An important point people keep getting wrong about the new Mass

Over the last couple days, as reaction has trickled in to the new translation of the Mass, there seems to be a common theme: we the people haven’t been affected as much, because it’s the priest who has all the newfangled words and prayers to worry about.  “Our parts,” people in the pews seem to be saying, “aren’t all that different.”

But to think that way misses an important point — and it gets something about the Mass fundamentally wrong.

The fact is: the Mass belongs to everyone. We pray it together.  We offer it together.  It is an act of the community.  While the people’s verbal responses aren’t radically different, what the priest says on our behalf matters.  He offers this great sacrifice with us and for us.  We need to be attentive, engaged, invested in what is taking place.

We’re all familiar with the “full, active, conscious participation” idea so often quoted from the documents of Vatican II.  That phrase comes from the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.  But there is something else we need to remember, from that same document:

The Church…earnestly desires that Christ’s faithful, when present at this mystery of faith, should not be there as strangers or silent spectators; on the contrary, through a good understanding of the rites and prayers they should take part in the sacred action conscious of what they are doing, with devotion and full collaboration. They should be instructed by God’s word and be nourished at the table of the Lord’s body; they should give thanks to God; by offering the Immaculate Victim, not only through the hands of the priest, but also with him, they should learn also to offer themselves; through Christ the Mediator [38], they should be drawn day by day into ever more perfect union with God and with each other, so that finally God may be all in all.

The complete celebration of the Mass is so much more than just what we say or do.  It isn’t a spectator sport.  And it has nothing to do with how many people lector, or serve as EMHCs or lead the congregation singing “Gather Us In.”  The Mass demands to be prayed collectively, along with the priest; it should involve our hearts and minds at every moment, with the praying of every syllable.   I would urge those who are thinking of the Mass as a sum of many vocal parts — the priest’s and everybody else’s — to take a closer look, and lend an ear.  Again and again, the priest cries out to God on our behalf.  “We give you ceaseless thanks with the choirs of heaven,” he prays at one point.  “To you, most merciful Father, we make humble prayer and petition…that you accept and bless these gifts, these offerings, these holy and unblemished sacrifices which we offer you firstly for your holy catholic Church…” The priest doesn’t act alone; it’s not a solo enterprise.

Or: as my pastor mentioned during his first celebration of this new liturgy: “We’re all in this together.”

We are.  We must be.  And for the new Mass to truly be embraced, each of us has to do more than just say our part or listen for our cue.

We need to make it totally ours.

Because, whether we realize it or not, it is.

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40 responses to “An important point people keep getting wrong about the new Mass”

  1. Wow Deacon Greg – you are missing something very important here.

    You need to take it up one more level.

    The Mass is *Christ’s*. It is startling – almost shocking – that your post does not contain the name of Jesus. (In your reflections – not the document you quote) The Mass – the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass – is the prayer of Christ to which we join our own sacrifices and prayers as His Mystical Body.

    It is *not* a prayer meeting or a gathering.

    So yes – we are all in this together – In Christ/joining our sacrifice to His.

    I would also suggest to you that you are on to something here and perhaps don’t even know it.

    The Mass seems to be diffuse and disunited because of all of those “parts” – some of which are spoken some of which are sung – and sung in different tunes and meters.

    If we chanted the Mass – that is if we *sang the Mass* instead of *singing at Mass* (think Orthodox/Eastern Catholic Divine Liturgy) – which was really the ultimate goal of the Liturgical Movement that then led up to Vatican II – we would have a much better sense of that unified purpose of priest and people.

    [You’re right, of course — but I wasn’t intending this as a Christological treatise. I’m reacting to the constant “priest v. people” meme about the new translation that I keep hearing. We need to think differently about the liturgy and our involvement in it. Dcn. G.]

  2. There is no question that we are part of the Mass along with the priest, so the priest’s tangle of phonemes that masquerades as English is our problem, too. Unless, as Peter Steinfels notes on the Commonweal weblog (, we are just on inattentive cruise control during most of the priest’s prayers, in which case it might just as well be in Latin as this.

