The Last Word - November 2016
Through Christ Our Lord. Amen.
It is hard to believe that it has been five years since the introduction of the new translation of the Roman Missal. It was in November 2011 that we began using the new translation. I don't know about you, but I find I still say, "And also with you," from time to time.
But for all the small changes, some changes were significant, reflecting important theological and spiritual truths, even if subtle. One of those has to do with the way we end all the orations: that is, the opening prayer, the prayer over the offerings, and the communion prayer. Each of these prayers, and others, end with the phrase: "Through Christ our Lord" and we respond, "Amen." We do this so frequently that I doubt the meaning comes through. Ending prayers in this way is such a consistent and traditional thing that it almost demands some explanation. So, it would be good to take a moment to reflect on this expression.
Despite the punctuation in the Latin text, the phrase is just that, a phrase and not a sentence. It is a simple prepositional phrase, hanging out there by itself ("Per Christum Dominum nostrum"). The translation we used for many years, after the publication of the 1970 Missal, rectified this, if that is the right word, by always translating the Latin as, "We ask this through Christ our Lord," despite the fact that the Latin does not say "We ask this." It merely says, "Through Christ our Lord."
That 'innovation" expressed an important theological and spiritual fact. Our prayers always reach God the Father through the mediation and intercession of Christ, the Son, who sits at the Father's right hand, who then presents them, acting as Great High Priest, to the Father. We do not pray, in most liturgical prayer, to the Father directly. We pray to Him "through Christ our Lord." The Son is the one mediator between the Father and humankind.
The new translation (if we should still call it "new" after five years) took away the "We ask this" and once again left the prepositional phrase sitting there by itself. And the way the prayers are phrased emphasizes something important. In every prayer, we ask the Father (through Christ our Lord) to do something or to provide us with some gift "through Christ our Lord." That is, what we ask to receive, we do not ask that the Father give us directly, but that, once again, we ask that Christ, the Son, be the go-between. The Son, the second Person of the Trinity, is the mediator. The Second Person of the Trinity is a two-way street, if I can put it that bluntly.
Now, this is an important insight into the nature of the Trinity. The Trinity is the central belief of Christians, and yet, many believers pay little attention to the diversity and simply imagine that we pray to "God" as though to a single Person.
While the three Persons in the One God are equal in their Godhead, and one Person never acts entirely independently of the other two, that does not mean that these actions, much less these Persons, are undifferentiated and indistinguishable. There is always a certain uniqueness in the relationship that the Persons have to one another and to us. The "personality" of each, if you will, is distinguishable. Thus, we pray to the Father, through the Son and in the Holy Spirit.
This is expressed marvelously in the final words of each of the Eucharistic prayers: "Through Him (the Son), with Him, and in Him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, Almighty Father, forever and ever."
Rev. Msgr. Michael J. Henchal