Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Monday, February 19, 2018

MsgrLiptak_TNQ. So many questions occur to me concerning the new English Mass. Why is it that perfectly usual expressions, even in Latin, have all but disappeared? One example is the Latin phrase, Ite, Missa est, meaning, "Go, the Mass is ended." Why do I sometimes feel that familiar expressions are being taken away, more and more?


A. The familiar Latin phrase, from the close of Mass, Ite, missa est, is ironically, not easy to translate into English. Even though, almost from time immemorial, it has been rendered as, "Go, the Mass is ended," it is, in fact, all but untranslatable. Clearly it is an idiom, about which an enormous amount of commentary has developed. But the commentary itself allows for diverse theories. Its original meaning, evidently referring to the conclusion of the Eucharist, as well as a eucharistically empowering mission, is more readily understood, in my opinion, in the context of the theory that the Latin Missa (English, "Mass") was a code-word for the Eucharistic Sacrifice. However, some scholars of the liturgy are reluctant to affirm even this, arguing that Missa did not signify "Mass" until about the sixth century.

On the other hand, the new English translation does retain a few usual, and presumably "comfortable" expressions. One is the Latinized form of the Greek petition, Kyrie, Eleison, i.e., "Lord, have mercy." Interestingly, use of Greek here, as traditional as it may seem, is not that ancient, but really dates later than the year 500. (The year 500, according to one chronology, marks the end of antiquity; i.e., that which can be properly called "ancient"; after the year 500, time is described as "medieval." (The difference is obvious when traveling from Athens or Rome, where "ancient" scenes abound, to (for example) France, where "medieval" is the usual descriptive for artistic treasures of the past.

To return to the Greek Kyrie, Eleison of the Mass, it probably was added in early medieval times (e.g., sixth century) rather than in the beginning of the Roman Rite Mass, when, ironically, the Eucharist was celebrated in Greek, not in Latin.

Yet another "usual" reference in the new translation of the Missal is the return of the word "chalice," instead of "cup." To me, this represents more of an emphasis on noble language, rather than anything else. I have been somewhat surprised, however, by an expressed preference by some Catholics for "cup." Another option, based on Old English roots, would have been "grail"; e.g., "holy grail," about which so many works of art have focused (e.g., the legends about King Arthur; also, the opera, Parsifal). "Chalice," from the Latin calix, is a fortunate translation – a noble, meaningful rendering.