The Roman Missal Changes

January 15, 2012

BCI thought we would take a break from controversy on our usual topics to touch on something less controversial, such as how people are doing with implementing and learning the new Roman Missal.

Now that the changes have been rolled out, how is it going in your parish?

In recent weeks, the BCI team, along with people who follow BCI, have been observing how parishes in Boston and elsewhere in New England are doing with the changes.  As would be expected, some parishes are doing well (ie. After the priest says, “The Lord be with you,” most people in the pews respond, “And with your spirit.”)  Elsewhere, the people in the pews seem to be struggling (ie. the response is a garbled combination of the old “And also with you” along with the new, “And with your spirit.”)

Old habits die hard. We know this will take a long time for everyone to get as familiar with the new translation as we all were with the old.  BCI and our readers regress from time to time.  Still, we tried to see if there were any best practices or trends to be shared.

At the parishes where the faithful in the pews are doing well and the changes sound like they have good traction, BCI learned that the priests have regularly reminded people during Masses since the beginning of Advent to be mindful of the changes and to use the cards in the pews. They say the words to the Confiteor every Sunday. In addition, when the priests were asked in casual conversation how it was going with the new Roman Missal, they were generally positive on the changes. In contrast, in the parishes where the people in the pews are not doing so well with mastering the changes, there were no verbal reminders, or few reminders in at least the past month. And by coincidence, where the people are not doing well with the changes, at those same parishes there is also some sense that the priest has not been enthusiastic about the changes himself.  Several readers report that their pastors had been somewhat begrudging in their style of communicating the changes and appeared displeased or unenthusiastic about them.

Beyond that, we digress for a moment to mention one case we know of where priests are already making changes to the new words.  This blog post from Concord pastor, Fr. Austin Fleming, about some passages in the new book he was finding difficult to use, opened a small Pandora’s box in the comments.  Fr. Fleming wrote about new text included in the Eucharistic Prayer for Masses for the Dead which he found difficult and thus changed slightly. Then he said:

“That I consciously made a change in the text leads me to wonder what changes other priests are making and where that will lead us.”

This prompted one reader to respond, “I would hope that priests do have the ‘freedom; to change wording particularly in the example you just showed us in your funeral liturgy,” and then other priests who had issues with the new translations further piled on the discussion.

BCI does not see where the Vox Clara Committee (which advises the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments on English translations) or the International Commission on English in the Liturgy were intending a “Have it your way” approach to the new translations; however, perhaps we missed something.  (But we digress…)

Anyway, BCI has 3 small suggestions for priests that we hope might make it easier for faithful Catholics in the pews to master the new translations:

  1. Continue the reminders: If the priest offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass finds people are still struggling to master the changes, perhaps he might give a short reminder at selected times during the Mass (ie. before the greeting, Confiteor, recited Gloria, Preface Dialogue, spoken Sanctus, or Mystery of Faith) that the people be attentive or mindful to the new words from the cards in the pew.
  2. A little extra catechesis never hurts.  For example, most people may still not realize that the old “and also with you” translation from Latin  et cum spiritu tuo was an error.  That translation was inaccurate and misled people into believing that when the priest said, “The Lord be with you,” the people were basically saying in response, “same to you, Father.”  As described here, the expression et cum spiritu tuo (accurately translated: “and with your spirit”) is an acknowledgment by the congregation of the grace and presence of Christ who is present and operative in the spirit or soul of the  celebrant.  Christ’s Spirit is present in the priest  in a unique way in virtue of his ordination. What the dialogue means is:
    The Lord be with you.
     We do in fact acknowledge the grace, presence and Spirit of Christ in your spirit.
    It can be found in the New Testament letters of St. Paul: “The Lord be with your spirit” (2 Tm 4:22) and “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit” (Phil 4:23).
    This piece, “And with Your Spirit,” republished by Our Sunday Visitor gives even more commentary, including this quote from St. John Chrysostom, who held that the congregation’s response, “And with your spirit,” is an implicit profession of faith in the power of the sacrament of holy orders:

    “If the Holy Spirit were not in this your common father and teacher, you would not, just now, when he ascended this holy chair and wished you all peace, have cried out with one accord, ‘And with your spirit.’

    Thus you cry out to him, not only when he ascends his throne and when he speaks to you and prays for you, but also when he stands at this holy altar to offer the sacrifice. He does not touch that which lies on the altar before wishing you the grace of our Lord, and before you have replied to him, ‘And with your spirit.’

    By this cry, you are reminded that he who stands at the altar does nothing, and that the gifts that repose there are not the merits of a man; but that the grace of the Holy Spirit is present and, descending on all, accomplishes this mysterious sacrifice. We indeed see a man, but it is God who acts through him. Nothing human takes place at this holy altar.”

    …our Catholic priests speak and act with the power of the Holy Spirit. They do so when they repeat that five-time epiclesis, “The Lord be with you.” Indeed, only a man who has been ordained may pronounce those words in the liturgy. A layman leading a prayer service may not.

  3. Practice makes perfect: Repetition has a powerful impact on learning. Athletes use repetition to perfect their skills, musicians use it to learn music and students of foreign languages use repetition to learn a new language.  Yet ironically, few parishes are using any form of practice or repetition to get the people to break old habits and learn the new words more quickly.  In the same way that leaders of song will take a few minutes to review new music or Mass parts with the congregation before Mass, if people are struggling with the Roman Missal changes, it may be worthwhile for priests to take a few minutes before Mass to speak through the new words together with the people  (ie. recite the new Gloria together with the people, or simply get the people saying together some of the responses aloud).This may sound a little simplistic, but when the people are struggling to master “and with your spirit” as a response, imagine the priest taking 1 minute before Mass to do a short practice repetition 3-5 times: Priest says “The Lord be with you,” and the people respond “and with your spirit.”  Do this 3-5 times before Mass over a couple of Sundays and the people will have it nailed!  A similar approach might be tried for the Gloria or Sanctus.  In the absence of this, we may find many people still stumbling through the translations a year or more from now.

These are just a few observations and thoughts from BCI on the Roman Missal changes.  How is it going in your parish?

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