In Updating the Liturgy, the Bishops Had You in Mind

Change Happens.  Ready or not!

 So it’s a good idea to get ready.  On Sunday, November 27, 2011—the First Sunday of Advent—the Catholic Church will implement changes to the Roman Missal, the book containing the prayers of the Mass. 

 Several times in the past few years, it has been my privilege to report from the scene at the Fall General Assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.  I’ve watched firsthand as our shepherds pored over the translations, struggling to improve cadence and clarity and “proclaimability.”  The changes have been wrought prayerfully, and always with us—the faithful in the pews—prominently in the bishops’ hearts and minds.

 James Brieg, author of “The Emotional Jesus,” writes about the changes on the USCCB website.  Brieg quotes Monsignor Kevin Irwin, dean of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at The Catholic University of America, who cites two main reasons for the new translations:

  • First, in the years following the Second Vatican Council, there was a rush to implement the changes from Latin into the vernacular (the common language of the local area).  After only a few years, they realized that some translations from the original Latin could have been more accurate.  The new Roman Missal attempts to more closely represent the ideas as expressed in the original translation, while retaining clarity and syntax.  Not an easy task—the bishops hoped, in the new translation, to achieve a suitable balance between the word-for-word, literal meaning of the Latin and the demands of good proclamation, style and intelligibility. 
  • In addition, since the 1960s there have been numerous changes to the Church’s liturgical calendar.  For example, Padre Pio was canonized in 2002, and the prayers of the Mass for his feastday, September 23, will be included in the new Missal. 

 Some changes will be barely noticeable; others will require the faithful in the pews to be patient as we re-learn familiar responses.  But please, be patient! 

 In December 1963, Pope Paul VI promulgated the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, “Sacrosanctum Concilium.”  It was the first fruit of the Council, convened by Pope John XXIII to update the Church.  This document on the sacred liturgy was a source of great hope for the life and renewal of the Church.  The reform of the Liturgy was part of the grand plan of the Council Fathers “to impart an ever increasing vigour to the Christian life of the faithful; to adapt more suitably to the needs of our own times those institutions that are subject to change; to foster whatever can promote union among all who believe in Christ; to strengthen whatever can help to call the whole of humanity into the household of the Church.”

 Twenty-five years later, Pope John Paul II wrote in his apostolic letter “Vicesimus Quintus Annus”:  “The Liturgy of the Church goes beyond the liturgical reform. We are not in the same situation as in 1963: a generation of priests and of faithful which has not known the liturgical books prior to the reform now acts with responsibility in the Church and society. One cannot therefore continue to speak of the change as it was spoken of [in the past]; but rather one has to speak of an ever deeper grasp of the Liturgy of the Church, celebrated according to the current books and above all as reality in the spiritual order.”

 Our beloved John Paul the Great knew, as some today seem to have forgotten, that the Liturgy is not static; it remains always relevant, always leading the faithful in every generation toward greater union with Christ. 

 Baby boomers and older Americans will remember some of the phrases. 

  • At the Creed, we will return to saying “I believe” rather than “we believe”—taking personal responsibility for our own statement of faith.  I sense that this will bear fruit in our hearts, reminding us that our profession of faith must be at once shared, and deeply personal.
  • Responding to the priest, we will no longer say “And also with you.”  Instead, we’ll use the more accurate (and older) translation: “And with your spirit.” 

 Coming soon to your local diocese, there will be workshops, presentations, study guides to help you in your adjustment to the new Roman Missal.  Take advantage of these learning opportunities, and be prepared to welcome the next generation of “improvements” our bishops have served up for us.

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