New missal continues Vatican II reforms

By 
  • September 13, 2011

OTTAWA - Fr. Bill Burke notices a similar pattern in the workshops he has held over the past year on the new English translation of the Roman missal.

At first those attending greet the changes with anger, trepidation and fear the new translation will take back the reforms of Vatican II, he said. They’ve heard rumours from the blogosphere or elsewhere that the “translations is terrible.”

But as Burke exposes priests, music directors and diocesan staff to the new texts, they warm up to the richness of the new translation. He’s travelled to 27 dioceses so far, and plans to visit four more before the new missal is to be used everywhere in English-language parishes in Canada beginning the first Sunday of Advent, Nov. 27.

During his workshops, Burke gives attendees copies of the collects for Advent and Christmas according to the new translation and asks them to follow the new turns of phrase while he reads aloud the current translation.


“The reaction was incredible,” he said. “People were saying ‘You’d almost say this wasn’t coming from the same source. The translation of 1975 left so much out!’ ”

In every case, not only are people saying “this is not so bad,” but are also realizing “there is a lot of good stuff here.”

While Burke does not expect a seamless transition when the missal officially goes into use, he does not expect the kind of “push back” against the new translation that other countries like the United States and Ireland have experienced.

“I am not expecting a terrible negative reaction,” he said. 

Burke stressed the translation does not represent a roll back to pre-Vatican II theology and practice, but is instead a deepening of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

“It’s telling us the reform of Vatican II is not complete,” he said. It’s saying “it’s time to go deeper now. It’s not a superficial change but quite a profound reform in terms of the richness of the General Instruction.”

The General Instruction that introduces the new translation expands the section on The Word of God way beyond that in the 1975 version, he noted. It also better explains the values the rubrics or instructions are trying to protect, he said. For example, when the instruction says that in no circumstances can a scriptural text be replaced by a non-scriptural text in the Mass, it is emphasizing the importance of Scripture as the Word of God.

The translation has taken the reforms of the council and made them “fuller” and “more robust” in terms of language, symbol and gesture, he said.

There are three essential reforms of Vatican II that find their way into the new document, Burke said. One is the recovery of the importance of the Word of God so it has a central place in liturgical celebrations; a second is the full conscious participation of the whole assembly with the parts of the Mass that rightly belong to the congregation, including the keeping of silence; and a third is a recovering of the four modes of Real Presence. Those four modes include the Real Presence in the assembly “when two or three are gathered together” in Jesus’ name; the Real Presence when the Word of God is proclaimed; the Real Presence in the ordained priesthood; and the Real Presence in the Body and Blood of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, Burke explained.

One factor the bishops have made clear is that the liturgy is not a human invention, Burke said.

“We do not invent of the mysteries of faith,” he said. “We receive them.”

While some have charged the instruction is a call to rubricism and legalism, stressing form over substance, Burke said it isn’t. 

“The document is just willed with calls to do it well, not just legalistically,” he said. “It’s a document that is calling us back to balance, protecting the mystery and doing it right.”

Burke noted that in the past 30 years the role of the priest has often been downplayed, but now it is being restored to its proper place. 

“Clericalism has existed and in some quarters clericalism is enjoying a revival,” Burke said. “But if there is a revival it is not coming from this document.”

The liturgy is about worshipping God, infused with a sense of transcendence and wonder, he said, it’s not about worshipping a text.

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