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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.

Mixed Messages

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.

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Mike Evans
11 years ago

Communities are generally obedient and will do whatever they are told. In some places, extra effort was made to prepare and educate. Missing however, was any persuasive reasoning for much of the "Latinization" of previously familiar prayers and the disturbing introduction of I for we, consubstantial, under my roof, for many (not all), chalice for cup. There seems to be an obvious effort to supersize pious and reverential language for the sake of itself, and many instances of changed phrases that seem to be no improvement, just a new way of twisting the words which adds to confusion.

The prayers for the priest to recite are simply overly complex, clumsy and in some ways, a departure from our previous theological understandings. It is very hard to find them either eloquent or inspiring. And we are in dire fear of what will be changed in the prayers for the non-eucharistic rites outside of Mass. The people are obedient since they have no chance of making any changes and objections lead nowhere. But are we really winning their hearts and minds?
Michael Bryce
11 years ago
Utilizing the response:  "And with your Spirit" makes sense. 

But,  "Come under my roof," how does that more closely express the true concept of asking to "come to me??"  It does not.    

Overall, the new wording does not have what
the drafters trumpeted it would have: "a poetic and elegant flow to the words."

In many places the new missal strains English Grammar (as in a 64 word sentence read by the priest).  Even its defenders admit that the language can be clumsy and awkward. 

So, how can clumsy, awkward and grammatically incorrect language in English benefit in communicating a beautiful liturgy to the laity?
Unfortunately, it appears the drafters and the present church made these liturgical changes mostly to show they could do so in a repositioning response to Vatican II (and instead of simply going back to a universal Latin Mass, which most of the laity would not have accepted). 

After all, what is wrong with having one of the responses say:  "It is right and just   [to give him thanks and praise]?"  In fact, I think it adds a good deal to reiterate that one is giving thanks and praise.

To most of the laity I have spoken with, it does not seem such a big deal one way or the other in terms of this language of the liturgy.  That is why they seem quite perplexed as to why the changes had to be made at all. 

Change can be a good thing, but if its main purpose is to go back, is that really change?  It is 2012, not 1952.  I would prefer that the Church required everyone to go to Mass yesterday on a Holy Day of Obligation (Ascension Thursday) but most of the American church has decided (and not because of Vatican II either) to let the nearest Sunday count instead.  I would prefer the 1952 version of a real Holy Day of Obligation, but that apparently is not the future in the Church.  As a result, I cannot hang onto the past.  Why do the drafters?
Leonard Villa
11 years ago
Some of the responses are really not about the translation but about underlying doctrine. For example the complaint about "prevenient grace" on the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. The difficulty is not about the word (would anticipatory make it crystal clear?) it is about the mystery of God's timeless choice of the Virgin Mary to be Mother of His Son. The refusal to say "for many" is simply disobedience and is also doctrinal in nature related to Sacred Scripture. Certainly the translation is not perfect and in some cases wrong. Recently a friend pointed out in one of the collects of the Easter season a key word was not translated which made all the difference in the world as to what was being asked for in the oration. By and large it is vast improvement over what were often paraphrases or substituted phrases or simply bad translations often banal. People should read and re-read Christine Mohrmann's essays on liturgical Latin and sacral language. It's not street language.
David Jackson
11 years ago
So much time and effort invested for this?  My prayer would be that we would spend half as much time and effort teaching Roman Catholics "Our best kept secret" CATHOLIC SOCIAL TEACHING.  David Jackson
11 years ago
Mr. Tantillo, thanks for the reminder about Mohrmann. Indeed, it's not street language. Some people seem to think that vernacular and colloquial are synonymous. 

Some weeks ago there was an article at the blog of the Archdiocese of Washington that I believe was titled It's Not About You - speaking about the register of the language now used - which answered some of the complaints about the choice of words.

We do address the King of Kings in a markedly different way than we speak to each other, and rightly so. 
Carl Diederichs
11 years ago
I too am trying my best to prayer using the new missal.  I am sometimes embarrassed by the wording I need to pray out loud!  And I am not finding the music provided for the prefaces easy to learn.

I wonder if we couldn't recieve an indult to use the sacramentary until the missal is cleaned up? 
Roy Van Brunt
11 years ago

If the Church is really "the people," and the people are expected to think as they pray, many of the new translations will never be fully accepted because they are simply nonsensical.

Can anyone explain why a proclaimed Creed should start in the first person singular (with "I believe"), but then alternate freely, back and forth with first person plural ("for us men and our salvation," "for our sake he was crucified")? It's NOT prayerful The illogic of this flaw is distracting and erosive of prayer. Are we praying as a community? Or are we to be solitary indiviuals in prayer? Or both? Or neither? "Just be quiet and read the card!"

Am I one of "the many" for whom Christ's Blood was shed, ....or am I not? Are we? Who is not included in "the many"?

