In just three weeks, on the First Sunday of Advent, the beginning of a new liturgical year, we will begin using the long-anticipated new English translation of the Roman Missal. I look forward with joy and excitement to the beautiful new translation we will be using in our celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
We need to be ready to pray the new translation which uses language so rich in meaning and content, a truly sacred and sacramental language. It is the language of liturgical prayer, a more elevated language than we use in our ordinary everyday speech.
Recently, I and many of our priests have been reflecting particularly on the new translations of the Eucharistic Prayers. This is important since we are so accustomed to the present translation, knowing most of the Eucharistic Prayers by heart.
The Eucharistic Prayer and the Preface
The Eucharistic Prayer, also called the anaphora, is “the heart and summit of the celebration of the Eucharist” (CCC 1352). It is also referred to as “the Canon of the Mass.” It contains the prayer of thanksgiving and consecration. It begins with the Preface. The new, third edition of the Roman Missal contains some new Prefaces. In these great prayers which introduce the Eucharistic Prayer “the Church gives thanks to the Father, through Christ, in the Holy Spirit, for all his works: creation, redemption, and sanctification.” (CCC 1352). At the end of the Preface, the whole assembly sings the Sanctus (the Holy, Holy, Holy). To give you a sense of the new translation in comparison to the former translation, here follows the old translation of the Preface, followed by the new translation we will hear on the First Sunday of Advent:
Father, all-powerful and ever-living God, we do well always and everywhere to give you thanks through Jesus Christ our Lord. When he humbled himself to come among us as a man, he fulfilled the plan you formed long ago and opened for us the way to salvation. Now we watch for the day, hoping that the salvation promised us will be ours when Christ our Lord will come again in his glory. And so, with all the choirs of angels in heaven we proclaim your glory and join in their unending hymn of praise:
It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God, through Christ our Lord. For he assumed at his first coming the lowliness of human flesh, and so fulfilled the design you formed long ago, and opened for us the way to eternal salvation, that, when he comes again in glory and majesty and all is at last made manifest, we who watch for that day may inherit the great promise in which now we dare to hope. And so, with Angels and Archangels, with Thrones and Dominions, and with all the hosts and Powers of heaven, we sing the hymn of your glory, as without end we acclaim:
An important part of the Eucharistic Prayers is the Epiclesis (a Greek word meaning “to call upon”), the prayer asking God to send the Holy Spirit so that the bread and wine may become the Body and Blood of Christ. Later in the Eucharistic Prayer, after the consecration, the Holy Spirit is invoked again, this time upon the people, petitioning that we become one in the Mystical Body of Christ.
When the Holy Spirit is called upon the gifts, the priest extends his hands over the bread and wine, a sacramental gesture signifying the descent of the Holy Spirit.
To give you a sense of the new translation in comparison to the former translation, here follows the old translation of the Epiclesis from the Second Eucharistic Prayer followed by the new translation:
Let your Spirit come upon these gifts to make them holy, so that they may become for us the body and blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray, by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall, so that they may become for us the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The mention of dewfall, which is in the Latin text, was dropped in the former translation. It is back and brings to mind several allusions from the Bible. One thinks, for example, of the dew that fell upon the camp of the Israelite people on their journey to the Promised Land. When it evaporated, the manna, the bread from heaven, was revealed. The Eucharist is the new manna, Jesus Christ, the true bread come down from heaven.
The Institution Narrative
The Consecration at Mass is that part of the Eucharistic Prayer during which the priest recites Our Lord’s words at the Last Supper instituting the Holy Eucharist. When these words are said, Christ, through the priest, makes His Body and Blood sacramentally present by the power of the Holy Spirit. His sacrifice on the cross offered once for all becomes present on the altar.
Again, I place here the old translation of the Institution Narrative from the Second Eucharistic Prayer, followed by the new translation:
Before he was given up to death, a death he freely accepted, he took bread and gave you thanks. He broke the bread, gave it to his disciples, and said: Take this, all of you, and eat it: this is my body which will be given up for you.
When supper was ended, he took the cup. Again he gave you thanks and praise, gave the cup to his disciples, and said: Take this, all of you, and drink from it: this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven. Do this in memory of me.
At the time he was betrayed and entered willingly into his Passion, he took bread and, giving thanks, broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying: Take this, all of you, and eat of it, for this is my Body, which will be given up for you.
In a similar way, when supper was ended, he took the chalice and, once more giving thanks, he gave it to his disciples, saying: Take this, all of you, and drink from it, for this is the chalice of my Blood, the Blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in memory of me.
Perhaps you immediately notice that the translation has changed from “cup” to “chalice.” Of course, the Latin says “calix,” literally translated as “chalice.” Why this change to the more literal translation? When we hear the word “cup,” we think of an ordinary drinking vessel that we use, for example, for our morning coffee. The vessel used at Mass is more than any ordinary cup. It is something precious, made precious by its contents: the Lord’s Most Precious Blood. Some may object: but Jesus used just an ordinary cup at the Last Supper! We must remember that the Mass is not a mere re-enactment of the Last Supper. As one author states, “While the Mass and its Eucharistic Prayer hearken back to actions of Christ in the upper room some two thousand years ago, that historical action currently exists in heavenly splendor, which is why it can be made present to us at all. The cup of the first Paschal meal in time is now furnished with divine splendors and is ‘the chalice of great joy, of the true feast, for which we all long,’ and it is this divine chalice that our sacramental chalice emulates.”
Another significant change in translation in the text of the Institution Narrative is the use of “for many,” rather than “for all,” in reference to the Blood Christ poured out. “For many” is a literal translation of the Latin “pro multis,” which is a translation from the institution accounts in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew, which say “for many.” Saint Luke’s account says “for you.”
Does this new translation mean that Christ did not shed his Blood for all people? No. The new translation, however, emphasizes that not everybody accepts the gift of salvation that Christ offers us by the shedding of his Blood. In 2006, the then-Prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Cardinal Francis Arinze, gave this explanation:
“The expression ‘for many,’ while remaining open to the inclusion of each human person, is reflective also of the fact that this salvation is not brought about in some mechanistic way, without one’s own willing or participation; rather, the believer is invited to accept in faith the gift that is being offered and to receive the supernatural life that is given to those who participate in this mystery, living it out in their lives as well so as to be numbered among the ‘many’ to whom the text refers.”
I have run out of space and hope to continue reflecting on the new translation of the Eucharistic Prayers in my column next week.
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