A vocabulary lesson for Mass

Your Faith
Father Joe Krupp
October, 2015
GREETINGS IN CHRIST! This article is going to be a little different. The last few years, I’ve received a lot of questions about some of the words or phrases we use in the newest translations at Mass. This article is going to serve as a bit of a “vocabulary lesson” to help us understand better what we pray. So, let’s dive in!

Dear Father Joe: Why do we talk so much about charity at Mass?

This is the most common question about the newest translations. It seems that most of us have the understanding of the word “charity” that comes from the language we speak: charity refers to giving money to the poor.

This is not what the Church means when she uses it at Mass. When you hear that word in Mass, know that they are translating from the Latin word caritas, which basically means “love in action.” In the old translation, we simply translated it as “love.” Now, we translate it as “charity.” So, from now one, when you hear the word “charity” in our Mass prayers, think of “love in action” and you’ll understand the prayer better.

We say the phrase “consubstantial with the Father” at Mass and I don’t understand it. What did we used to say and what does this mean?

This is probably the second most common question about our newest translation of the Mass prayers. In the past, we said “One in being.” Why do we now say consubstantial and what does it mean?

The simple answer is that we say “consubstantial” because we’ve decided its more accurate than “one in being”. The first writing of the Nicene Creed was in Greek and the word they used was homoouision and when it was put into Latin, the word used was consubstantialem, which we translate best as “the same substance of the Father.”

The easiest way to understand this word is to think “of the same stuff.” We are declaring part of the utter unity of God the Son and God the Father. They are “of the same stuff” as each other.

We use the word “merit” a lot. I thought we couldn’t earn heaven? Do we believe we can merit heaven?

Part of the beauty of the newest translation is the rich and deep theology that is presented to us within it. As with any such effort, explaining it can be difficult and I’ll do my best.

First things first: we cannot earn heaven in any way. The Church does not and will not teach that. We’re going to go step by step.

We are creatures of free will. We can choose to love and obey God or we can choose to hate God and disobey God. At some point, we chose our way instead of God and damaged our nature. Because of this, we can never “earn” heaven.

Jesus became fully human and took on our nature. Because he was also fully God, he was able to redeem our nature. By joining our human nature with his divine nature, Jesus offers us the gift of heaven.

We still have free will and, because of that, we have to cooperate with this gift that Jesus is offering us. We show our cooperation with that gift by living as men and women of virtue, obedient to God in all things.

So, think of it this way: It’s not that we do good works and earn heaven, it’s that people on their way to heaven do good works. They do them because of Jesus’ strength and the fact that they cooperate with his redeeming of human nature.

I don’t understand why we don’t say “And also with you” anymore. Why did we change the words to “And with your spirit”?

This change, like the others, helps us stay more faithful to our Latin roots and that alone is a good thing. However, there is a power and beauty to this newest translation that can help us see some of the depth present in our liturgies.

We’ll start with the practical. The “and also with you” response always carried with it the danger of misunderstanding the point: it tended to sound like we were simply being polite. Father said,

“Hi;" I should say, “Hi” back. 

What we’re doing there is recognizing that it’s not just about “Father;” it’s about the unique way the Holy Spirit was given to him at his ordination. Part of the reason we respond “And with your spirit” is to take the focus off the specific priest who is saying it and place that focus on the Holy Spirit, who makes that moment possible right at the spiritual center of that priest. It’s a remarkable thing to think about and to thank God for.

So, that’s it in a nutshell. I hope this helps each of us understand the rich tapestry of theology that is woven all through and in the liturgy. I pray each day that we grow in deep love for the gift of our sacred and joyful celebration!

Enjoy another day in God’s presence.