Pastoral Letter

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Peace be with you. It is a great grace to have become your Bishop. Thank you for the warm welcome I have received from so many and please pray that the Holy Spirit, given me in Ordination, may fill and guide me, so that together in Christ we can worship the Father in spirit and truth.

By a happy providence, the beginning of my ministry as bishop coincides with the introduction of the new English translation of the Missal. It is possible to introduce this in part from this very Sunday. From the 1st Sunday of Advent, the new translation will be in full use at all Masses. The time between now and the beginning of Advent is a time for gradual familiarisation with the new texts. Different parishes will have different rhythms.

At the same time, with the new texts will go some new music, as many of you already know. This too will become familiar in time and also enrich our liturgies. At the same time again, the Bishops of Scotland have issued new guidelines for our posture at Mass: when we stand, sit, or kneel. These will also be made known between now and the beginning of Advent.

The Second Vatican Council called the Liturgy the source and summit of our Christian lives. All these changes are at the service of this.

Change can be hard, and nothing in this world is perfect. We will all struggle, especially at first, with one or other aspect of what we are being given here. But in her liturgy the Church never gives us anything bad. She gives us ‘wine to cheer our heart, oil to make our face shine and bread to strengthen our heart’ (Ps 103:15). This holds also for the words of prayer in the Missal. This new translation of the Mass, I believe, is something we can welcome warmly. Behind it lies a great deal of prayer, thought and work, competence and world-wide collaboration. And the result is something that can help us, even more than before, lift up our hearts and minds to God in the celebration of the holy Eucharist. All the more will this be so when these words are sung.

Now we have a version of the Mass of the Roman rite closer to the original Latin, and therefore also closer to the translations in other languages such as French, Polish, Italian, Spanish and so on. It allows us to hear better the echoes of the Bible in our prayers. It tries to do justice to the richness of our liturgical inheritance, and to make a fuller use of the English language. I think we shall discover this as the new texts gradually become as familiar to us as the old. At the same time, much that is familiar remains, or is only very slightly altered.

‘The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.’ In Christ, the Son of God takes on everything human, except sin, and transforms it. And in the Liturgy this mystery of the Incarnation – the Word becoming flesh – lives on among us. Everything speaks of it. When we gather to worship we come together in a building – not usually in any building, though, but in a church, a building dedicated for worship. The ministers who lead our prayer don’t wear just ordinary clothes, but vestments. We stand, sit or kneel, but each of these postures now has a special meaning. We come together to listen to readings – not any readings though, but words inspired by the Holy Spirit, words that are now the word of God. We gather round a table – but not any table, rather a holy table, an altar. We eat and drink – but not any food or drink, rather bread and wine which have become that holiest of things, the Body and Blood of the Lord, his very Self. In the Liturgy, ordinary things are taken up by Christ and the Church and become vehicles of something greater than themselves. And so it is too with the words, the language, we use in prayer. Christianity has always, to some extent, created its own language. It took the words of ancient Israel or the Greco-Roman world and filled them with a new meaning. And so, in the Liturgy, we use words that carry the resonances of a long tradition, words that express our faith, and are rich with many centuries of experience of the God who has spoken to us in Christ. The new translation of the Missal is very aware of this and tries to be loyal to it. And, once again, when these words are sung, they can lift our hearts even more.

And all of this ‘specialness’ is not to turn us into a sect or a ‘holy huddle’. In the Liturgy God comes to us and we approach him. In the Liturgy Christ with his Cross and Resurrection comes to meet us, to change us and to empower us to change the world. Thanks to this meeting with God in the flesh of Christ, the mystery of the Incarnation can continue in our own lives and through us in the whole world, so that in the end the whole of creation will be transformed.

So, let us welcome this new translation with what St Benedict calls a ‘good spirit’. It asks of us a small act of obedience to the Church, a little effort, and in return offers us a fuller understanding of the sacred mysteries. It would be good to read through the new prayers before and after Mass. May they be for all of us a door through which we go to meet the living God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Yours in Christ,

Rt Rev Hugh Gilbert
Bishop of Aberdeen


RC Diocese of Aberdeen Charitable Trust.
A registered Scottish Charity Number SC005122