The new translation of the Roman Missal was implemented in parishes on the first Sunday of Advent, 2011, six months ago. To explore how Catholics in the pews and behind the altar are receiving the translation, we asked four people from around the country who are knowledgeable about liturgy to describe what they have personally observed, heard and experienced.
By Edward Foley
On the morning of the First Sunday of Advent last November, we were prepared. The workshops had been well attended, the pew cards were in place, and the new settings of the eucharistic acclamations that we had been singing since September were starting to feel familiar. After the opening song, I intoned the Sign of the Cross and then the greeting: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” Nine hundred of the baptized thundered back, “And also with you.” First there was a moment of shocked silence as the assembly realized what had transpired. Then they collectively burst into loud and sustained laughter. Our journey into the new translation of the Roman Missal had begun.
That was last November. Since then, assemblies have been earnest in their responses, demonstrating a strong commitment to “getting it right.” The short responses are firmly under control, and there is obvious earnestness as worshipers crack open the worship aid after the homily and prepare to revisit the Creed many had learned in their childhood. We have yet to venture into the retranslated Nicene Creed; anecdotal information suggests that it is being abandoned in many places. The new response to the Communion invitation is still a little wobbly. At the beginning of Lent I changed the dismissal text to “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.” I think the brevity of the cadence may have caught them off guard, and I was surprised that their normally powerful “Thanks be to God” was unconvincing.
As far as I can tell, my brother priests are struggling much more than members of the assembly. One sacristan for weekday Eucharist echoed that perception when empathetically opining “these are some tough texts.” It is a point echoed by many members of the clergy. Sometimes there is no extended conversation but only a passing comment about the “word of the week.” Prevenient, from the Prayer over the Offerings on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, is one example that received a lot of clergy airtime.
Many priests are working very hard to stay faithful to the texts. Some for whom English is a second or even third language report they are employing only one Eucharistic Prayer (II) for the time being until they get the cadence and language down. It is a practice that I know at least one native English speaker also has adopted. As I travel around the country, I have heard from a few priests who are vocal about their unwillingness to say certain texts: the phrase for many in the institution narrative over the “chalice” is the prime example. More often, however, I hear of presiders who are employing a strategy of selective proclamation, editing out some of the more obscure language and occasionally dropping the ever-recurring “we beseech you.” It suggests that the hybrid English liturgy might be on its way to being even more so.
Learning From Mistakes
By Don Shane
Directives regarding the celebration of the Eucharist following the Second Vatican Council had a direct impact on me as a new priest. I worked hard to understand the history and the rationale for change. I was excited to share with the people the thinking that the church wanted them to experience a deeper intimacy with Jesus through the Eucharist. The changes often seemed drastic. The altar now had the priest facing the congregation, and often there was an altar in front of an altar. Changes in music often seemed inappropriate. There was a gradual change from Latin to English and finally the complete use of vernacular English. Many were happy to pray in the vernacular. Many were hurt and disappointed and felt that reverence for the Real Presence diminished. There was real division.
On the national scene it was a time of protest. It was the time of Vietnam, flower children, free love and demonstrable rejection of systems and values. The “God is dead” philosophy came on the scene. Some theologians supported the use of violence to bring about social justice. Not only were the values of our nation questioned but also the values of our church. Priests were leaving in large numbers. For many it was a time of chaos and of great soul searching.
Vatican II, Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI directed that we examine each sacrament and make sure that we celebrate the sacraments much as they were celebrated in the early church. We were directed to implement changes and we did. Many Catholics were upset. It seemed as if the church was not the stable rock it claimed to be but instead was swept up in all the chaos. Many left the church. Looking back, we who were priests at the time should have done a better job explaining the changes and making use of teaching opportunities.
In Advent 2011, when the time came to begin using the new Roman Missal, church leaders and pastors were able to draw on what they had learned about implementation from mistakes of the past. Leaders at both the national and diocesan level developed a marvelous preparation program for priests. There was unity throughout the country. In my archdiocese we set aside eight consecutive weeks to present to parishioners the history of the various parts of the Mass and the rationale for the changes that we know will be in place for a long time. All of it has been a great opportunity to study the Mass more closely and to reaffirm that it is our greatest prayer, our greatest spiritual treasure. This time, because pastoral leaders at all levels respected our people and gave a thorough preparation, we all came away with a great appreciation and reverence for the Mass.
As a celebrant I have been frustrated that I can no longer recite prayers of the Mass from memory. The language, though faithful to the Latin, sometimes seems clumsy and awkward. But knowing that we are closely aligned to the church throughout the world in the celebration of the Eucharist makes it all worth it. We priests, especially the older priests, just have to get used to it. It is already becoming more and more comfortable.
Our people have been most receptive. Not only do they participate enthusiastically, they also have demonstrated much tolerance for the celebrants, who sometimes stumble along. The congregation seems to appreciate the sense of solemnity the new translation brings. I think we have solemnity without losing the sense of the Lord’s closeness to us. Our people are supportive.
Parishioners and priests have learned more about the beauty of the Eucharist. Pope John Paul II’s wish that the vernacular of English-speaking countries more closely follow the Latin translation of the rest of the world has been accomplished. The implementation has been successful beyond my expectations. We really did learn from the late 1960s and 70s. We are blessed indeed.
Rev. Don Shane is the pastor of St. Robert Bellarmine Church in Omaha, Neb., a parish of over 2,800 families.
