Editor’s Note: On Nov. 27, the first Sunday of Advent, the new English translation of the Roman Missal will be implemented in all Catholic parishes in the United States. Here we present the final part of a five-part series about the new translation–and the reasons behind it. You can read part 4 here.
The Dawn of Real Liturgical Renewal
A major priority of both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI has been correct implementation of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, especially the reform of the sacred liturgy. The Third Edition of the Missale Romanum and the Instruction for its translation, Liturgiam Authenticam, were both issued during John Paul’s pontificate. Liturgiam Authenticam marked the close of a four-decade period of experimentation with liturgical translations authorized by the Second Vatican Council, while the Third Edition of the Roman Missal represents a consolidation and integration of the Council’s liturgical reforms into the Church’s Latin Rite tradition. This project of correct implementation of Vatican II has been carried on with vigor by Pope Benedict XVI, who sees the proper understanding and faithful celebration of Catholic worship and liturgy as the key to renewal of the Church and effective evangelization.
In 2007, Pope Benedict took the bold step of issuing a universal indult that allowed the occasional celebration of Mass in the Extraordinary Form in any diocese of the Latin Rite without the necessity of obtaining the local bishop’s permission. This move may have been somewhat controversial at the time, but it was a stroke of genius. Pope Benedict recognized that lack of Catholic exposure to the traditional Latin Mass was impeding the authentic liturgical renewal envisioned by the Second Vatican Council. The pre-Vatican II Latin Mass and the Novus Ordo of Vatican II are not strangers to each other, nor was one ever intended to be radically different from the other. By giving modern Latin Rite Catholics the opportunity to experience the traditional Latin Mass, it allows them to reconnect with their liturgical (as well as religious and cultural) tradition and can help them better understand how the Novus Ordo Mass fits into that tradition.
Furthermore, a major theme running through the pontificates of John Paul and Benedict has been the prediction of a “new springtime” for the Church in the third millennium, particularly based on a revival of interest in Catholicism among young people. Both Popes have understood that there’s an important connection between the implementation of Vatican II and this theme of a new springtime for the Church: Renewal of the liturgy will lead to renewal of the Church from within. But what will the new springtime look like?
In an interview with Raymond Arroyo on EWTN in 2003, then-Cardinal Ratzinger opined that the new springtime would not be characterized by mass conversions to Catholicism all over the world. Rather, he said, it would consist of small, “convinced communities” of believers, especially young people, who would celebrate the liturgy together and witness the joy of their Christian faith to the modern society around them. That joyful witness of faith would be the primary method of evangelization, attracting other people to the Church and leading to a renewal of society as well.
This hope-filled yet realistic vision of the new springtime for the Church resembles not so much a flood of sunlight as an ever-growing number of lighted candles in the darkness. It has a particularly Benedictine flavor, and is part of the reason why our current Holy Father took the name Benedict. He did this to honor Saint Benedict, whose little monasteries scattered throughout Europe preserved Catholic faith and culture during the Dark Ages. The Church today confronts a certain kind of “dark ages,” as it is surrounded by the manifold evils of modern Western society and culture. In the Eucharistic liturgy, the heart of the Church’s life, the burning light of Christ can set each small, faithful, “convinced community” of believers ablaze, empowering them to spread the light of Christ to others.
A tantalizing glimpse of Pope Benedict’s vision for the new springtime can be seen in the hunger for liturgical tradition among Catholic young people. In dozens of places across the United States where Mass is now occasionally celebrated in Latin in the Extraordinary Form, the churches are packed with Catholics in their twenties and thirties. These small, “convinced communities” of young believers, with their devotion to truth, enthusiasm for Catholic tradition, respect for authority and commitment to fidelity to the Church, are already helping to make the Second Vatican Council’s vision for liturgical renewal a reality.
As the inauguration of the English translation of the Missale Romanum, Third Edition approaches, we are standing on the threshold of an exciting and historic moment for the Roman Catholic Church. The dark and difficult period of the post-Vatican II era is vanishing, and the dawn of real liturgical renewal as envisioned by Vatican II is upon us. In April 2010, Pope Benedict XVI expressed to Vox Clara his hope that the new Roman Missal will serve “as a springboard for a renewal and a deepening of Eucharistic devotion all over the English-speaking world.” With the realization of this hope, the new Mass translation will play a vital role in the new springtime for the Church. Its theological riches will help priests and people alike enter more deeply into the mystery of the Eucharist, the source, center and summit of the Church’s life. Its prayers will elevate Catholic worship and inspire and enrich our personal prayer lives. Along with a rediscovery of our rich liturgical and cultural heritage in the Latin Rite tradition, this renewal of the Sacred Liturgy will stimulate a new flowering of Catholic culture and enable the light of Christ to more brightly illuminate the world of the twenty-first century.