By Paul McMullen
In the mid-1960s, the late Father Francis X. Wills was the associate pastor of St. Rose of Lima in Brooklyn, known for the voice he lent to parish music and the strong hand with which he guided a Catholic Youth Organization that provided an outlet for hundreds of teens.
To altar boys in training, however, Father Wills was celebrated as the priest who informed us, circa 1966, that because of change emanating from some council in Rome, we were no longer required to learn Latin.
Cue the Alleluia chorus. Refrain from dancing in the basement church.
What Vatican II wrought resonated on the first Sunday of Advent, when the Archdiocese of Baltimore marked the first anniversary of a new translation of the Roman Missal.
Compared to the tumult caused by the Mass shifting from Latin to English two generations ago, the complaint that met new words and phrases such as “consubstantial” and “with your spirit” appears minimal. According to a survey conducted in September by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University, more than two-thirds of respondents think that the new translation is good for the church.
Count me among the majority.
For all of its blasphemy and inaccuracy, “Dogma,” the 1999 satirical film by Kevin Smith, included a scene with verisimilitude, bored Catholics stifling yawns and going through the motions as they mumble the creed. The new translation has forced me to pick up cue cards, even a year later, and read and think about congregational responses that had become rote.
Yes, people young and old continue to mangle their responses. Catholics born before 1942 are predominant among the 30 percent who gave thumbs down in the CARA study, but the folks behind the change were bracing for even
“Anecdotally, when you get emails and telephone calls in response to change, they are usually negative,” said Monsignor Richard B. Hilgartner, a Baltimore native and executive director of the Secretariat of Divine Worship for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “Across all spectrums of people, we got far fewer ‘I’m not happy’ messages than we expected.”
He noted the leadership aspect at work.
“As priests have become more comfortable and familiar, the faithful have become more accepting,” said Monsignor Hilgartner, who resides in Washington, D.C., but celebrates weekend Masses at St. Ignatius Loyola in Ijamsville and St. John the Evangelist in Severna Park. “My own comfort level is far better now than it was on day one, and I spent years helping prepare it.”
Critics to the contrary, the people who prepared the new missal were not using dartboards and a wind gauge. That was reinforced in the Gospel reading on the second day of Advent. Matthew 8:5-11 includes this: “The centurion said in reply, ‘Lord I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant shall be healed.’?”
Paul McMullen is managing editor of the Catholic Review.