So Much More
Published on December 17-18, 2011 in the Parish Bulletin of Saint Andrew Catholic Church, Harrodsburg KY
The evangelist Luke tells us that, when the angel Gabriel greeted the Blessed Virgin, Mary “was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be” (Lk. 1:29). A priest friend of mine, recalling that the angel’s address had been “The Lord is with you” (Lk. 1:28), wondered whether Mary’s confusion had anything to do with the new translation of the Roman Missal. Perhaps, he jested, the Blessed Virgin was pondering which response she was supposed to give: was it “And also with you” or was it “And with your spirit”?
Let’s face it: there are still many among us who are left pondering during Mass what sort of response they are expected to make. After all, it has only been four weeks since the Catholic Church in the United States began using the revised translation of the Roman Missal. It will take a little while longer before any of its new words are committed to memory. In the meantime, I think it is good that, instead of just giving a routine response, we are finally thinking before we start talking, something some of us haven’t tried to do in conversing with God.
What we have here is an opportunity to let our prayer be more intentional, a chance to let our praise be more intense. We can no longer rely on the force of habit to determine what we say at Mass. We now have to mind what we say and to mean what we pray.
This new Roman Missal invites all of us, the priests of God and the people of God, to rediscover what we have taken for granted, to reclaim a reverence that once was there, to revive the fervor for the Faith that has grown cold. The Holy Mass itself has not changed; only some of our words have. And these changes are not meant to confuse but to enlighten: to allow us to see this feast of Heaven and earth in a new light, to find that there is always so much more here than meets the earthly eye and tongue.
Perhaps, it is this “so much more” that the elevated English of the new translation is trying to convey. Some have complained that this rendering is too poetic for those in the pews, that it is too literary for the common layperson. However, I would insist that such an objection comes not from a love for the prosaic but from a misunderstanding of the poetic. If they really knew what poetry is, they too would prefer to employ more poetry in their prayer.
My favorite distinction between prose and poetry comes from a remark made by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1827. It was a line that I frequently cited when I was teaching language and literature to college students at the University of the Assumption. “Prose,” Coleridge explained, “is words in their best order. Poetry is the best words in their best order.”
Poetry, then, is “so much more” than prose. And it is but fitting that we give what is “so much more” to the One who has given us more than we can ever grasp. We cannot be content with giving God what is good enough when we can offer Him what is best. We cannot settle for plain and thought-less prayer when we can present profound and thoughtful praise. It is only “right and just, our duty and our salvation” to use the best words in their best order that we have available in glorifying the Word who made our flesh, the same Word who, for our sake, was made flesh (cf. Jn. 1:14).