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New Words and Same Mass

Just when you thought you had the words to the Mass down pat, they go and change them on us.

If you’ve been carefully reading your Catholic Review or paying attention to your parish’s bulletin, you likely already know that beginning later this year, many of the words to the prayers English-speaking Catholics—priests and lay people alike—say during Mass are going to change.  It is the first time since the Latin Mass was (hastily?) translated into English (post-Vatican II) that a major translation to the Roman Missal (the name given to the translation of the Mass) has occurred.

With official implementation on the first Sunday of Advent, November 27, 2011, the revised Missal will also include updated translations of existing prayers and prayers for the observances of recently canonized saints. In all, the changes are designed to be a more authentic translation of the Latin Mass and to deepen its meaning for all of us.

While our priests and others focused on liturgy at the parish and Archdiocesan levels will be working hard in the coming months to explain the changes and familiarize people with them, I offer these observations to help prepare us for the new text we will use during the celebration of the sacred liturgy.

Last October, I wrote a column in this space entitled, “Why do I have to go to Mass.” In it I offered that Mass is meant to “enrich our lives…and to call us into a deeper communion and relationship with one another.” Mass, I reminded, ought truly to be a “celebration, festival” and a “joyful encounter with the Risen Lord.” If we approach each liturgy as we are called to do, it should be the same as that “intense experience of the Apostles that first Easter evening.”

Any effort to enhance our liturgical experience must be aimed toward this goal. I believe this to be true of the new translation of the Missal.

Learning and experiencing the new translation is not a small undertaking; change is not easy and will demand much from all of us. Rather than leading us to become overly-focused on the changes in wording, the advent of a new Missal is a wonderful opportunity for all of us--clergy and laity--to delve into the liturgy more deeply and more intentionally: What is it that we do in the liturgy, why do we do what we do, and how can we do it with greater devotion and attention?

I encourage all of us to see what is good in the new Missal, to be open to its challenges, and to see in the implementation process for the new Missal more than just a time to learn new words, but a time to embrace a serious catechesis on the liturgy. May we express unity in our diversity of approaches and charity in our differences of opinion as we join together in the building up of the Church. Undoubtedly there will initially be some negative reactions on the part of some. However, these changes are meant to promote the common good, as well as the harmony and unity of the Church. Toward that noble end, let us pray that God will give us the grace we need to come together to embrace these changes.

I also encourage all of us to take the opportunity given us by the new Missal to examine how we currently participate in the celebration of the Mass. As with other things that become so familiar, bad habits can creep in (Do we make an effort to be on time? Do we try and beat parking lot traffic and leave after Communion? Are we sometimes robotic in our recitation of responses and prayers? In short, do we make efficiency the measure of our liturgical life?).

The new Missal is our Church's next step in following the directives of the Second Vatican Council, which called all of us to a full, conscious, and active participation in the liturgy.
Last week, Pope Benedict XVI, speaking to participants of the Ninth International Congress on the Liturgy, said, “The Liturgy of the Church goes beyond ‘conciliar reform’, the objective of which in fact was not mainly to change the rites and texts but rather to renew the mentality and to put the celebration of Christ’s paschal mystery at the center of Christian life and pastoral work.”

It is my hope that these changes will serve to further deepen the bond of unity that we share, and that its implementation will be an occasion for a renewal of our liturgical life. May the new translation of the Missal, and the renewed liturgical life that it promises, bind us closer together as priests and People of God in this Archdiocese.