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December 5, 2011

Since at least the Second World War, there has been a gradual flattening out of human experience in the Western world. Human communication is increasingly mediated by technology. Entertainment is now something we receive rather than something we create. The power of the neighbourhood has been eroded by urban planning, birth control, larger houses and the omnipresence of the automobile.

Even the colour of new homes has become a non-descript, homogenized diminishment of colour. Rural life is in decline because of mechanized agriculture and the lure of city life.

Technology has had enormous benefits for humanity. However, we have slowly lost the texture of community in which people of divergent views and life experiences regularly rub shoulders. Instead, we are descending into a tribalism where like only gathers with like.

In this context, religious faith is the private preserve of faith groups. Gone from the public domain is the belief that our relationship with the Almighty underlies every aspect of reality.

The human person is no longer seen as a metaphysical animal, one who yearns for answers to ultimate questions - the existence of God, whether there is life after death, the meaning of good and evil - and who finds those answers within a religious community.

Secularism is triumphant. However, it is a pale, one-dimensional secularism, one that pays loud lip service to diversity but in fact trivializes it.

Against this backdrop, we have been presented with a new English translation of the liturgy, one with more difficult syntax, effusive metaphors and traditional understandings that had disappeared for 40 years. Catholics, of course, will accept this translation. But should we?

A basic truth of liturgy is the axiom, lex ordandi, lex credendi - the law of prayer is the law of belief. What you pray is what you believe. When you change the prayer, you change the belief.

With this translation, none of the truths of Catholic belief are altered. The prayers have been re-translated, not rewritten. However, they gain a richness, depth and sparkle absent in the translation we have used for 40 years.

The prayers employ language slightly more exalted than that of everyday speech. But rather than being estranged from human experience, that language calls us to see our experience with new eyes and to transform it into God's likeness.

This new translation is a challenge to the flattened, banal world in which we live. It says that the essence of the human person is not efficiency but transcendent ecstasy. It says that our basic reaction to creation should not be to fashion something out of it, but rather to wonder and marvel at its existence and intricacy.

Will this translation change our world? Who knows? But if we allow it, it will surely change us.