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Liturgical payback

  • 25 February 2010

For those that lived through it, the Second Vatican Council was a momentous experience, radically changing the day to day life of Catholics around the globe. There was a definite 'before' and 'after' the Council. For most Catholics the biggest change was to hear the mass said in the vernacular, in English, rather than Latin.

We have lived with that particular translation now for over 40 years. Amid some heated debate we are about to receive a new English translation, one which is close in structure and feel to the original Latin text introduced by the Council. How this is implemented and how it will be received within the church remain to be seen.

I am not a liturgical theologian. Indeed my liturgical tastes are not very refined or critical. Like many church members who sit in the pews, I take what I'm given. I've lived with the present translation of the mass for most of my life, and have only fleeting memories of an earlier time when the mass was in a language completely incomprehensible to me.

The present translation has become part of parcel of my liturgical experience, and I am blissfully unaware of its supposed multiple shortcomings that seem to annoy some purists. I also have no great sense of loss in relation to the Latin mass. I studied and enjoyed learning Latin for six years of my high schooling but know well that a liturgy can be equally poor in either Latin or English.

But though I am not a liturgical theologian I do have a strong interest in the theology of the church and in the event of Vatican II itself. The Council brought about major changes in the life of the church, at multiple levels of its existence. It endorsed a shift from the metaphysical language of scholasticism to a more biblical and personalist mode of communication. It encouraged genuine respect for other Christians and even non-Christian faiths. It sought to recognise the rights and dignity of the laity as priestly people.

None of these changes involved a change in dogma, but it did change the way the church related both internally and externally. One major changewas in the liturgy and the celebration of the sacraments. For many Catholics this is where the rubber hit the road, because these changes impinged immediately on their religious lives.

Overall, these changes were not well