Sep 15, 2010

The Mystery of Faith Made Present

Online Edition:
September 2010
Vol. XVI, No. 6

The Mystery of Faith Made Present
Archbishop Alfred Hughes on the New Missal Translation

Archbishop Alfred Hughes, a member of Vox Clara, the international committee organized in 2001 to advise the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (CDW) on English-language liturgical translations, was archbishop of New Orleans 2002-2009. He is a theologian who taught at St. John’s Seminary in Boston from 1962-1993, after receiving his doctorate from Gregorian University in Rome and also while serving as auxiliary bishop of Boston (1982-1993). In 1993 he was appointed Bishop of Baton Rouge, where he served until 2001, when he was appointed coadjutor archbishop of New Orleans.

Archbishop Hughes is a former chairman of the US bishops’ Committee on Doctrine, has served on several other conference committees, and is currently a member of the Subcommittee on the Catechism.

This interview with Archbishop Hughes was recorded early this year by the Midwest Theological Forum (MTF) for an instructional video, A New Translation for a New Roman Missal. Other interviews from this DVD have appeared in the Adoremus Bulletin.

A translation of the complete interview with Cardinal Antonio Cañizares, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (CDW), appeared in the June edition of AB. Interviews with Chicago Cardinal Francis George, OMI, and Father Anthony Ward, SM, both members of Vox Clara, were in the July-August AB.

The video produced by MTF features Monsignor Moroney’s description of the new Missal translations, along with commentary by Cardinal Cañizares, and other members of Vox Clara, including president Cardinal George Pell, Cardinal Justin Rigali, and Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb. The DVD is available on the MTF web site:

The interview with Archbishop Hughes is published in AB with MTF’s kind permission. The photo is from the DVD. — Editor

Jeffrey Cole: Last fall at the meeting that the USCCB Subcommittee on the Catechism always has with all of the religious education publishers, you spoke about the new English translation of the Missal. Please tell us about the new translation and the benefits that the Church will receive — the beauty of the translation, the faithfulness of the translation.

Archbishop Hughes: The new translation that is about to be introduced to the parishes and throughout the country and English-speaking world is really a significant step beyond the English translation of the liturgy we now have, which was developed in a very challenging time — it was published in the 1970s — and without extensive experience in the Church about the work of translating Latin texts into the vernacular.

I would characterize the new translation as being faithful and sacral. When I say “faithful”, I’m not saying literal or slavish, but I am saying that it captures the different levels of doctrinal meaning that are contained in the Latin texts that were not always captured in the first attempt that was made by our translators trying to translate Latin into the vernacular.

We have the opportunity now to recapture — to make sure that the different levels of doctrinal meaning, allusions to Scripture, allusions to the writings of the Fathers of the Church, are fully preserved in the vernacular translation into English. That’s what I mean by being faithful. There’s a saying in the Church: lex orandi, lex credendi, the law of the way in which we pray impacts the way in which we believe. And so, preserving and handing on the deeper meaning of the liturgical texts can have an extraordinary impact on the belief and the practice of all of the faithful.

The second feature that I would like to focus on is the translation is going to be significantly more sacral, less banal, less colloquial — uplifting for the human spirit, hopefully encouraging and supporting the prayer and the worship of everyone who participates, celebrant and faithful, celebrating, participating together. It’ll be more poetic than prose. Now, anyone can sit down and analyze a specific text and say this could have been improved, but if we look at the whole translation, I think the people are going to experience the texts as being faithful and sacral.

Cole: About lex orandi, lex credendi, and how the Mass itself helps form the people, what they believe, but also the faith that comes alive within them: what will be some of the benefits of this new English translation in the lives of the faithful?

