Words at Mass

11 Dec
 The New Translation
 I have been thinking about the new English translation of the Mass (that’s right the words are a little different on Sundays but the Eucharist is as good as ever). There is something comforting about repeating the same thing every Sunday, but is our rote usage of the same prayers just about comfort? Why is it that Catholics are so obsessed with saying the same things in unison repeatedly (try the Rosary, couldn’t we just say one “Hail Mary” and be done with it?) Why can’t I just pray using my own words?

I have a suspicion that these questions miss the point. The namesake of one of our Twin Cities (not Minneapolis) had something to say about prayer, “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.” So maybe Paul is trying to tell us that we should just groan at Mass but that seems unpleasant. The point is that there is a deep prayer in all hearts whether they be Catholic or non-Catholic hearts. That prayer is for communion with God whether it is experienced in a yoga studio, a concert at First Avenue, or kneeling in a pew. Even if we think we don’t believe in God; we all want the divine.

Are we supposed to give up words? No. People were made for language; we are speakers and listeners. The scriptures are full of prayers. Paul tells us to pray with words, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. . .as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.”

So, we have the deep desire in our heart (that’s the Holy Spirit working) and we should use words, but do we have to repeat them? Yes. Our hearts are formed by the words we use (which is why I shouldn’t swear at cars when I am biking). At Mass, the words we say and the words we hear, teach our hearts how to love; they teach our hearts who it is we are groaning for: the Word Incarnate. Augustine advised his monks, “When you pray to God in psalms and songs, the words spoken by your lips should be alive in your hearts.” Those outward words will transform us (if we let them). This transformation leads us to love our brothers and sisters who are groaning for God; they bring us into communion with the Divine, and help prepare us to eat the Word in the Eucharist. So the next time you go to Mass respond, sing, listen, and maybe even groan (quietly); you may find yourself transformed by repetition and love.

– Terence Sweeney

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