As I said before, it is we the people who will ultimately make our prayer. Changes may be "approved" and/or "recmmended". But they are ultimately accepted or not by the people who are the church. Personally I decline to use the new translated versions of the new Missal, preferring instead to praying what I know in my heart, at a pace slightly off from that of the Assembly perhaps, but prayerful nonetheless.

We are sheep. But we are being poorly shepherded by the bishops of the USCCB. This new missal does not create universal Catholic unity - in fact other countries' bishops have declined to change. Would that ours had shown that kind of courage and concern for their sheep.

Craig McKee
11 years ago
More LIPSTICK, more LIPSTICK. I can still see the pig!
More NEWSPAPER, more NEWSPAPER! I can still smell the fish!
11 years ago

“Like the Dewfall …”, “Under my roof …”. The first recovers happy boyhood memories   when at sunrise, a few steps from home, I walked barefooted sometimes with other kids,  on the grass, wet with dew. Such a happy memory and so enjoyingly wet, everything bright  fresh at the start of the new day!

“Under my roof …”, these words too, filled with restful memories of boyhood, of  a boy  half asleep on the wooden floor, lulled into slumber by the music of raindrops falling on galvanized roofing, each pitter-pater, pitter-pater, like crystal notes of  a symphony   sometimes in crescendo  batoned by the wind, the sweet smell of rain wafting through jalousied windows. Such pleasant slumber!

I don’t like change, especially unnecessary liturgical change, that was so satisfying and understandable, as was the Mass prayers before the recent revision. But the two lines quoted above are stirring for me, so I like that part of the revision.

11 years ago

I agree with Mike and Michael, the first two who commented. Even when I practice, I still have a difficult time with the "word structure". I tries cannon #1 for Christmas. Was that ever a big mistake. Never use that mess again. If "Roof" was so important to be honest to the translation why was "servant" changed. Is a person less important than a thing?

When ever the priests get together, if the conversation lags, just mention the new translation and everyone has something bad to say about it. Isn't this what happens when the pope gets old? The "offices" at the vatican take over. What can we do? Tell our people to write the Nuncio and complain? Tell our bishops that Bishop Trautman was right and they have to complain to Rome?
11 years ago
The changes were disappointing because they  only involved the missal and a few words directly affecting the lay participants. There was no overhaul of the Mass itself!  Nothing of substance while all the problems affecting Mass attendance and participation were left untouched. The scripture readings  need to be better organized for the season, and the wording is too obtuse to readily understand and follow. The Mass common is dull and repetitive.  I cannot find any who think the music has been improved at all.

The changes have been a nice distraction for a church which hates change and improvement . A big boondoggle for PhDs and publishers!
Michael Bryce
11 years ago

One outstanding question is why the German Bishops were apparently able to refuse the Vatican's request for a new translation?  The German Bishops in September of 2010 apparently stated that: "good German texts" should not be replaced by "unfamiliar interpretations." (see America Magazine, January 3, 2011 for quotes and a discussion)  If in fact the German Conference of Bishops were allowed such a preliminary rejection, it seems that these heralded changes may not be found under everyone's roof!        

Edward McEnroe
11 years ago
It is amazing that one person Pope John Paul II after celebrating the Eucharist in several languges from his world travels single handedly changed Vatican II on the Liturgy by publishing "Liturgical Authenticum," declaring that no longer would "Dynamic Equivalence," be the norm but "Literal Equivalence. The Opening Prayer for for the 5th week of Easter, Thursday reflects the typical pre Vatican II Theology taking us back many years. The prayer reads, "O God, by whose grace though sinners, we are made just and though pitiable made blessed...reflects a turning backwards to the major themes of this Ecumenical Council.  The Resurrection of Jesus does not make us "pitiable," but blessed while reflected in the prayer does not consider our human dignity and original blessing found in Genesis Chapters 1,2. The Liturgical changes are just a beginning of returning to the Theology of Trent and the Church's 21st century Counter Reformation movement of "the Reform of the Reform of Vatican II continuing. What do you think?
11 years ago
Atrocious language, abominable theology, and oppressive implementation.
Charles Lewis
11 years ago
In the months leading up to the use of the new missal, many Catholic leaders said that another benefit of the new language would be to teach the faith afresh. The idea being that the new language would force those in the pews to really think about what they were saying, instead of just repeating it from memory. Unfortunately, I'm not sure that really has happened. After nearly six months I still hear people around me either revert back to the old language, mumble because they're unsure or simply remain silent. 
What I wish would happen is that the Vatican would push for certain prayers to always be said in Latin. Imagine going anywhere in the world and suddenly hearing the Sanctus or Agnus Dei. It would be instantly familiar to everyone and be an exact marker of the spot in the mass. It would also mean something truly universal was going on.  
10 years 12 months ago
I cannot imagine that when the Apostles asked Jesus to teach them to pray that He would have provided the translation that has been imposed on us. 
MaryMargaret Flynn
10 years 12 months ago
I recieved this America issue the same day Commonweal, June 1, 2012 arrived. Thier article "Cup or Chalice" I think every Catholic Christian, especially us lucky ones mainly grey haired and retired, who can get to daily mass should read. America's Missal article in contrast is jarring, off base and I've am etertaining a conspiracy theory-the poor Jesuits are under the thumb of the Bishops and just as Father Reese was hurried off to the Western USA wilderness from America's home in the East, this positive review of the new missal is forced compliance. Thank the Spirit for this forum; My grade is F and worse; the theology, process, uguliness are impediments to the main daily public center of our Faith, the "Mass". I still say "We believe'-before there is a me, there is a we. I can only say "I believe" in private prayer because we say "we believe" in the mass. I still say "And with you" and "for all". And I hear "cup". Fortunately the brief little homilies are often very good and resonant through the day. During Advent, I only read Sacred Space and "skipped" mass but what a lonliness. "To whom should we go Lord; You have the words of eternal life" Only God gives us life abudently. For sure the priests can't/won't do anything and if the Vatican could I guess the nuns couldn't either. So let us pray. I do wish the priests could at least rebel a bit and say "cup".
Janet Hauter
10 years 12 months ago

