How to consciously and actively take part in Mass – Lawrence Lew OP

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Liturgical expert Lawrence Lew OP reviews the two CTS booklets on the Mass, guiding you though these two vital aides to the new liturgy: Dom Cuthbert Johnson, OSB’s Understanding the Roman Missal – the New Translation and Mgr Bruce Harbert’s Companion to the Order of Mass.

I think Dom Cuthbert’s booklet is simply excellent. As many have noted, the introduction of a new English translation is a chance to deepen our understanding of the Liturgy and the Mass; it is a catechetical opportunity. I am grateful that this booklet does just that by not just looking at the words of the Missal, but by reminding us of vital things like silence and recollection before, during and after Mass, and also of the sacral character of the church building, and it also helpfully corrects commonplace attitudes and ideas about the Mass that are erroneous.

The strengths of the actual commentary on the Mass is the use of Scripture, which points out to Catholics and non-Catholics alike how Scriptural the Liturgy is. Dom Cuthbert also leaves the Scriptures to speak for themselves, leaving his own commentary to a minimum.

Indeed, where there is a commentary on the Mass, I am glad to see that he often draws on the Fathers, saints, mystics, the (Papal) Magisterium, and Benedictines from his own tradition like Dom Gueranger. This is to be welcomed for the Mass, then, is a rooted in Scripture, and expounded by Tradition. Where necessary, he does explain phrases like “And with your Spirit”, again using the same two sources, but with historical acumen and liturgical scholarship, which is very helpful. The great benefit of this text, I think, is that it elevates the Mass above the socio-political commentary about the new translation that one finds in blogs etc, and it recalls us to the truth that the Mass is the Liturgy of the Church and that it is Christ’s holy Mystery, in which we may participate more fully, consciously, and actively with the help of CTS booklets like this.

Mgr Harbert’s booklet is similarly excellent, and very interesting because it is somewhat more scholarly. Much of what I said above can apply here, particularly in the use of Scripture and Tradition. However, what sets this apart is the insight provided by Mgr Harbert, as former Secretary of ICEL, into the linguistic and theological considerations of the ICEL translators, and even some of its controversies (eg: the Sursum corda), which I found fascinating. Where necessary (and again, like Dom Cuthbert), he gives a more in depth commentary on phrases that may be considered controversial by some, such as “consubstantial”, or “And with your spirit”, and they are enlightening and helpful in understanding the context behind these phrases in the Mass. The section on the Offertory was especially good. I learnt from it that “Preparation of the Gifts” was never used in the Missal, and Mgr Harbert does well to remind us of the sacrificial nature of the Mass, of the oblation of our own lives in union with the divine Victim. In the discussion on the Roman Canon, it was good to be introduced to the saints who flank the words of Consecration, and the Old Testament figures, eg: Abel. In brief, a very good booklet indeed, which I would heartily recommend!

Both are available from the CTS website from June priced £1.95 and £2.50. You can order now.


Of related interest:

Introductory Missal – An extract of the full Altar Missal, for daily use during the introductory period from September to the first Sunday of Advent 2011.
Understanding the Roman Missal – the New Translation – The Church, not only in Britain but throughout the whole English-speaking world, now has a new edition of the Roman Missal. This presentation and explanation of the new translation is accompanied by a series of liturgical and spiritual reflections.
New translation of the Roman Missal – Understanding the changes –This easy-to-read leaflet considers the biblical and liturgical character of the new translation and the benefits it brings.

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