Pastoral Letter of Terence Patrick Drainey, Bishop of Middlesbrough

Dear brothers and sisters,

I don’t consider myself old, well, not very old, but already since my boyhood I have lived through at least six major changes in the language used to celebrate the Holy Mass and the Sacraments. I have assisted at the Tridentine Mass, Dialogue Mass, Latin Mass with some English dialogue, Mass using the Interim English Missal, the Roman Missal as is used now and the new translation of the Third Edition of the Roman Missal which we will begin in Advent of this year. At various time I have responded “Vere dignum et justum est”; “It is right and fitting”; “it is right to give him thanks and praise”; and soon, “it is right and just”. What was it that Blessed John Henry Newman said? To live is to change and to be perfect is to have changed much. Well, we should all be on the way to perfection.

While truths and values can be eternal, the language in which they are expressed is bound to change. We often forget that we are Roman Catholics, Latin-Rite Catholics, which means that our primary liturgical language is Latin. The prayers and liturgy are first of all presented in Latin, and latterly, during my lifetime at least are translated into modern languages, such as our own English. Again, reflecting on the speed with which our language changes makes me realise how hard it is to preserve meaning from one generation to the next. I am sure we can all think of words whose meanings have changed completely in our own lifetimes. For example, in everyday parlance cool and wicked do not necessarily imply the meaning given to them in the Oxford Dictionary. And there are lots of other examples which will freely come to mind, I am sure.

Much of our liturgical prayer is based on the Scriptures and on the long reflective tradition of the Church. The new translation has held these two sources as central to its work. A good example of this is the prayer we say before receiving Holy Communion. It is the response that the centurion gave to Jesus (in Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 8, verse 8), when Jesus said that he would come and cure the man’s servant. Up until now we have become used to saying “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.” The actual Gospel we read at Mass says; “Sir, I am not worthy to have you under my roof; just give the word and my servant will be cured.” We will now say in the new translation: “Lord, I am not worthy that to you should enter under my roof; but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” Is it better, is it worse, is it more beautiful, more clumsy? I can’t say, but I can say that it is more faithful to the Scriptures and the traditions of the Church.

There will be aspects of the new translation which will immediately appeal. There will be other words and phrases that we will stumble over. Some parts of the Mass that mean a lot to us in the present translation we will miss. They have become significant parts of our personal prayer-life. It will be hard to leave them behind. However, with the new translation there comes the opportunity not only to renew the Church’s public prayer, but also so for us as individuals to deepen our understanding and devotion of the Holy Mass. Let’s all take the opportunity.

I think that the new translation is good news for all the reasons I have just stated. There are other voices in our world who would like us to think that this is controversial news, or bad news. Good news apparently does not sell newspapers, even religious ones. My advice is that we should all be open and ready to receive all the blessings and graces that will come with this new translation. Of course it will take time, patience and perseverance, but keep with it. Use it as part of your prayer at home as well.

Your parish priest and a co-ordinating team will help and instruct all who want to learn and understand more. It would be good if those who visit our sick and housebound brothers and sisters ensure that they are well instructed themselves so as to support those they visit. I have no doubt that there is some fear and apprehension about. All the more reason we should be well informed and prepared to help those who are fearful and unsure.

I would like each parish to take this opportunity to learn the simple missal chants of the Mass so that we have a common Mass setting known by everyone in the diocese when we come together for larger celebrations. So from September onwards let this be used in all parishes of the diocese so that it becomes well established and familiarised.

Finally, remember that whenever we gather together around the table of the Lord to celebrate the Eucharist, it is the whole people of God, the Church that gathers. We gather through Christ our Lord through whom all glory and honour is given to the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit. And that is why 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. For, although you have no need of our praise, yet our thanksgiving is itself your gift, since our praise adds nothing to your greatness but profits us for salvation.And so in company with choirs of Angels, we praise you, and with joy proclaim: Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of Hosts.

+ Terence Patrick, Bishop of Middlesbrough