From November 25, 2016…
It is truly right and just
At every Mass, one of the most significant dialogues in human life occurs. The priest says, “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God,” the faithful respond, “It is right and just,” and the priest replies with a saying of great theological depth: “It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, Holy Father, almighty and ever-living God.”
It’s fitting to give God thanks, “always and everywhere.” It’s appropriate for us to do so on sunny days or rainy ones, when we feel like a million bucks and or are in the hospital, when we’re attending weddings or the funerals of loved ones, when we get promotions at work or pink slips, when we win or when we lose. It’s right and just to thank God at all times and places because everything that happens — both what the world considers good or what it considers bad — God either wills or allows, seeking to bring spiritual good out of each (Rom 8:28). Our salvation, we boldly proclaim, rests in our gratitude, which opens us up to receive God’s grace. Thanking God in response to all God has done, therefore, is our sweet duty.
This is a lesson we ponder this week from the pilgrims as we near the 400th anniversary of their first Thanksgiving. Of the 103 who disembarked from the Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor in December 1620, more than half died before winter was over, including the Governor, ten of the 17 husbands and 14 of the 17 wives. Those who avoided the grave remained in grave danger because of fevers, famine and freezing temperatures. The 51 survivors easily could have looked at the previous eleven months as the worst year of their life; they had buried almost as many bodies in the ground as bushels of food they had taken from the soil, and according to human logic, probably the last thing that they should have been doing would have been throwing a feast to thank God. They convened full of gratitude, however, because they realized that everything — adverse or propitious, life and even death — was part of God’s plans for them on their journey not merely to the new world but to a New Jerusalem. That final destination, and their faith in the God who awaited them, were what gave meaning to all their sufferings and joys along the way.
This week is a time for us, like them, to count our blessings — faith, life, family, friends, health, home, food, work, studies, talents, our country, and also the gift of our Crosses — and turn to God and to others to say thanks.
It’s also a time to focus on eradicating the cancers that poison our capacity for gratitude. One is complaining, which leads us to criticize situations and people rather than find good in them, to obsess about what we don’t have rather than thank God and others for what we do. Another is consumerism, which trains us to believe that we’re never going to be happy unless we get the latest smart phone, car, clothing, or wonder drugs … and unless we get our own way … in everything … immediately. It encourages us to relate to the world not with appreciation but with a sense of entitlement, resentment and envy. It is forming legions of never-satisfied spoiled brats across the generations who, rather than expressing gratitude for what they’ve already received while asking how they can use their blessings for those less fortunate, instead take past generosity for granted and query, “What have you done for me lately?”
A School of Thanksgiving
The Mass is a school of Thanksgiving, which is what the Greek word “eucharistia” means, and one of the things for which I’m particularly grateful this week is the gift by which we are able, literally, to give God thanks better and more beautifully whenever and wherever Mass is prayed in English. This Sunday we celebrate the fifth anniversary of the new English translation of the Roman Missal, and it’s truly right and just for us all to give God thanks for what this more accurate and reverent rendering has added to the greatest prayer of gratitude.
No translation will ever be perfect and some have found particular phrases in the new translation a little hard to get used to, but it’s nevertheless a vast improvement over what priests needed to use prior to the afternoon of November 26, 2011.
I see the extraordinary difference every day as I pray the Liturgy of the Hours on iBreviary. At the end of the Office of Readings, the program puts one right after the other the old translation from the as-yet-unrevised Liturgy of the Hours as well as the new one taken from the Missal, giving us a chance to prayer either. This makes clear that in many cases the old version wasn’t even a translation of the Latin original, but rather a paraphrase, one that routinely misses much or all of the theological depth and beauty of what it is now found in the new and improved edition. The difference for me is similar to what happens when one contrasts the text of the Revised Standard Version of Sacred Scripture with a children’s Bible.
Prior to 2011, whenever I prayed Mass in English, I always felt somewhat liturgically impoverished. Celebrating the Mass in Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, German or Latin the prayers were obviously so much richer than what was supposed to be their English equivalent. (In French, sadly, the stripping of beauty and depth remains worse than it was in English prior to the revisions). Over the last five years, praying the Mass in English has been like diving into deep rather than the shallow end of the font of living water.
Moreover, there are so improvements for which to be grateful: various restored feasts, new saints, new Votive Masses and Masses for Various Needs and Occasions and the incorporation of the Eucharistic Prayers for Various Needs, much better musical notations for the priests to sing, and in almost every publication much more beautiful sacred art.
It’s a far more demanding text, with complex sentences and a much larger vocabulary, requiring more work for priests and people both, because there’s been the liturgical equivalent of a switch from the USA Today to the New York Times. But that extra work ought to be another source of thanksgiving, because it repays the effort and redounds to spiritual growth.
And so as we worship throughout the days of Thanksgiving toward beginning of the Church’s new liturgical year, let us be grateful for the new and improved way we fulfill our happy, saving duty to thank God supremely for everything, in every place and at every time.
This article originally appeared in The Anchor, the weekly newspaper of the Diocese of Fall River, Mass, on November 25, 2016 and appears here with permission of the author.