Homily for March 29, Tuesday of the III week of Lent
A recurring theme of Lent is the need for us to recognize our sins and humbly ask God for forgiveness. Tied in with that is the fact that a condition for God’s forgiveness is our own forgiveness of others. The message is very clearly expressed in today’s readings, using poetic language in the first reading from Daniel, and a typically graphic parable in the Gospel. Today, I’d like to focus on the actual text of the first reading, because it can give us some insight into something that is important, but only indirectly related to Lent: the new translation of the Roman Missal, the liturgical text we use for Mass.
You have possibly heard both good and bad things about the new Missal, and the conflicting messages can be confusing. Don’t worry, there won’t be major changes in the way Mass is celebrated; the missal will only be “new” inasmuch as it is a corrected translation of the original Latin text. We are Roman Catholics, and the official language of the Roman Rite is the language of the Romans: Latin. So, the English text we use is a translation of an official Latin text.
The Latin text draws on many sources, including Sacred Scripture. The translation we have been using up to now followed a certain method of translation that often yielded somewhat simplified and altered texts. One of the results was that the references to Sacred Scripture sometimes are obscured. The new, corrected translation is more faithful to the Latin original, and hence, the references to Scripture are clearer.
For example, at the offertory, after the priest first prays over the bread and wine and before he washes his hands, he bows slightly and says a prayer which is drawn directly from today’s first reading. Here is the passage of the reading from which the prayer is taken:
“We have in our day no prince, prophet, or leader, no burnt offering, sacrifice, oblation, or incense, no place to offer first fruits, to find favor with you. But with contrite heart and humble spirit let us be received; As though it were burnt offerings of rams and bullocks, or thousands of fat lambs, so let our sacrifice be in your presence today.”
Now, here is a fairly literal translation of the Latin prayer that the priest says (which only takes selected phrases from the reading):
“With humble spirit and contrite heart may we be accepted by you, O Lord, and may our sacrifice in your sight this day be pleasing to you, Lord God.”
You can see right away where the prayer comes from, although the references to animal sacrifice have been removed. Next, here is what our current translation says:
“Lord God, we ask you to receive us and be pleased with the sacrifice we offer you with humble and contrite hearts.”
You can hear the reference in both texts, but the first is clearly more biblical – and that is the text used in the new Missal. The corrected translation will take some getting used to, but it is a gift that will help us get back to the roots of our worship in the Word of God.