Archbishop Hughes: The teaching of the Second Vatican Council has been an extraordinary gift to the Church, but it hasn’t always been fully appreciated for what it is and how it can impact faith and life of the ordinary people. And if we apply that general truth to the liturgy, I think we’ll realize that in the post-Vatican II period, the richness that was in the liturgical Constitution, Sacrosanctum Concilium, has not really been transmitted — or even read, let alone understood and lived. If you were to ask most people, “What did the Council teach about the liturgy?”, I suspect that many would say, “Well, it taught us to turn around the altar and to have the liturgy in English.”

As a matter of fact, neither of these [changes] is included in the conciliar texts. It allowed for those things to happen, and in the implementation of the Council, the liturgical commission that had that responsibility spelled out how this could happen; but those two developments were not the most intended purpose of that Constitution of the Second Vatican Council. The teaching of the Council focused on helping us re-appreciate what is at the heart of the liturgy.

The most important event that ever happened in our history in the world is made present each time we celebrate the Eucharist. The Lord Jesus is made present in the sacrament, offering Himself to the Father for your salvation and for mine, for your sanctification and for mine.

That’s what is made present at Mass. And that’s what we’re invited to — by an Introductory Rite; then we listen to some aspect of that mystery expounded in the Liturgy of the Word; culminating ultimately in our participation in this event through receiving Holy Communion; and then our going out from the Eucharist to live what we have celebrated. But at the heart of all this is that mystery of faith.

At the end of the consecration, the celebrant invites the people to recognize the mystery of faith that has just taken place on the altar. Now, once people appreciate that, I don’t see how they could ever walk away from the Eucharist. How can you ever walk away from what is the most significant event in all history being made available for us to access, draw grace from, and experience a transformation in our lives! That’s what the Church, in the Constitution [on the Sacred Liturgy], wanted to help people realize first, and then begin to live in their own lives.

Cole: Archbishop, you have been involved with the US bishops’ Subcommittee on the Catechism for many years, and part of that work was designing a curriculum framework for high school students. This new translation is being seen by the USCCB as an opportunity for catechesis. What should high school students be taught in order to understand the real meaning of the Mass?

Archbishop Hughes: High school students — like all of the faithful — want and need to come to appreciate what is at the heart of the Mass. They also need to recognize that what we experience when we go to Mass depends tremendously on the dispositions of mind and heart which we bring to the Eucharist.

We sometimes hear people say, “I don’t get anything out of the Mass”. Well, when you think about that, what are we saying? The Mass is re-presenting the most earth-shattering event that has ever happened. Now, if I don’t get anything out of it, it’s because I haven’t been present or engaged with what’s been happening, what’s been re-presented at the Mass.

It’s, therefore, not a question of what do I get out of this, but rather, what an extraordinary mystery to be invited to enter into — to appreciate more and more its meaning and significance and implications for life, and to beg the Lord for a greater portion of that redeeming and sanctifying grace that He offers through the sacrifice of Calvary. Nothing could be more important.

In addition to bringing myself, I want also to bring everything that’s going on in my life.… If we’re bringing to the reading of Scripture, or if we’re bringing to the liturgical texts and to the liturgical action, more of the experience going on in our life today that wasn’t there yesterday, and that needs to be brought into living and sanctifying contact with the saving and sanctifying Lord — that way of participating is what the Church in Sacrosanctum Concilium means by a full and active participation being the summit of the Christian life.

So, it seem to me, high school age students — all of the faithful, priests, bishops — need to be reminded that that is what is critically important to bring to the Eucharist because that is what is at the heart of the Eucharist.

Cole: You are currently teaching in the seminary [Notre Dame in New Orleans]. How can priests and seminarians prepare themselves for this new English translation of the Mass?

Archbishop Hughes: I like the question that you raise because it is priests, and therefore seminarians preparing to be priests, as well as the people, who need to be prepared. I think it’s more important to prepare priests and would-be priests, because they’re the ones that are going to best help the faithful.

