The role of the priest is now being restored to its proper place says Fr. Bill Burke, director of the National Office of Liturgy.


The role of the priest is now being restored to its proper place says Fr. Bill Burke, director of the National Office of Liturgy.

September 26, 2011

OTTAWA — Father Bill Burke notices a similar pattern in the workshops he has held over the past year on the new English translation of the Roman missal.

At first those attending greet the changes with anger, trepidation and fear that the new translation will take back the reforms of Vatican II, he said. They've heard a mixture of rumours from the blogosphere or elsewhere that the "translation is terrible." Blogs on both the left and the right have contributed to these anxieties and concerns, he said.

But as Burke exposes priests, music directors and diocesan staff to the new texts, they warm up to the richness of the new translation. He's travelled to 27 dioceses so far, and plans to visit four more before the new missal is to be used everywhere in English-language parishes in Canada beginning the first Sunday of Advent.

During his workshops, Burke gives attendees copies of the collects for Advent and Christmas according to the new translation, and asks them to follow the new turns of phrase while he reads aloud the current translation.

"The reaction was incredible," he said. "People were saying 'You'd almost say this wasn't coming from the same source.' The translation of 1975 left so much out."

In every case, not only are people saying "this is not so bad," but also they are realizing "there is a lot of good stuff here."

While Burke does not expect a seamless transition when the missal officially goes into use in all English-speaking parishes across Canada Nov. 27, he does not expect the kind of "push back" against the new translation that other countries like the United States and Ireland have experienced.

"I am not expecting a terrible negative reaction," he said.

Burke stressed the translation does not represent a roll back to pre-Vatican II theology and practice, but is instead a deepening of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.


"It's telling us the reform of Vatican II is not complete," he said. It's saying "it's time to go deeper now," he added. "It's not a superficial change but quite a profound reform in terms of the richness of the General Instruction."

The General Instruction that introduces the new translation expands the section on The Word of God way beyond that in the 1975 version, he noted. It also better explains the values the rubrics or instructions are trying to protect.

For example, when the instruction says that in no circumstances can a Scriptural text be replaced by a non-Scriptural text in the Mass, it is emphasizing the importance of Scripture as the Word of God, he said.

The translation has taken the reforms of the council and made them "fuller" and "more robust" in terms of language, symbol and gesture, he said.


One factor the bishops have made clear is that the liturgy is not a human invention, Burke said. "We do not invent the mysteries of faith; We receive them."

While some have charged the instruction is a call to rubricism and legalism, stressing form over substance, Burke said, "It is not. The document is just filled with calls to do it well, not just legalistically."

For example, in the proclamation of God's Word, it recommends "no appearance of haste," he said.

"It's a document that is calling us back to balance, protecting the mystery and doing it right."

Three essential reforms of Vatican II found their way into the new document, he said.

One is the recovery of the importance of the Word of God so it has a central place in liturgical celebrations; a second is the full conscious participation of the whole assembly with the parts of the Mass that rightly belong to the congregation, including the keeping of silence; and a third is a recovering of the four modes of Real Presence.


Those four modes include the Real Presence in the assembly "when two or three are gathered together" in Jesus' name; the Real Presence when the Word of God is proclaimed; the Real Presence in the ordained priesthood; and the Real Presence in the Body and Blood of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, Burke explained.

Burke noted that in the past 30 years the role of the priest has often been downplayed, but now it is being restored to its proper place. "Clericalism has existed and in some quarters clericalism is enjoying a revival," Burke said. "But if there is a revival it is not coming from this document."


The liturgy is about worshipping God, infused with a sense of transcendence and wonder, he said. It's not about worshipping a text.

Burke also rejects the notion that the new translation indicates that "everything we have done in the past 30 years is wrong."

There was the most massive reform of the liturgy in history 30 years ago, and it was done very quickly, he said. Even at the time the translations were known to be provisional.

The new translation offers many opportunities for catechesis that focuses on "the nature and structure of the Eucharist and its importance in our lives," Burke said.