Thank you for your wonderful article, Grading the Missal. I made up my mind to be as objective as I could humanly be when the new missal was introduced. I listened attentively, looked at the old and new translations and asked myself "Why is this needed?" "How does this help us pray?" "Who asked for this change?"

There were few if any reasonable answers. I have come to my own conclusion. This is just one more abuse of power that I have begun to stand up against. The verbiage is clumsy, artificial, gramatically incorrect with sentences four lines long and a clear throw back to pre-Vatican II language.

Priests have been chastised for improvising so that the message is understandable; others have been punished and denied pastoral placement. All for making decisions based on conscience? What has this Church come to? Command and comply or you will be drummed out.

Vatican II released us from the bondage of that rhetoric but those in power believe that we must be drawn back into blind, mute obedience. Well, not me. I find the rhetoric silly, affected, misogenistic and once again placing the laity, those whose donations keep the lights on, in a subservient position once again.

10 years 12 months ago
I am a cradle Catholic who has sung in choir on and off for over 6 decades.  I now sing at a liturgically ideal parish - an excellent music director/English adult choir leader (it says something to have to be that explicit in his role), a deacon who is taking singing lessons to be able fully fulfill his liturgical role, and three English speaking priests who can sing and will sing on occasion.  The laity sing robustly, at least at the choir Mass.

The music parts were introduced last summer.  When the choir restarted at Labor Day, they were singing the new music with the new translations, mostly unison.  To the choir and general congregation, it was just another music setting that took some getting used to.

The one (of three) deacons who sings does more than before.  But that trend started as a personal commitment of his own dating back to his ordination.  The 
other two do not sing.  It is probably best that way.  We have to know and accept our limitations.

The priests are not singing more.  Two small prayers, one at the start of Mas and one just before the distribution of Communion are said or sung by the cantor.  We have a professional tenor cantor with a strong clear voice.  It is easy to defer to him.

Other than the Mass parts, the choir repertoire has not changed.  Two sources dominate:  classical composers (e.g. Faure) and modern composers of good 
polyphonic music, mostly not Catholic.

Net result: nada, except for general griping, which happens anyway but now has a liturgical focus.  I just hope that those who invented and implemented these changes got a good warm fuzzy.

On a personal note, I know and understand enough Latin, and appreciate well written English, to think too many of the changes are ill-begotten abominations.  
Such is the way of autocratic bureaucracy.

At my work, We recently did a major corporate reorganization.  I had philosophical differences with the leaders of the division into which I was placed.  I posted out and am transitioning to another division.  This may be coloring my view of the new translation.  I don't find that an option in my liturgical life.
John Walton
10 years 11 months ago
Why is "sedet ad dexteram patris" translated as "is seated at the right hand of the father" ?  The latin is clearly present, active tense (sits) not passive.  The St. Joseph's Missal circa 1956 has it correct "sits at the right of the father".
10 years 11 months ago
It is interesting that the reviews in this article indicate that either things are going well with the new translation or that while congregations are slipping up in the responses, they are good-naturedly trying to get it right. What they reviewers don't address is the reality that more than a few in the pews don't like, don't feel comfortable with and are having definte difficulties complying with the new wording. You won't hear these people "slipping up" because they remain silent. Church hierarchy should not confuse conformance with agreement to the changes. The question, as one person put it, is not whether these changes are closer to the Latin, but are they bringing us closer to God in our worship? If the new wording is confusing ("consubstantial"?) and, in fact, is a "speed bump" distraction during Mass, why use it? My concern, as should be the Church's, is will the silent ones in the pews just give up and leave?

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