Latest translation of the Roman Missal put Church in ‘better place’

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Msgr. Rick Hilgartner, pastor of St. Joseph Church in Cockeysville, Maryland, and director of liturgy at St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore, Maryland, reflected on the last 10 years since the release of the Third Roman Missal in 2011 during an assembly with nearly 50 diocesan priests Sept. 14 in the Bishop’s Hall at the Catholic Pastoral Center in Nashville. Photo by Katie Peterson.

Three years ago, Msgr. Rick Hilgartner was serving as the celebrant of a special Mass celebrating his parents’ 50th wedding anniversary when he found out that the collect for the golden wedding anniversary had interesting wording toward the end.  

“As you sealed the beginnings of their love by a wonderful sacrament, so now bless their fruitful old age,” the collect read.   

“I hadn’t pre-read that and hadn’t prepared myself as my parents were sitting about 6 feet from me, referring to their ‘fruitful old age,’” Msgr. Hilgartner explained. “As I said it … it elicited an eruption of laughter in part because people just found the prayer funny, but more in part to my parents’ reaction to what I had prayed, and we kind of lost all sense of decorum and reverence in that particular moment.” 

Msgr. Hilgartner shared that story with Bishop J. Mark Spalding and nearly 50 priests serving in the Diocese of Nashville during his presentation “Ten Years of the Roman missal, Third Edition: What We Have Learned and What Comes Next.” He presented his talk during the bi-monthly priests assembly on Tuesday, Sept. 14, in the Bishop’s Hall at the Catholic Pastoral Center. 

Msgr. Hilgartner, pastor of St. Joseph Church in Cockeysville, Maryland, and Director of Liturgy at St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore, Maryland, was part of the committee that reviewed the new translation before it was implemented in 2011.  

“We’ve all got some stories better or worse of things that have gone well, some things that have gone horribly wrong, and everything in between, but essentially, we’ve been learning by doing, and … we still have work to do,” he said. “The liturgy is living; our language is living. Its evolving and one of the signs it’s evolving is that we go back and refresh texts, and that’s been happening since the foundation of the Church.”  

While there was a learning process immediately after the new translation was implemented in 2011,  Msgr. Hilgartner said, the Church is in a better place liturgically.  

“I think we are in a vastly improved place in regard to the quality of the liturgical texts on several levels,” he said. “There is something to be said about the accurate rendering of the texts.  

“The beauty, the depth of insight of Biblical allusions and references is far more clear and far more evident in the translations,” he added, showing comparisons of 1970 collects to current collects including those of the first Sunday of Advent, the feast of the Epiphany, the Easter Vigil, and the ninth and 27th Sundays in Ordinary Time.  

“There is a cadence to it that helps in the proclamation of the words in a way that doesn’t work in the 1970 text,” he said, especially when considering music and chants. “They’re not only more accurately rendered, but also with an eye on the fact that some text is meant to be sung.”  

Msgr. Hilgartner said the updated text also has restored a certain reverence to the Mass.  

“There was a real pointed goal of creating a sacred kind of language; that the sense of rhetoric in the Missal wasn’t just the everyday language of spoken word. But there is this heightened sense to it,” he said. “This formal addressing language helps us enter into a sense of deference to God, and it’s not that God only understands formal language, but it sets us in a stance of worship to where we have stepped out of everyday conversation and into a different kind of world.  

“The heightened rhetoric, the heightened language style,” he added, “helps us enter into this mystery that’s being celebrated.”   

Finally, he said, the new translation helped catechesis about the faith and bringing a heightened awareness to the power of the rites.  

The new translation “emphasizes for us the importance of ongoing catechesis about the faith and how the liturgy can be both a subject for catechesis as well as an instrument for catechesis,” he said.  

“There was fear that changing the texts and rituals would be disruptive,” he continued. “It demonstrated how much people cherish the ritual. It is part of the beauty of being Catholic. 

“I think we’ve actually seen an increased awareness and an increase in conscious participation because we went through the effort to catechize,” Msgr. Hilgartner said. “It gave us an opportunity to teach about what we do, and why we do it.”  

Msgr. Hilgartner also spoke about areas that still need work, including addressing various typing errors in the translation, new translations yet to be completed including the Liturgy of the Hours and the Order of Christian Initiation for Adults, and ongoing catechetical efforts to reach those who have strayed from the Church and reconcile with them. 

But the ultimate effort of catechism and evangelization remains in the power of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist and the role of the priest in the liturgy, he said.  

“When (the priest) celebrates the Eucharist, he must serve God and the people with dignity and humility, and by his bearing and by the way he pronounces the divine words he must convey to the faithful the living presence of Christ,” Msgr. Hilgartner said, quoting the general instructions section of the Roman Missal.  

“How we carry ourselves, how we celebrate the liturgy conveys the presence of Christ,” he said. “The Lord uses us as instruments. 

“All these things that we do as we preside, we are associating ourselves with the faithful,” Msgr. Hilgartner added. “We are feeding them, but we are also partaking with them. How we pray articulates what we believe and then shapes how we live.   

“We are all called to be imbued with the spirit of the liturgy in our own measure,” he said. “We are shaped, we are fed, we are formed to go and announce the Gospel of the Lord and glorify the Lord by our lives.” 

“The Church itself is evangelized through the beauty of the liturgy,” he continued. “At the same time, the liturgy is certainly formative. People can invite others to join us, and they can gain something from it through the various ways in which we encounter the presence of Christ even when one doesn’t understand our sacramental vocabulary about how Christ is present in body, blood, soul and divinity in the Eucharist. 

“They can still encounter Christ liturgically in the assembly and everything else that happens in that liturgical encounter,” he said. “The liturgy is the source and summit of the Christian life; the Eucharist is the font and the apex of the Christian life.”  

Father Rhodes Bolster, associate pastor of St. Philip Church in Franklin, agreed that a translation that is more faithful to the original text is beneficial.  

“His first point about being more faithful to the actual text of the Missal is a key point that I think was a good thing,” he said. “The more faithful we can be to what the Church gives us is our way of being faithful to Christ.”  

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