Becoming One Body, One Spirit in Christ (DVD Review)


John Ashman

As from September 2011, Catholics in England and Wales will be given the opportunity to savour the words of the new English translation of the Roman Missal. The translators of this third edition of the missal had very clear instructions from Rome. They were to produce a translation that is more faithful to the Latin.

Right at the outset this reviewer must come clean and admit to being one of tens of thousands who put their names to a Facebook page calling on Rome to wait and take account of criticisms of the translation before authorising the missal for use. Needless to say, those views were ignored. Wikispooks carries a 29 page document listing the mistranslations, poor grammar, bad punctuation, etc that is about to be inflicted upon the English-speaking world. As usual, it is a case of ‘Rome knows best’ or, in the words of a joke going the rounds, Q: What is the difference between a liturgist and a terrorist? A: You can negotiate with a terrorist.

What is the purpose of this DVD? The Become One Body One Spirit in Christ website says it is ‘an interactive DVD, for use on computers, exploring the depth, richness, and layers of meaning of the liturgical texts of the Roman Missal. Five commissioned foundational essays provide the themes and pathways of this resource which uses video, text, graphics and music to help the user enrich their understanding and deepen their appreciation of the Eucharist.’

Copies have been distributed to parishes throughout England and Wales to prepare congregations for what will be their regular diet from Advent 2011 and for decades to come.

That a new, improved English translation was necessary has never been a matter for dispute in my mind. It has often been stated that the first English translations of the 1969 Missal were done in such great haste that many errors were made. That said, the means by which any translation should be approached has proved to be a source of irritation with scholars familiar with the theological, biblical, liturgical and linguistic principles and issues surrounding the translation of liturgical texts from Latin into modern languages.

What has caused most furore is the fact that the Vatican did not play by its own rules. The final Vatican version of the English translation made numerous departures from its own translation rules, changing many texts that the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) and English-speaking bishops’ conferences around the world had adopted — and so far there has been absolutely no explanation from the Vatican to justify those changes. Fr. Alan Griffiths, an English priest and a prominent scholar who was involved in the ICEL translation of the missal and who makes a significant contribution to this DVD, was removed from his job of explaining the new missal to dioceses because of criticisms he voiced to  changes imposed by the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship. He wrote in The Tablet in October 2010, “Many of the changes are simply not correct English. Whoever did this work seems to lack a sufficient understanding of our grammar.”

That in a nutshell is some of the background to what is about to be imposed on us. Turning to the subject of this review, the DVD, without hesitation it is an admirable resource albeit for what will possibly prove to be a flawed translation. It is designed for clergy, Liturgical Ministers, Catechists and adult faith groups and families. Commendable though it may be to think of families gathered together to watch this DVD, I do not see it happening.

The five foundational essays into which the DVD is divided are subdivided into sections dealing with, for example, the scriptural foundations for the Mass, Art in the Liturgy, and the Mass as a springboard to Social Justice. Examples are given of changes in the texts, arguing that with this translation the style of liturgical speech has substantially altered. A Resources button enables the viewer to access texts as PDF files which can then be printed for distribution in study groups. Elsewhere examples of new musical settings can be listened to and the notation followed.

When Pope Benedict addressed the Bishops assembled at Oscott College in September 2010, he encouraged them to “seize the opportunity that the new translation offers for in-depth catechesis on the Eucharist, and renewed devotion in the manner of its celebration.

This DVD is but one example of the resources that are being placed at the disposal of parishes and schools in each diocese to achieve that renewal. As such, I have no hesitation in commending it, and not only to the Liturgy Queens among us! It is a fine example of the Church using technology to bring to parishes and communities an impressive line-up of highly qualified speakers to explain and unfold the meaning of the Mass.

As the Bishops of England and Wales explained in their National Pastoral Letter in May, “The Liturgy of the Eucharist is a gift, something we receive from God through the Church… [it] is not something of our own making, but a gift received.” In his post-synodal exhortation on the Eucharist (Sacramentum Caritatis, 2007) Pope Benedict reminds the reader that, strengthened by the Eucharist, the Christian laity are “called to live out the radical newness brought by Christ wherever they find themselves (n.79).” With change in the air, what better time is there for us to deepen, expand and renew our understanding of the Eucharist? Saint Augustine often intertwined the theme of the Eucharistic body and the body of the Church:

If you are then the body of Christ and its members, this is the true symbol which lies on the Lord’s table: it is the true symbol you receive… Become what you see and receive what you are.

Through Christ’s sacrifice we become Eucharistic sacrifices, for it is the modern world, today’s world, that Christ wishes to nourish with the Eucharist of our lives.

My one reservation with this DVD is that the panel of experts largely consists of bishops and priests; only three women (two of them  religious) and one lay man contribute. Surely, we have by now reached a level of maturity and lay involvement in the life of the Church to merit greater lay participation as teachers. As increasing numbers of Catholic communities in Britain and elsewhere become virtual priestless communities, the question arises as to how Eucharistic communities are to be built and sustained if not by a greater involvement of lay women and men.

This text was originally published in the Quest Bulletin no. 61 (Autumn 2011)

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