium Dei Unigenitum, and highlights the unique sonship of Christ. We are adopted sons and daughters of God by virtue of our baptism. Jesus Christ is the only-begotten Son of the Father. Professing our belief in the birth of Christ, we will say: and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary. The word “incarnate” refers to the Son of God taking on human flesh, becoming truly human. It echoes the words of St. John in the prologue to his gospel: and the Word became flesh and lived among us. (John 1.14) Finally, at the conclusion of the profession of faith, we say: I confess one baptism …

This phrase replaces: We acknowledge one baptism… and more accurately translates the Latin: Confiteor unum baptisma. Confession here has nothing to do with confessing sin, but rather professing our faith by the witness of our lives.

In the next and final article in this series, we will consider the changes in the Liturgy of the Eucharist and the Dismissal Rite of the Mass.