Posted by: liturgicalyear | November 23, 2011

The Importance of Pronouns in the New Translation of the Mass

It’s all about you — an advertising message for our age. In English “you” is casual. You would not turn to your mother and say, “hey you.” In the Romance languages, like French, using the familiar tu, rather than vous, for a person in position of authority, can cause serious insult. How much more should we be careful in addressing the divine!

Our Jewish brothers and sisters in the faith understood this. The name God is not to be spelled out or spoken; hence he was known by an acronym: Yahweh. Even today, faithful Jews will not spell out God, but they write G-d. They consider God’s name too sacred to be squeezed into human alphabets. Also, setting apart our address to the divine, as very different from inter-human addresses, was recognized as significant in forming a proper association with the Lord — one based on awe and respect.

Vatican II ushered in a casual method of translating Latin into vernacular languages, and some of those pronoun issues affected the Mass. The net result has been a watering down of our representation of God’s majesty. Yes, Jesus enters into our very bodies in the Eucharist, and through all the sacraments, but that which is God cannot be contained within the bounds of human casual conversation. We need to elevate our speech to show respect to God, and to impress ourselves and others of God’s majesty.

When the priest welcomes us in the Mass, he welcomes us as people: “The Lord be with you.” When we reply, however, we reply not to Father Joe, the man; we reply to Father Joe, who is acting in persona Christi, in the person of Christ, fully vested for the Sacrifice of the Mass. As such, we will no longer say, “and also with you.” Instead, we will say, “and with your Spirit.”  We are not exchanging a personal greeting here; we are offering a greater spiritual good will offering, one that acknowledges the Holy Spirit’s work through the priest’s sacred office in the Mass.

At the Confiteor, the pronoun changes to the personal.  Instead of  “we confess to Almighty God,” we make this more personal, “I confess.” The sins are mine, not “ours” as a congregation.  Our confession is not watered down in a detached collective prayer, but is a deeply personal confession of penance. Forgiveness is individual, not corporate.

In addition to the hyper-personal focus of the confession, we will repeat the key penitential phrase, not just “through my own fault,” but “through my own fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.“ It’s more than just a simple “I’m sorry;” It’s a deep-felt “I’m really, really, really sorry,” because I get the fullness of the consequences of personal sin. We also see a whole host of pronouns: the reflective as well as the intensive, in this phrase. We don’t want to simplify how we apologize to God; we want to extend our awareness of the deep damage sin does to our relationship to God and others. And we want to own the consequences of sin — personally.

When we stand to say the Nicene Creed in Mass, we will not say “we believe,” but “I believe.” We don’t just believe in what this group of us says; we personally believe, and accept the challenges of the faith we profess in our individual life. This prevents the sin of “Church-ianity,” that one is committed to just one’s membership in the Church. We are committed personally to the faith we profess; it is not just a membership pledge.

In the institution of the Eucharist, the priest will remind us that Jesus sacrificed His body “for many,” rather than the previous mushy translation of “for all.” The difference does not limit God’s grace, but points to the reality that we do not all accept God’s saving work in our lives. The shift in that collective pronoun heightens our awareness that Grace is offered, but it is not just “done to us;” we must respond to accept the fullness of that Grace. Not all do; hence, “the many” is a more accurate — and still very hopeful — message of salvation.

The changes in pronoun references in the Mass heighten our awareness that when we address the divine, we need to clarify a difference between human-to-human language, and language toward the divine. In our response to the priesthood, we must distinguish how we greet our priests personally, when they are not vested for Mass, and how we address them in their role as Christ’s sacred ministers of His Precious Body and Blood.

When we admit our sins and accept the fullness of our profession of faith, it must be personal, not watered down with impersonal, group language.

What a great opportunity we have to correct some of the sloppiness of Vatican II translations, by keeping all the good the Church intended through Vatican II.

The changes in the Mass are also scripturally-based. You can check out the accuracy of these transitions by searching texts in your Bible:

For the Greeting at the beginning of Mass, see:

Galatians 6:18

Philippians 4:23

Timothy 4:22

For the Confiteor, see:

Nehemiah 9:2

Psalm 32:5; 38:18

Proverbs 28:13

Sirach 4:26

1 John:5

John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18


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