A few people asked for a copy of my homily from this weekend at St Marie's. As it was delivered viva voce (without notes) I am afraid there is no hard copy to be had. I will attempt to write down some of my wandering thoughts and I hope that will be of some help.
Those of us who have received the Sacrament of Confirmation may well remember having to learn the gifts of Holy Ghost. One of them I remember learning was ‘the fear of the Lord.’ I found this very difficult to understand. I suppose today we would say that it is not very ‘user friendly.’ As a teenager I couldn’t get my head round the notion of having to fear Someone we are told and believe to be perfect love. Would you or even should you fear someone you love?
The more modern translation of ‘fear of the Lord’ is ‘wonder and awe in his presence.’ That is a nicer phrase. It expresses the attitude that we should have towards God. At the root of the matter, whether we speak of the 'fear of the Lord' or 'the spirit of wonder and awe', is the fact that God is other. He is different from us. He is omnipotent, eternal and omniscient – in modern language he is all-powerful, ever-living and all-knowing. Or in the words of St Anselm ‘God is that which nothing greater can be conceived.’ We should be struck with the awesomeness of God. We should not be afraid of him. That is the role of prayer in our lives. The catechism tells us that prayer is the 'raising of the heart and mind to God'. We can do that in many ways.
The principle way that the Church does this is through Her Sacred Liturgy. The music, the words and the ceremonial all come together to help us in this regard. Now we all know that liturgical experts always want to change the liturgy. In the wake of the recent Council (which incidentally is fifty years ago next year) we began to experience the liturgy celebrated in the vernacular instead of latin. Many argue that the use of the vernacular instead of latin has dimished that idea of wonder and awe in the presence of God.
It is true that often in the old days Mass was rushed through – even in latin and sadly the Missa Gabbliata was not uncommon. But if you go to a monastery or cathedral or a lowly parish church where the latin liturgy is still celebrated, there is an immediate sense of the ‘otherness’ of God. It is possible to celebrate Mass in the vernacular in a spirit of wonder and awe, but it is all too easy for the Mass to sound like a news broadcast or a chatty meeting. We need to guard against this and to seek to reverse this trend where we have any influence.
At the beginning of our Mass to-day we de-commissioned the Missal that we have used for the last forty years. Why? Why have we got a new translation and a new missal? The language used in the now 'Old Missal' has been criticised for lacking that sense of awe and mystery. The words of the New Missal that we use for the first time in their fullness this weekend will help us to raise our hearts and minds to God. They will help us to focus more on Christ and less on ourselves.
I remember supplying in one parish and a lady remonstrated with me after Mass that during the Eucharistic Prayer I did not look at the congregation. I simply replied that I was not talking to the congregation!!! She questioned me further. I then explained the Eucharistic Prayer was addressed to God and not the congregation. As a child I was always taught to face the person I was talking to and I still do the same when talking to God.
As we become more familiar with this new missal it will draw closer to God. That is the purpose of the liturgy. Yes there will be words and phrases that we will not immediately understand but that should not deter us. Reading in the Catholic papers this weekend I read the story of a woman who had written to Cardinal Pell complaining about the word ‘consubstantial’ in the new transaltion of the Creed. She said that she didn’t understand what it meant. His Eminence simply wrote back to her and told her to look up nad then she would understand!!!
Those of you who have had the joy of teaching a child to read will understand this. The child will not understand every word on the page – but they will want to know so that they can fully understand the story. That should be our attitude towards this new translation – 'Faith seeking understanding' to quote our old friend St Anselm again.
Let us pray that this new missal will lead us closer to Christ. That the words contained in its pages will lead us to awe and wonder in the presence of God. Let us pray that it will so enhance our celebration of the Sacred Mysteries here on earth so as to make us fit for the liturgy of heaven.