Praying anew | Understanding our prayerful relationship before God through humble language

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In our everyday conversations with others, the word "reverence" isn't something that immediately comes to mind.

But in our personal and collective communications with God at Mass, it's certainly something that we should more deeply consider.

On the first Sunday of Advent, Nov. 27, Catholics in the U.S. other English-speaking countries will implement the new English translation of the Roman Missal, Third Edition. It is perhaps the most significant change in the language of the Mass since the Second Vatican Council. The translations took nearly a decade to develop and included consultations with the U.S. bishops, the International Commission on English in the Liturgy and the Vox Clara Committee, which advised the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments on English translations.

While the there will not be a change in the way the Mass is celebrated, what's going to be different is a translation of a number of the prayers, offered by both the priest and faithful, during the Mass. The goal in mind: To make our prayers as close to the original Latin text of the Roman Missal as possible, and in the process, will display a certain respect and reverence for the history of generations who have come before us in the celebration of the Mass.

In the weeks leading up to Advent, the Review will explore the reasons why the translation is a gift to the Church, as explained by Father Jason Schumer, a liturgical theologian and associate pastor at St. Ambrose Parish on the Hill.In this second installment, he will explore how the newly translated prayers are a reflection of our humility before God.

Ultimately, the priest explained that what we are about to experience in the Church is "a great opportunity to pray the Mass anew to listen to the beauty of these prayers, some of them over 1,000 years old, and to hear them once again in a new way."

Part Two: The language of humility

In considering our prayers at Mass, the faithful need first to understand why it is that we are praying to God.

In the original Latin prayers of the Mass, "there's a very direct nature of addressing God," Father Schumer explained. "A prayer could say, 'Grant, O God.' This is an imperative -- grant. This is what we want, so we're very up front about what we want."

But the new translation of that original Latin shows a new sense of reverence in what it is that we ask of God.

"That's perhaps different than the way that we speak out on the street or speak to someone in a restaurant," he said. "It is a prayer language and it is common to the Roman rite ... and what they've done in the translation is made that once again present now in the English."

And it's something that's might very well take extra time for the faithful to grasp, the priest acknowledged.

"Because it's reverent, because it's elevated, we're going to have to think about what we say," he said. "Because at times, what's being communicated and what is there in the prayer is not going to be readily apparent."

Another concept inherent to the prayers at Mass is something called deprecatory language.

"This is a language which is humble, it's a language which expresses our own unworthiness before God," said Father Schumer.

So following that direct connection to God in our prayers, the faithful will implore the idea that we are unworthy before Him.

The newly translated prayers will include a translation of the Latin "quaesumus," or "we pray."

While it's a subtle change, it's reflective of a more humble language, said Father Schumer. "It's a deprecatory language knowing that we need God," he said. "That we are unworthy to come before Him. He is our father, but we rely on God for everything."

That deprecatory language is also reflected in other parts of the Mass, when the faithful ask forgiveness for their sins. And that's something that can be difficult to do, said the priest.

"To go before God in humility and say, 'Lord God, I have sinned. I need your mercy, I need your grace. This is true, this isn't the way that we might go an talk to someone on the street. This isn't the way that we would greet family members. But this is a language of prayer."

It's also a part of centuries of history in the way Christians have prayed using the Roman Rite, he said, using a direct, but humble, method of communication with God.

"We recognize that He is the creator," said Father Schumer. "We rely on him for everything, every breath we take is a gift. So we come in humility. We come asking forgiveness, asking mercy but confident that God, who is our Father, will provide for our every spiritual need."

Examples of deprecatory language

The new translation of the Collect, or Opening Prayer, for the Mass celebrated on Jan. 1, the Solemnity of Mary the Holy Mother of God, is one such explicit example that reflects a more deprecatory language.

In the new translation, the faithful pray the words: "Grant, we pray, that we may experience the intercession of her ... "

"The prayer is direct, asking God to grant us something, but being humble enough knowing that we pray for this, we beseech you, because we are children of the eternal Father, we rely on Him. It's going to take some patience to listen to the prayer."

In order to gain an appreciation for the translation, Father Schumer recommended reading the prayers before and after Mass as a reflection to learn what was particular to that Mass. In the case of the Solemnity of Mary, the Opening Prayer touches on the fruitful virginity of Mary that gave us Jesus Christ, our Savior.

"And we ask God to enter into that," said Father Schumer.

Another example of deprecatory language reflected in the new translation is the Confetior, or Penitential Act, which includes the following: "I confess to almighty God, and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned."

The original Latin text includes the word "nimis," or in English, "greatly," which not was accounted for in the old English translation.

Another part that makes a return to the Penitential Act is "through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault," which Father Schumer said will be a vivid memory, including the striking of the breast, to those who know the Latin Mass as it was before the Second Vatican Council. The act of striking the breast remains in the new translation of the Roman Missal.

"Going to Mass and hearing that,'Mea cupla, mea cupla, mea maxima culpa.' This is once again a deprecatory language, a humble language going to God, confessing that we are sinners, and then asking that we have forgiveness because we have sinned through our own fault," said Father Schumer.

"We go to God with great hope," he continued. "We ask the intercession of Mary, of all the angels and saints, all the men and women present with us at the Mass to pray for us, that we will go to God for that mercy, and indeed the priest follows with the prayer, 'May almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins and bring us to everlasting life.

"But it takes us being humble, knowing we have sinned through our own fault, to go to God in humility and ask for mercy -- the fountain of mercy that never runs dry -- that God who loves us, who forgives our sins ... This is an expression of that in the Mass. It's not sacramental absolution ... but it is a way to go to God immediately. We've done this since the early Church ... to go and ask forgiveness, but it takes humility and the language highlights that humility."

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