Wednesday, August 31, 2011

In persona Christi

chair-of-st-peter-largeAfter the sign of the cross the priest begins the Mass with one of three greetings. Perhaps the most commonly used greeting by priests is, “The Lord be with you.” After this greeting we find the first change in the new translation that we will have to get used to. The people now respond, “And with your spirit.” This is clearly a more accurate translation of the Latin but it also emphasizes the word “spirit.” Official commentators on the Mass have noted that the word spirit used here draws attention to the elevation of the priest’s spirit in the Sacrament of ordination. We are greeting the priest who acts in the person of Christ.

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Monday, August 29, 2011

The Entrance Antiphon

IMG_0040On Sundays in most parishes the Mass begins with a hymn. In many parishes on week days the Mass begins with the recital of a short antiphon or psalm taken from a verse of Scripture that relates to the liturgical season or the feast for that day. These antiphons were intended to be sung and are taken from special coral collections called the Propers or the Roman Gradual. In the new instruction for Mass the Church has reemphasized its desire to see these traditional chants sung at the beginning of the Mass. Many Catholics would be surprised to find out that there are corresponding sets of antiphons or Propers that are also intended to be sung at communion.

If you are interested in a fuller account of the more accurate translation 2011 of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal on this issue click here for an article from the Chant Cafe.

If you would like to learn more about your faith, and take classes with the Bishop Helmsing Institute visit

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

New Roman Missal (Part 2)

jerome readingFinding the right balance between a stilted word by word translation and one that is accurate but understandable is difficult. One of the most famous translators in the Church, St. Jerome complained, “If I translate word by word, it sounds absurd, if I am forced to change something in the word order or style, I seem to have stopped being a translator.”

The Church has done several things to help facilitate a new translation of the Roman Missal. First they changed the membership of the international committee responsible for the English translations, second the Vatican issued a new foundational document entitled Liturgiam authenticam (or the authentic Liturgy) which gives specific guidelines for translation, and finally an executive committee of cardinals and bishops was set up to supervise the whole project.

Some of the new principles or guidelines include translating the original Latin faithfully without omissions or additions. Using language that is understandable yet preserves dignity and beauty. Using language that is precise and doctrinally sound and avoiding anything that is trendy. One interesting point is that the new text is deliberately translated so that it will be suitable for singing and the new liturgical books will give priority to the chanting of the Mass.

See a summary of major principles of Liturgiam Authenticam in plainer language  here.

If you would like to learn more about your faith, and take classes with the Bishop Helmsing Institute visit

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Welcoming the New Roman Missal (Part 1)

NRM3The first question many people ask about the New Roman Missal that will be introduced this Advent is why the Mass needs to change?

The original translators of our current Mass used a method of translation that was not very literal. Unlike other modern translations in German, Spanish, French or Italian, the English translators took great liberties with the text summarizing and adapting whole passages and in some cases even composing material that did not occur in the original Latin text. This is the central problem that prompted the Vatican to produce a new more faithful translation of the Mass.

If you would like to learn more about your faith, and take classes with the Bishop Helmsing Institute visit

Friday, August 19, 2011

Must We Keep Our Vows?

Yesterday the first reading at daily Mass included the horrendous story of the ‘Judge’ Jephthah  (Judges 11) who makes a rash vow to the Lord;

Jephthah made a vow to the LORD.
"If you deliver the Ammonites into my power," he said,
"whoever comes out of the doors of my house
to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites
shall belong to the LORD.
I shall offer him up as a burnt offering." (Judges 11:30-31)

Jephthah is victorious over the Ammorites and is devastated to be greeted upon his return by his only daughter who is still a young child.  After a short compassionate delay, “he did to her as he had vowed” (11:39).

Clearly this is a negative moral example of what not to do. It might be helpful to unpack the morality of this situation.

The Church generally sees the act of making promises and vows in a positive light (cf. Catechism CCC 2101-2102).  There are many positive examples of vows in the Old Testament. For example Psalm 65:2; 66:13. The making and keeping of vows is related to the worship of God and virtue of religion.

Vows are a very serious matter and must not be made rashly.  As the writer of Proverbs warns “It is a trap to pledge rashly a sacred gift, and after a vow, then to reflect” (Proverbs 20:25). As the Israelites were warned in the Law, “When a man makes a vow to the LORD or binds himself under oath to a pledge, he shall not violate his word, but must fulfill exactly the promise he has uttered” (Numbers 30:3). Was Jephthah then required to fulfill his rash vow?

The current Code of Canon Law defines a vow as “a deliberate and free promise made to God, concerning some good which is possible and better” (CIC 1191 § 1).  The structure of this definition may at first seem confusing.  It implies, following the traditional understanding of the Church, that the matter or object of vows must be 1) possible, 2) morally good, and 3) better than its contrary. Dominic M. Prümmer O.P. notes, “It is not required that what is vowed should be absolutely and objectively better than its omission; it is sufficient if it is relatively better for the individual making the vow” (Handbook of Moral Theology, p. 179).

Jephthah’s vow is made freely and not under compulsion but it is clearly rash and does not have a morally good object and is not better than the contrary.  With a different morally good object such as, “if I am victorious I will praise you each day before I begin any work or eat,” this could have been a virtuous act.  As it stands, Jephthath made a false or mock vow according to the Church’s definition.  In effect he sinned doubly by speaking rashly and dangerously and then by committing an evil act in fulfillment of his words.


© Scott McKellar a Scripture quotes from the NAB-RE.

Image: Edouard Bernard Debat-Ponsan (1847-1913) The Daughter of Jephthah, Oil on canvas 1876