Why do I say this? The catechesis that we have in mind is going to be on two levels. One has to do with addressing some of the concrete changes that both priests and faithful are going to experience in the language texts. But there is going to be a far more important catechesis about what the Eucharist really is. We didn’t do that after the Second Vatican Council, and it’s one of the reasons why people were led to focus just on the external changes and began to think that active and full participation was best realized if you were a liturgical minister, not whether you were interiorly fully engaged in what was happening on the altar and carrying that into life. So, that second level of catechesis is going to be critically important.

Now, to get more directly to what’s going to be important for priests and future priests, the changes in translation are going to impact the celebrant more than the faithful. The faithful will recognize that there are differences, but the celebrant is going to be the one that’s going to make the significant difference. If we go back to something that I said earlier, after the Council many people came to think that what the Council said most about the liturgy is the priest would be facing the people and be speaking in the vernacular.

Well, what happened then? The sacral dimension to the celebration of Mass sometimes got put on a back-burner. Priests who were not helped to learn about how to celebrate Mass facing the people began to direct their prayers to the congregation, rather than to God.

It’s very important to help the celebrant to focus his eyes on a crucifix or something that symbolizes the presence of the holy when he is offering prayer. That will also help the people to realize that they’re not just engaged in a relationship with this celebrant who’s facing them, but that they are together being invited to focus on God.

Now, there are certain moments of greeting, and the Eucharist, and that’s when eye contact with the congregation is very appropriate, important — but most of what is said by the celebrant is directed to God. So there needs to be in every church a sacred place that is the focus of the eyes of the celebrant, and thus invitation to the faithful to lift their minds and hearts to God as well. And hopefully now, as I mentioned earlier, the language — more poetic, more sacral, less banal, less secular, less colloquial — will also feed into the lifting of the interior spirit to God.

The proclamation of the Word of God in the celebration of the Eucharist will be more explicitly linked to the Eucharistic action. The homily, which is also a part of the Liturgy of the Word, should not be a stand-alone. What is expressed in the homily that is based upon the Scriptures and related to human experience is intended to lead toward interior engagement in the Eucharist, bringing everything that has been talked about and everything that’s been lived in people’s lives to be saved, to be redeemed, and to be sanctified.

Cole: You’ve been involved in Vox Clara and their work with new English translation for several years now, and we’re nearing the end of this very long process. Could you mention some highlights you experienced in your work on the new English translation of the Mass?

Archbishop Hughes: I’ve been a participant in a committee that is serving to offer counsel to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments about the reception of proposed English translation of liturgical texts. The name of that committee is Vox Clara, which literally means “clear voice”. We hope that our voice is not obscure! It’s been an extraordinary experience to be a part of this. We started our work in 2002, we were formed at the end of 2001, and we completed our task in the spring of 2010. It’s been an eight-year process.

I thought I knew Latin before I began. I had no idea that there were different levels of origin of the liturgical texts, and, depending upon where the texts come from, the Latin words have different meanings.

So, for instance, a certain number of the more ancient texts, rooted in the Latin, were used in the pagan temple liturgy — not taking over the content of pagan worship, but some liturgical words come from the temple liturgy of pagan Rome. Then you have the level of the texts that come directly from Scripture and are impacted by the scriptural language that has taken the sacral-liturgical language of pagan Rome and “baptized” it — made it Christian — transformed the meaning, and drew out a meaning that was never intended in pagan Rome, but is formed by Divine Revelation.

And then you have a level that’s profoundly impacted by the writings of the Fathers of the Church — how they took the scriptural texts and the earlier liturgical texts and drew out by a process called, in theology, “analogy” (not analogy in the sense of metaphor, but in the sense of deeper spiritual meaning) the richness of Divine Revelation and incorporated that into the prayer of the Church.

So, in entering into a new translation it was critically important to appreciate where the words — the Latin words — came from. In the process of translation, I found that enriching, informative for me, and I hope it’s reflected in the richness of the final product, inviting people to experience the benefit of drawing the best in understanding what the Latin texts were intended to convey.



The Editors