A Biblical Walk Through the Mass

Interview With Author on Finding Scripture in the New Translation

By Kathleen Naab

LITTLETON, Colorado, MAY 5, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Many Catholics might not realize just how much an hour at church on Sunday mornings puts them in contact with the Bible.

In addition to the readings and psalm, “practically everything in the liturgy has some roots in Scripture,” according to a scholar who has written a book to point out these connections.

Dr. Edward Sri goes into the biblical roots of liturgy in “A Biblical Walk Through the Mass.” And he says the forthcoming new translation of the Mass makes these roots even more visible.
ZENIT: Will the new translation help us become more in tune with Scripture and see the links between liturgy and the Bible?

Sri: From the opening Sign of the Cross to the closing “Thanks be to God,” the prayers and rituals of the Mass are permeated by the Bible. Indeed, practically everything in the liturgy has some roots in Scripture. Knowing more about that biblical background will help deepen our understanding of what we are really saying and doing in the Mass.
The new translation of the Mass will help make the biblical background shine more brilliantly. It will convey more fully the rich biblical metaphors, images and allusions found in the Latin text of the Mass.
ZENIT: Can you give some examples?

Sri: In the prayer shortly before Holy Communion is distributed, the priest has been saying, “Happy are those who are called to this supper.” But in the new translation, the priest will say, “Blessed are those who are called to the supper of the lamb.” These new words more clearly recall a climactic moment of the Book of Revelation when Jesus, the Lamb of God, is depicted as a bridegroom joining himself to his bride, the Church. An angel announces this intimate union, saying, “Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the lamb” (Revelation 19:19). The new translation more clearly echoes the angel’s invitation to the heavenly wedding supper of the lamb and reminds us that Holy Communion is an intimate loving communion with Jesus — one that is likened to the union shared between husband and wife.
Similarly, the people have been saying, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you …” But in the new translation, we will say, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof.” The new words reflect the humility and trust of the Roman centurion who asked Jesus to heal his paralyzed servant at home (cf. Matthew 8:5-13). As a Roman officer who was in charge of a hundred soldiers oppressing the Jewish people, the centurion humbly acknowledges, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.” Like the centurion, we, at this moment in the Mass, recognize our own unworthiness to have Jesus come sacramentally under the “roof” of our souls in Holy Communion.

ZENIT: How did the history of this intertwining between liturgy and Scripture unfold? Masses were celebrated for decades before Scripture (the New Testament) was even written, so when did liturgical texts and Scriptural texts become so closely linked?

Sri: One could say that the Bible and the liturgy always have gone hand-in-hand. The intertwining of the Bible and liturgical worship is older than the Mass itself, for ancient Jewish worship was filled with allusions to the Hebrew Scriptures. Jesus’ words at the Last Supper also contained numerous allusions to Old Testament passages and images. It is not surprising, therefore, that when the Eucharist was celebrated in the early Church, the various expressions of Christian liturgical worship continued to be shaped by biblical themes. Over time, as the rituals and prayers of the Mass developed, the Scriptures remained a key source of inspiration for these liturgical rites and played an important role in helping shape the liturgy that has come down to us today.

ZENIT: From blogs to books, happily there is a lot of information available on the new translation — for anyone interested to find it. What about those Catholics who are not, perhaps, as interested as they should be. Are there practical ways the Church can take advantage of this catechesis opportunity?

Sri: I think we have a unique opportunity to help the faithful reflect more on the meaning of the Mass and how it relates to their lives. People will need to learn new responses and new musical settings. As they are taken out of their routine in the liturgy and will need to learn the newly translated Mass parts, there is a wonderful opportunity to teach about the meaning of what we say and do in the liturgy and to catechize on the Eucharist and the Mass itself. Thus, I hope the preparation goes beyond mere mechanics — simply training people to say new responses — and leads to catechetical and spiritual renewal.
ZENIT: You mention the importance of preparing ourselves, our families and children, for the transition to the new translation. What methods or resources would you suggest?

Sri: First and foremost, we need to take time to educate ourselves about the upcoming changes so that we are able to understand them and enter into the newly translated prayers ourselves. I recommend that people take time to seek out articles and books on this topic. Attending a workshop offered by one’s diocese or parish or by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops also could be very helpful.
Moreover, by learning about the Mass changes, we can help others through the transition. Many people have questions about the various changes and about why we even need a new translation. Once we come to grasp the meaning of the changes, we will be better equipped to help explain the meaning behind the changes to others.
We also want to prepare our children for the upcoming transition. In my home, we have just begun talking about the new translation — albeit in very basic terms that a 10- or 8-year-old might understand. Yet, we should not be surprised at how much children can perceive.

We recently discussed how the new words, “And with your spirit,” point to the unique action of the Holy Spirit working through the ordained priest to change the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. Our children quickly saw, on their own, how the previous words, “And also with you,” did not convey that important point as clearly. But the key to having conversations like this — whether it be with our children or friends or family — is to educate ourselves on the meaning of the changes. The person who does not take time to learn about the new translation will not be able to help others. As the saying goes, “You can’t give what you don’t have.”
ZENIT: Would you say that “A Biblical Walk Through the Mass” is an ecumenical tool?

Sri: I have had a number of Protestant Christians express gratitude for this project. Some have noted how it has helped them appreciate the Mass more and how they never realized how biblical the Mass was. While the primary audience I had in mind was Catholic, I am hopeful that the book might be of service to our Protestant brothers and sisters, helping explain the Mass in Biblical terms that they may find more appealing.
ZENIT: You say your book could be viewed as a “Bible study” on the Mass. Do you see it as a good tool for group sessions?

Sri: The book is meant to be a biblical tour through the Mass parts, helping people understand the significance of all that we say and do in the liturgy. The book can be read on its own for one’s own personal study or devotion. But Ascension Press also has developed excellent supplemental resources that can accompany the book and be used in small group settings for catechesis. There are study workbooks for participants, easy-to-use leaders’ guides and DVD video presentations on the new translation and the Mass as a whole that go along with the “Biblical Walk Through the Mass” book. Parishes, schools and small groups around the country are using these additional components for adult education and to prepare people for the new translation.

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