Making Sense of Change
By Diana Macalintal
The first time the new translation began to make sense to me was last January at a diocesan Mass. In the Diocese of San Jose, Calif., we celebrate Mass in 11 different languages every Sunday, and over half of our households speak a language other than English at home. To reflect the reality of who we are, every major diocesan liturgy incorporates multiple languages, with English, Spanish and Vietnamese as the primary ones.
Most of the people at that Mass were English-speakers. Our bishop, however, according to custom, led the Sign of the Cross and the opening greeting in Spanish. When the assembly got to the response, “Y con tu espíritu,” it clicked. That means “And with your spirit!” I could sense a light bulb turning on.
The assembly’s newly revised English responses have been coming more naturally over the months, except for the response to the invitation to Communion: “Lord, I am not worthy....” Even at the Chrism Mass in Holy Week, packed with members of the clergy and parish leaders, we still could not find the common cadence to make this a unified response. Most assembly members no longer need the pew cards, but they still scramble for these aids at the Nicene Creed. Many parishes have opted to make more use of the Apostles’ Creed.
The people in our diocese, in general, can recall the new words. But do the new words help them pray? That is still uncertain. At a gathering of parish liturgy coordinators, I asked the participants if their assemblies were now more engaged or less engaged in the Mass. The overwhelming response was that they have mostly lost touch during the priest’s prayers. Perhaps this was true before the new translation, but those leaders perceive that their assemblies find the prayers unmemorable and unremarkable. When the parishioners do notice these prayers, it is for the wrong reasons. The most-cited example I have heard from lay leaders and clergy alike was the phrase prevenient grace from the prayer over the offerings for the feast of the Immaculate Conception.
Most of our priests have been publicly silent about their opinion. The priests I have heard celebrating the Mass, including our bishop, have been very diligent in practicing the prayers. Those who have been most successful pray more slowly and deliberately. Yet some who have privately shared their opinions about the texts with me have hoped that we might have a revision of the revision within the next several years. One heartbreaking comment I heard from a priest shortly after the feast of the Immaculate Conception and again after Ash Wednesday, when the imagery of the prayers seemed especially unfamiliar, was that he was “embarrassed in trying to pray it.”
The new translation has brought us closer to one another, but in some ways it has drawn us further away from communal prayer. The good we have seen is an increased urgency to attend to the other “languages” of the Mass: music, hospitality and preaching. In the meantime, we will continue together to do our best with what we have been given.
Diana Macalintal has been the director of worship for the Diocese of San Jose for 10 years.
Some Confused, Many Composed
By Jan Michael Joncas
When considering the musical reception of the new translation of the Roman Missal, one must first realize that it takes time for any new musical repertoire to become sung prayer in a local worshiping community. For this reason, and because the worshiping communities I am most familiar with are parishes, monasteries, university centers and convents of women religious in the upper Midwest, I need to make clear at the outset that my remarks are limited and tentative.
Since the new Missal was implemented in the United States, I have been especially interested to see how many of the chants included in it are being used in parishes. This repertoire is divided into categories, including chants for the priest’s prayers, dialogues between individuals and the assembly and litanies, hymns and acclamations sung by the assembly. Despite a significant educational effort aimed at the clergy and music ministers prior to the implementation, as well as a plethora of printed and recorded aids for the clergy, I do not experience a strong upsurge in the number of priests who are chanting the collect, the prayer over the offerings, the post-Communion prayer, the prayer over the people or the eucharistic prayer, using either the simple or the solemn tones. I have heard more priests chanting the dialogues at the introductory rites, before the Gospel, before the eucharistic prayer (continuing with the preface), and at the concluding rites than previously, with congregations gradually becoming familiar with their responses. Very few of the communities with which I have celebrated have used the Missal chants for the Lord, Have Mercy (in either Greek or English, whether troped or not), the Glory to God, the Holy, Holy, Holy (in Latin or English) or the Lamb of God (in Latin or English). These elements are almost always sung to settings other than those offered in the Missal, although the Missal chants are sometimes done a capella at daily Masses. I have never heard the Creed chanted.
About half the communities I have visited since the implementation of the new Roman Missal use what I call a retrofitted musical setting of the Order of Mass, by which I mean a setting composed for the earlier text that has been modified to fit the new translation. Good examples would be the new versions of Marty Haugen’s “Mass of Creation” or Richard Proulx’s “Community Mass.” While there have been some signs of confusion—portions of the assembly singing by heart what they remember of the earlier setting, while others sing the new setting according to the printed score—this transition has actually been smoother than many predicted.
The other half of the communities I have visited since the implementation of the new Missal are using new musical settings of the Order of Mass, with no particular setting seeming to dominate. While some hoped that the implementation would establish a common English-language repertoire for the Order of Mass in the United States, I see no evidence of that happening. The vast majority of the communities I have visited employ settings from one of the three most popular liturgical music publishers (GIA Publications, OCP, World Library Publications) or from a composer in their own community. Very few employ settings from smaller publishers or Internet sources.
In my judgment, the major disruption in musical practices that some predicted would occur at the implementation of the new Roman Missal last year has not occurred. Communities with strong musical traditions took the changes in texts in stride and are already familiar with at least one new setting; they may be taking on the challenge of incorporating the entrance and Communion antiphons in creative ways. Average communities struggle to find musical settings of the Glory to God that both respect the new text and invite congregational participation. Communities with little or no musical tradition might be best advised to work on a foundational repertoire of dialogues and acclamations, possibly from the Missal chants.