  3. I think you are missing the point of what people mean when they say “our parts.” It is just a simple statement that the parts that the congregation must remember to say differently are not all that different, so it is much more work for the priest to remember everything. And, let’s be honest, it is mental work to remember to say things differently than you have been saying them for years. Most of the people that I know who went into Sunday’s Mass prepared for the “And with your spirit” screwed up and said “And also with you” anyway. To those who did remember, I say, “I am not worthy to come under your roof.”

  4. I agree with this. That people come as passive absorbers of Mass is something that we discuss regularly in our parish in terms of what we should be doing to encourage more active participation in Mass and acceptance that we all have a very active role to play. But the practical reality is that in these changes – praying on our behalf or not, the words that the priest says aloud, alone, and the portion of those phrases that have been retranslated and therefore have to be relearned by the priests is significantly greater than those phrases that we as a congregation must get used to saying aloud.

    Stating this doesn’t negate the fact that the entire celebration is phrased differently at many points and that is something that we should all be engaged in – whether it be by listening, or speaking.

  5. After assisting and preaching at all of our Masses this weekend, I had the chance to site down with our pastor and music director and pastoral associate to relax and ponder the variety of experiences and responses we received before, during and after the Masses.

    One thing that was raised by a number of people was that the orations were simply too convoluted to follow, even with our pastor doing his Shakespearean best to pray the prayers distinctly, logically and reverently. One fear that was raised repeatedly was that more and more people are simply going to “tune out” for the prayer, and simply chime in with “Amen” at the end of it. Kind of a “Sure, I agree with whatever it was he just said” kind of thing.

    This then got me to think back to the days before the Mass of Paul VI. If you’re old enough, play along with me here. At several points during the Mass, including what is now called the “Prayer over the Gifts”, the priest would simply say the prayer to himself quietly. And then, at a high (sung) Mass, he would then intone, “Per omnia saecula saeculorum!” (normally translated back then as “Forever and ever”), to which we would then chant back, “Amen.” He would then continue with the sung exchanges of the Preface Dialogue. But notice how the prayer itself was silent, and the people were then prompted for their response by the way the priest changed his volume (at a low Mass) or even by switching for speaking to chanting (at a high Mass). The only part we laity needed was to know when to come in for the response.

    I’m hoping that we’re not heading down that same path now. It’s been hard enough to get people wrapped into the prayer now; it’s going to be even tougher with many of these new orations.

    Just a quiet reflection on the morning after. . . .

    God bless,
    Deacon Bill

  6. Ellen, that was my thought as well as I read the post. I also could see where Deacon Greg was going and decided not to comment. I think what Deacon has in his comment to you is good that we all need to think differently about the liturgy and our involvement in it but also we need to not lose sight of Christ. In fact, I think that this is what this has all been about in many ways. For too long, it was becoming something where Christ was lost in our headlong desire for this round table all involved in the act passion. Maybe this is simply the way the Holy Spirit chose to use to bring us back to the core elements of mass and a little less focus on us or the priest or the guy next to us. I have to think that Christ and his mother were happy with those folks who said rosary and prayed privately during mass as well for all those years. In the end, it should all be about us trying to reach a strong personal relationship with Christ and now we are like children thinking through the lessons of this change.

  7. Old fellow that I now am, I remember the English translation of “per omnia secula seculorum” as “world without end,” with its vestigial use at the end of the English version of the lesser doxology (“Glory be to the Father, and to …”)

  8. Our pastor told the choir ahead of time that “We’re just going to choose the simplest possible options, get people used to the new wording before we try anything fancy.” It all worked out pretty well. And it’s Advent, so simple is good.

  9. Cup is a much more powerful word spiritually and is biblical – it is part of the Last Supper narrative. It is my understanding the word cup is used in the original Greek. It is also the word Jesus used in the Garden. Also, if one looks at the Last Supper as a Passover meal, there are several cups of wine that are part of that meal. The cup of Jesus’ Blood is the new Passover Cup – the new Covenant. Finally, in English, chalice connotes something that is ornate and jeweled. I think it is much more powerful spirtually that Jesus used a simple cup – just the way He was born in a lowly manger and stable. I find the word Chalice distracting and it really isn’t something I want to get used to. I like most of the other parts of the translation – it is this one change that I am having a great deal of trouble accepting.

  10. Also, at that point isn’t the Priest quoting Jesus? “He took the cup and said “‘This is the cup of my Blood?'” In my humble opinion, Chalice is the wrong word.

