The New Roman Missal: The Confiteor and the Gloria

In the prayer known as the Confiteor (which begins, “I confess to almighty God…”), the new translation cultivates a more humble, sorrowful attitude toward God as we confess our sins and accept responsibility for our wrongdoings.  Instead of simply saying, “I have sinned through my own fault,” as was done in the old translation, we will repeat thrice the sorrowful refrain while striking our breasts grief: “I have sinned through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.”

But some people might wonder, “Why do we have to repeat this three times?  This seems to be an awkward way of talking to God. Wasn’t the older translation simpler?  And besides, this change will make Mass 2.5 seconds longer!”

Actually, the three-fold repetition reflects human communication more than we might first realize. And if we understand the meaning of this change, the extra 2.5 seconds will be well worth our while!

When we are at fault over something small, we might simply say to the person whom we have wronged, “I’m sorry.”  If, for example, I accidently step on your toe, I might say, “excuse me.” If I bump into you while waiting in a line, I might say a quick, “sorry” or “pardon me.”

But in a deep, personal relationship, things are different. If I hurt my wife, I do not merely say, “Oh, sorry about that!”  When we have wronged someone we love, we do not make an apology: rather, we beg for forgiveness. We shower our beloved with apologies: “I’m so sorry…I really regret doing that…I should not have said that…Please forgive me.”

The same is true in our relationship with the Lord. The new translation helps us recognize that sinning against God is no light matter.  We must take responsibility for whatever wrong we have done and whatever good we failed to do.  At Mass, one does not simply offer an apology to God, but heartrending contrition.

The Gloria: “Only-Begotten Son”

The opening words of the Gloria echo the hymns of praise sung by the angels over the fields of Bethlehem on that first Christmas night: “Glory to God in the highest…” So the Gloria is somewhat like a Christmas song. Why do we sing a Christmas song at Mass?  Because the mystery of the incarnation is, in a sense, made present at every Eucharist.  Just as the Son of God was made manifest to the world some 2,000 years ago, so He is made present upon the altar at every Mass. Thus, it is fitting to welcome Jesus with words of praise that echo those proclaimed by the angelic heralds over Bethlehem.

One noticeable change in the new translation of the Gloria involves Jesus being addressed as the “Only-Begotten Son.” Since Vatican II, we have declared Him as the “only Son of the Father.” The new translation is more faithful to the nuanced theological language used in the early Church to highlight how Jesus is uniquely God’s Self-expression. This also reflects the language of John’s Gospel, wherein similar phrases describe Jesus’ unique relationship with the Father. While all believers are called to a special relationship with God as sons and daughters through grace (cf. John 1:12; 1 John 3:1), Jesus alone is the eternal, divine Son by nature. He is the “only-begotten Son” of the Father (cf. John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18).

This is the first part of an on-going series by Dr. Sri on the new English translation of the Roman Missal.

Dr. Edward Sri is provost and professor of theology at the Augustine Institute in Denver. This reflection is based on his new book, A Biblical Walk Through the Mass: Understanding What We Say and Do in the Liturgy (Ascension Press).

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