December 2, 2011

New Translation: Sinning Toward Christmas

You can certainly say this about the transition of praying in the new translation: one feels more like a sinner. It starts with the change in the Confiteor: it used to be that I had sinned. Now I have greatly sinned. It used to be through my fault. Now it's through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault. And in many other ways, too, the new translation is marked by a greater and more explicit language of the tragedy of sin.

There are those who have and will object to this, protesting that 'we are an Easter people' and such things, and reminding us that an obsession with sin is terribly unhealthy. I have no argument with that; as a confessor I have witnessed many times the miserable trap of so-called spiritual lives becoming about nothing but sin and the failure of our struggles against it.

On the other hand, I have to say that the renewed--some might say 'restored'--emphasis on sin speaks better to my own experience. How today's Collect resonates with the supplications of own journey in prayer!

Stir up your power, we pray, O Lord, and come,
that with you to protect us,
we may find rescue
from the pressing dangers of our sins,
and with you to set us free,
we may be found worthy of salvation.
Who live and reign...

That's something like the compunction I have found at my own most authentic moments of prayer. The realization that the roots of sin in myself are a pressing danger, revealing even my pious desires as vainglorious fantasies and my seemingly good deeds as the 'polluted rags' spoken of in these days by the prophet Isaiah. Over the course of my life as a Christian, I have found myself over and over shaken from denial about the depth, insidiousness, and rottenness of sin. From sensuality to vainglory, tricks of the mind and denial, rationalization and jadedness, I'm always discovering that I thought I was taking sin seriously when in fact I had hardly even begun.

In that spirit the new translation reminds me of an early experience in my own journey. At the beginning of my Christian life I tried to read books about prayer and the spiritual life. But I didn't get them, or maybe they didn't get me. All of their happy doctrine about 'experiences of God' and fruitful and nourishing experiences of prayer just didn't resonate with my own experience of trying to pray and find the grace of living a spiritual life. Then one day I read John Cassian on the eight principal vices and John of the Cross on the errors of beginners and the spiritual analogues of the capital sins. It was like meeting real friends for the first time. These men got me; they knew what I was going through, and their writings gave me hope.

So I am glad to have a new translation of the Mass that suits me as the miserable and grievous sinner that I am. But it's not that confessing and growing honest about the depths of our sinfulness is the end of the spiritual life. The good news of the coming great feast of the incarnation is that it is precisely in places that are dark, rejected, cold, and dirty that the Lord wills to be born. If my heart is such a place, then I have that much more hope in the ancient prayer: Come, Lord Jesus.


Jeffrey Pinyan said...

I just posted about this last night: the reaction to the sin-heavy language in the Confiteor. (Twice, actually...)

I wonder if people were too busy fuming over the Confiteor to listen to the First Reading this past Sunday:

Behold, you are angry, and we are sinful;
all of us have become like unclean people,
all our good deeds are like polluted rags;
we have all withered like leaves,
and our guilt carries us away like the wind.
There is none who calls upon your name,
who rouses himself to cling to you;
for you have hidden your face from us
and have delivered us up to our guilt.

The good news, though, is that for all the sin-heavy language we use in the Mass, it's always followed by mercy-laden language!

Brother Charles said...

I saw your posts right after publishing this one and laughed that we were 'on the same page.'

carl said...

Where is it that John speaks of the errors of beginners? That would be helpful to take a look at.

Anonymous said...

The Confiteor is the prime example whereby the English sounds much more like the Italian I recall praying as a child. Back then I dismissed the Italian as an exaggeration (Italians do have a way of being overly dramatic). Now I see the wisdom in it. To those who take issue with acknowledging their own grievous sin, I say this. On a day to day basis we delude ourselves thinking that we are good and holy people in that I don't think many of us purposefully start off our day intending evil upon ourselves or others. BUT ... when you look at your own puny little life in the grand scheme of eternity, you come to see things differently, and this is where retrospect is a wonderful thing. I will never forget the day God clocked me over the head with a 2X4 whereby I came to the realization that over the course of the last 20 years of my life I have broken every single one of the Ten Commandments! Death comes through sin, but thanks to the mercy of God, I am reminded by what St. Paul said that the person who now lives is no longer I, but God who lives in me. That is a humbling thought, and helps take the focus off the narcissist "I" unto Christ crucified.

Brother Charles said...

@carl The fullest treatment, I think, is at the beginning of the Dark Night

owenswain said...

I'm just grateful beyond words for the new translation. There is so much depth and beauty and yes, awareness of my nature and the Divine Nature.

I've heard a few folks complain about not understanding the new text but if more priests would slow it down and just follow the punctuation and would themselves embrace the new translation the people would have little problem getting it.

I also wish that it was possible to address the hand-holding, hand-shaking, etcetera but these aberrations were never a part of the rubric anyway so not being there they are not addressed.

But, who's picky? It's wonderful, wonderful and it's finally upon us.

carl said...

Ty, Father.

Lee Gilbert said...

Thank you for this, Fr. Charles. In my lifetime in the Church we have gone from everything being a sin to nothing being a sin. The irony is that when "everything was a sin," there was far less sin, people's consciences were far keener, the confession lines were longer, people made long thanksgivings after Communion.

Every now and then we heard about Hell, which was the awful backdrop, which made everyone's life unbelievably dramatic, and virtually every decision and action full of meaning for good or ill. It was very tough, but also invigorating.

BTW- I recently heard something a parish priest could use to good effect, an unintentionally humorous rendition of the word "parishioners" by one of the wonderful foreign priests who are here ministering to us- this one from Viet Nam. In his mouth parishioners becomes "parish-sinners." If I were a preacher, I would have a lot of fun with that, I can tell you, being the first to admit that I also am a parish-sinner and then encouraging the my fellow parish-sinners to get to Confession :)