As you may know, as of the First Sunday of Advent of this year, November 27-28th, a significant change in the texts, prayers, and responses that have been used for the celebration of Mass since 1970 will go into effect.
These revised texts involve all of us in the celebration of Mass, not only the priests and deacons but of all of you who participate in the Mass. In technical language we are going to be implementing the Third Edition of the Roman Missal, finally translated into English.
One of the many misconceptions that grew out of the liturgical revolution of the 1970’s was the mistaken belief that “liturgy is something WE do.” Many clergies have grown into the habit of paraphrasing or simply ignoring some at least of the actual prayers and texts of the Mass as we currently have them. The existence of an official Latin Missal (“Mass book”) whose texts were normative and published by the Holy See was often overlooked and many assumed that there were many “options” that enabled each priest, deacon, or liturgy committee to fashion its own celebration. While the “freewheeling” days of the 60’s and 70’s have largely passed on, many of the underlying attitudes have not.
I remember when my late father converted to Catholicism and he went to meet weekly with one of the parish priests. This was before the changes in the Liturgy and one of the things he had to learn was a familiarity with the English versions of the Latin Mass prayers as well as what was a challenge at first for some converts: the exclusive use of a “dead language” for the public worship of the Church. (Of course, the preaching and catechesis were always in the vernacular, English in our case.) Among the reasons my father learned for the preservation of the Latin language in the Mass was that the actual texts of the Mass were “exempt from the shifting changes of any living vernacular” and “no matter where you went to Mass, the Mass was always the same.”
In the late 1960’s this objectivity was progressively abandoned by the Church. One of the risks taken was the exposure of the Liturgy to a naturally evolving vernacular as well as what was seen by some then, and by more now, as a hasty and overly broad practice and style of translation from the new Roman Missal into a “new English Mass.”
Many traditional and existing English expressions derived from the Liturgy of the Church were either rarely used, or used not all. Some have remarked that this has resulted in the odd phenomenon of the explicitly Protestant Reformation liturgy of the traditional Anglican and Episcopal Book of Common Prayer sounding “more Catholic” than our own liturgical texts to many ears. Many traditional Catholic terms in English were deliberately avoided or even “abolished” unnecessarily. For a while, even the very word “Mass” fell into disfavor while maintained by Protestants. (The very Lutheran Church of Sweden still refers to the principal Service on Sunday as the Hogmesse or “High Mass.”)
Some of this was a result of a belief that one needed to “make things understandable” and others just for the sheer passion for novelty; as well as some other, more serious, desires to downplay some Catholic doctrines that seemed out of place for that famous and proverbial creature of the time: “Modern Man” (oops, “Modern Human Being”). A good example of shifting vernacular right there!
Over the years, many priests, laity and even those outside the Church warned that the language currently used was excessively flat, uninspiring, and in some cases, poor and even misleading.
For example, the current text of the Nicene Creed starts with “We believe” while the ancient 4th century begins with “I believe” (“Credo in Latin) as well as referring to Christ “by the power of the Holy Spirit was born of the Virgin Mary” while the actual text says nothing of Him being “born” but made “incarnate” (literally “enfleshed”) of the Virgin Mary, a different thing. You and I were “made flesh” in the wombs of our mothers nine months before our birth: a distinction not only one of language but also of theology as well as matter of the beginning of human life.
These are but a few examples.
In the new Missal the ceremonies and structure of the Mass remain the same but in a new and, yes, often more traditionally Catholic and more elevated language.
You will find in this Sunday’s bulletin a guide from the Bishops’ Conference to many of these verbal changes and their meaning.
I will also be hosting two open meetings on Wednesday, October 19th: at 1 PM for the “daytimers” and one at 7:30 for the “evening and night timers”. The changes will be discussed and pew cards containing all your new prayers and responses will be available for you to take home and keep as we prepare for Advent. Coffee and cake will be served at both.
I’ll have more to say as time goes on.