  11. Greg– agree on the communal aspect of the mass- but let let me ask a timely counterpoint.

    Why change the Creed to ” I believe” from ” We believe” –

    After all if a community of ” I’s” believe something individually – a community together would proclaim ” we”

    I am not arguing the proper translation of the Latin word Credo- or trying to re-fight finished battles – but words mean something and would not this change to the creed of Nicaea ( originally composed in Greek where folks a lot smarter then me would translate the opening in the original as ” we” ) appear to be written to intentionally diminish the communal aspect of the mass?

  12. I like the word chalice better. A cup is what I have in my own cupboard. It’s that plastic one with the kitty cats on it. A chalice is what I see on the altar.

  13. To me, the very fact that we are standing up together saying the creed together is the “we”. I found it very powerful to stand up in front of everybody (and with everybody) and say, “I believe…”

  14. Meggan
    I agree with you on the power of the “I” – it requires a personal committment that leaves no room to hide in an anonymous group “we.” But I find the cup is much more mystical and spiritually powerful than a gold chalice.

  15. I am more in union with Jesus and His Passion when I hear and pray with the word cup. The word chalice kept me focused on the priest.

  16. Amen! That’s why the new translation was necessary and is so important: pray, brethren that my sacrifice and yours….we are joined in offering Christ’s perfect sacrifice!

  17. If those who translated the text from the original latin have changed it to Chalice, I would think that this is probably what it should be. After all, the entire excercise is designed to get it correct as possible. The Anchoress had an excellent post today on this translation discussion and in it she had a good link to Father Barron discussing the changes that everyone should watch..

  18. I’m finding the grumbling a bit tiresome, as well as amusing. As someone who was there 40 – 45 years ago when the Mass COMPLETELY changed from Latin to various temporary English translations and finally to the Paul VI Mass I don’t thingk it’s a big deal. Meanwhile, the grumbling reminds me of the disgruntled traditionalists who refused to accept English.

    Also, most Americans may not be aware that the translation we have been using since 1970 was not in agreement with other English translations used elsewhere (for instance in England and Ireland). Now every English speaking country will be on the same page, just like the speakers of French and Spanish have been.

    The bottom line is that in six months most people won’t even remember that there was another earlier English translation.

  19. Chalice is what it should be only from the standpoint of doing the word for word translation from the latin. In scripture the word in the institution narrative is cup, because that is what would have been used at the last supper. Jesus would not have been using a chalice. The translators had their hands tied in this instance by the requirement to translate word for word with no interpretation for context.

  20. Joe while the original Greek used “We believe” to begin the creed, the Latin uses the word “Credo” which is “I believe”. The new guidelines for the translation required a word for word translation as written in the Latin, so we got “I believe” for the creed. “We” does seem more appropriate in the context of mass, but saying “I believe” is a much stronger statement that will hopefully get people to think about what it is that they are saying and not just go into liturgical autopilot when we pray the creed.

  21. Same here. Not to mention doesn’t the head person at a meal usually have the grandest cup of them all? Think of a King at a Medeival meal/banquet with his family and his fellow lower level nobility. He is “Christ the King” after all.

  22. Not to be synical here but has anyone done any research to the whys and wherefores of the New Translation before asking the obviouys questions (i.e. cup vs. chalice, I vs We, etc) ? just how much information is out on the internet that goes into extensive detail explaining all this? I just dont get it. Well, maybe its just that most catholics are waiting for the “aha” moment of enlightenment from the Holy Spirit for immediate understanding that they feel they are entitled to ?

  23. If WE are celebrating the Mass as a community, why do WE now have to say
    when we pray the Credo, “I believe” instead of “WE believe”? Where is
    the community in the Credo?

  24. I think it is appropriate that we stand as a community and each person makes a public and personal profession of faith

  25. Margaret — have you done any reading on this matter ? about the nature of the Liturgy ? the purpose of correcting the dynamic “equivalence” of the missal the church has been living with for the past 40 years?

  26. We can only really speak for ourselves. I think when we say “I” it is personal and proclaims that I truly believe this. How do “we” know what “we” believe? It is obvious that many who call themselves Catholic don’t all believe the same thing.

