It is official the new translation of the Roman Missal will be released at the beginning of Advent 2011. I wanted to offer some of my thoughts on how the Church should address catechesis of the new Missal, especially catechizing on the Creed.
In many ways the new translation of the Roman Missal is a vast improvement over the current translation, but its implementation will be one of the most challenging catechetical endeavors in recent decades. But in the midst of every challenge is a silver lining and I think the silver lining of this particular challenge will be the opportunity to reintroduce the faithful to the history of the Church, particularly the patristic period. Catechesis on the translation of the Nicene Creed should include a history of this Creed in order to better understand the meaning of the words we recite every Sunday. That being said let us focus on the new translation of the phrase, “consubstantialem Patri”. The current translation reads, “One in Being with the Father”, while the new translation returns to the more literal “consubstantial with the Father.” Naturally, this phrase refers to the relationship between the Father and the Son.
Some preliminary observations to begin with: First, I think one of the key lessons from the controversy surrounding Nicaea and indeed from the entire study of the doctrine of God, is that we must be precise in our terms referencing God. It is amazing that the Fathers of the Church sacrificed so much just for just one word, like homoousios. If so much went into the use of term we should be careful not to throw it out lightly. Secondly, the term “one in being” is an ambiguous phrase. I remember when the US bishops were debating the new translation (unfortunately, I cannot find the transcript) this issue was raised about “one in Being”. Several bishops argued that “one in being” was not specific enough in describing the relationship between Father and Son, since you and I can be one in being in a room, etc. One in being in a time or place is not what the Fathers of the Church had in mind when they used the term homoousios/consubstantialem.
The biggest catechetical challenge regarding this new translation of the Creed will be getting a diverse set of people, with varying levels of education and theological formation, to understand a complex and seemingly minute change of wording. To be truly effective one almost needs to give a whole class on metaphysics in order to understand being. So how do we overcome this challenge? How do we break down this important reality in a way that is understandable to the common man? How do we do so without watering down the teaching of the Fathers and the Church? Well I can’t answer all these questions here; I would venture to say that it is important to at least communicate a respect for the preciseness of terms regarding God. Secondly, I think it is important to reflect on the uniqueness of the relationship between the Father and Son and convey to the faithful that consubstantiality is the word that most effectively conveys this relationship. Consubstantiality cannot be used to describe any other relationship in creation. Thirdly, I have always liked the succinctness of the “Athanasian Rule”, “Whatever you can say of the Father you can say of the Son, except the term Father.” This is a rather simple way to phrase the meaning of the term homoousios/consubstantialem; it stresses the common substance of the Trinity, while distinguishing the relations. Finally, as I have already mentioned, I think it is important to present a history of the Nicene Creed, including the controversies and the people involved. These stories of the Church have sadly been lost to at least a whole generation. To provide a common history to the faithful would set up a common language from which much fruit could be harvested in the years and generations to come.