Friday, December 16, 2011

Why the new translation of the Mass? part 8

The Apostles Creed, of which I have already written about, has only a couple of changes.
“He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit” becomes “who was conceived by the Holy Spirit.”  People conceive. The Holy Spirit is a person not a force. 

I remember hearing of a Pentecostal pastor whose ministry had stagnated. He was praying and, as I often do, began to pray the prayer of St. Peter. (That means he fell asleep.) He had a dream in which he was taken up to the throne of God, and there he said to God the Father, “I have the experience of the Holy Spirit! Why isn’t my ministry growing?”   

Furious, the Father rose from His throne grabbed the minister by his collar and shook him, saying “My Holy Spirit isn't an experience. He’s a Person. Treat Him like one!” 

The minister awoke terrified, and from that day he started to treat the Holy Spirit like a Person, addressing Him, honoring Him, thanking Him and above all listening to Him. His ministry and congregation grew to the point that he was the pastor of the largest single congregation (not denomination) in the world. 

The Holy Spirit isn’t a power. He’s a person!

Next comes a line that I have already explained in part. “He descended to the dead.” becomes “He descended into hell.” The word “hell” is reinstated.  Just a reminder that the Catholic Church still believes that there is a hell, and there is a chance that you and I and those we love most dearly just might end up there if we refuse the salvation offered to us in Christ.

In the Preface Dialogue “It is right to give him thanks and praise” becomes “It  is right and just” (to give Him thanks.) I suspect that this is just a matter of more accurate translation, but in the Sanctus the “Holy, Holy” there is a far more significant word change.  “Lord God of power and might.” becomes “Lord God of hosts.”  Hosts is a military term. It means armies.

The first part of the Sanctus is the same as the Kidusha, or “sanctification”,  part of the “Amidah” the “standing prayer” used at least three times a day in Jewish prayer. The Kidusha is a quote, more or less from Isaiah 6:3. The Amidah, or "standing prayer” still said in synagogues, developed soon after the destruction of the temple in 70 AD at the same time that the Catholic liturgy was developing. 

Thus, the Sanctus takes us back to the last moment when the two traditions were intertwined, quite possibly to the very life time of the Apostles. God is called “Adonai Tz'vaot” or “Lord of SabaothSabaoth here clearly refers to the angelic armies of God.

This is huge. God is not just the Lord of power and might. He is Lord of a power and might that we can only imagine, endless hosts of conscious beings who travel between our dimension and their own. In the “Screwtape Letters” C.S.Lewis has the devil calling us “amphibians.” We are like frogs on the edge of a pond living in water but venturing onto land.  We live in two dimensions in this multi-dimensional universe. We live in the dimension of matter and we live in the invisible world of angels. And in that invisible world of angels there is a war raging. God is the God of Armies. This one word reminds us that there is a spiritual realm in which we participate at every moment of every day whether we know it or not. Further, there is an army out to destroy us and there is an army out to defend us. Ephesians 6:12 says “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”  All this in one little word, “hosts!”

PS News Flash:

The Vatican has recently issued a very rare form of document called a “Motu Inapropio.” The document titled “Vertigens et Celebrans” mandates that churches, wherever possible, put the altar on a revolving platform, thus satisfying those who want to see the celebrants face and those who are sick of looking at the old goat. The relative speeds of the revolving altar should vary according to the respective length of the canon used. For the shorter canons, it is suggested that older clergy be strapped into a bar stool behind the altar to avoid injury. This should satisfy everyone.


  1. The change in the Sanctus has another unexpected benefit. Previously the prayer was often phrased aloud as though there were three thoughts: "Holy Holy", "Holy Lord", "God of Power and Might". One would think that the third holy stood on it's own to qualify "Lord", and that "Lord" and "God" were part of separate ideas.

    With the new translation the verbal phrasing is brought back to it's proper form: "Holy Holy Holy, Lord God of Hosts". That is, the triple Holy is brought together as it ought to be, in the semitic style emphasizing the perfect holiness of the Lord God of Hosts.

  2. Seems kind of odd that Jesus would descend to Hell, though. Aren't those in Hell beyond redemption?

  3. Just a quick note to say Merry Christmas, Father. Thanks for this blog, thanks for your humor and wit, thanks for the continuing education.

    I rarely comment (like most people, I suppose) but I read regularly and am always amazed that you can blog so much material so well so frequently.

    God bless you, Father.