  27. Well, this is “our” Mass, and I am a part of the “our” so my opinion, humble as it may be, deserves to be heard with respect.

  28. Dcn Greg,
    Thank you. After initial skepticism, I have whole-heartedly embraced this new translation. I had hoped this would be an opportunity for education – to educate our small, mission parish about the Mass, the ultimate prayer of the Church, and encourage the people to be more than physically there – to truly be there for the Mass, rather than a good chance to socialize. Unfortunately, there was no preparation and no education about the changes beyond a couple of announcements and a leaflet in a bulletin outlining the changes. But for me, on a personal level, I found speaking and hearing the new words touched me more than I expected. Although I try to actively listen and pray each week, this past Sunday I found myself tuned in even more and some of the phrases brought tears to my eyes with their elegance and beauty. To use your words, I found myself, more than usual, “attentive, engaged and invested”. Perhaps that is where I found the beauty – in my own heart, more so than in the words themselves.

  29. “The fact is: the Mass belongs to everyone. We pray it together. We offer it together. It is an act of the community.”
    I wholeheartedly agree with this comment – and this is exactly why I am so frustrated that the Sunday Missals containing the new translation are not yet available for the laity. Sure, we have the “cue cards”, but the prayers, the Prefaces, and the Eucharistic Prayers are not included in them. I really miss being able to read the words the priest is saying while he says them. It helped me stay focused and connected. Furthermore, I generally understand text much better by reading it than by just hearing it.

  30. From the Webster’s New World College Dictionary:
    chal•ice (chal´is) n. [ME & OFr < L calix, cup: see CALIX] 1 a cup; goblet 2 the cup for the wine of Holy Communion 3 a cup-shaped flower”

    In 1 Corinthians 11:25, St Paul calls it ποτηριον poterion (diminutive form of poter). The Abbott-Smith Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament translates it as “a wine cup.” The word is related to the verb meaning “drink,” so it seems fair to say that basically it means a little thing to drink from.

    IOW chalice and cup mean the same thing. One is derived from the Latin word for it and the other isn’t.

  31. “Sure, we have the “cue cards”, but the prayers, the Prefaces, and the Eucharistic Prayers are not included in them. ” welll you arent using the missals my pastor purchased. A number of publishers have provided the prayers of which you are speaking as well as many excellent Hymnals. There are personal missals also available for purchase out there. You just have to look.

  32. Joe,
    You’re right, not being a member of your parish, ‘m not using the missals your pastor purchased. The missals used at my parish are the “bare bones” hymnals, which have a single page for each Sunday containing the Responsorial Psalm and not much else.
    I have been looking for a personal missal, but without much success yet (my favorite, the St. Joseph Sunday Missal, is supposed to become available around January 2012), and none of the parish bookstores or Catholic bookstores in my area have them in stock. Do you have any web pages you can suggest?

  33. Like Decon Bill I am old enough to remember (and have been an altar boy) before Vatican II.
    My memory is of a majority of the congregation just “being there”. In some cases, the more devout old women were praying the rosary through the Mass.
    I can see the reasons for wanting less colloquial, more formal language but many of the prayers now remind me of Jesus’ words (Mt. 6:7) “When you ar praying, do not heap up empty phrases as teh Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words.”

  34. re: active participation vs. saying lines

    I’m on my 13th consecutive year of attending mass with an infant or toddler – and an ever increasing list of older kids). Far too many times I have sung every word of every song and said every word of the congregation’s responses without paying attention to what I was saying because I needed to pay attention to one or more of my kids to keep them from bothering other people or each other. ( I told my husband we should have signed the boys up for Irish step dancing – they can kick each other in the ankles and knees without moving their shoulders). Voicing without attention is not full and active participation.

    Last year I attended mass in Portuguese – a language I have never studied. (I would have been better off with Latin.) But I only had a preteen with me, so I was free to give the mass my full attention. I didn’t say anything, I didn’t sing anything, but that was full and active participation (or it would have been except I’ve lost the discipline and my mind wandered from time to time)

  35. Try this link. OCP sells Breaking Bread which has the full mass text plus hymns. It is what we use at my parish. HAs all the readings for Sundays with Responsorial Psalm.

    I do not work for OCP, I am just familier with this missal since we have been using it for years at my parish.

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