After all the “sturm und drang” (“storm and stress”) of the past few years, the changes in some of the words at Mass will probably turn out to be a good thing. Here is why.
First, they will make us pay more attention to the celebration of the Mass, at least for a while.
Second, they will make us talk about the history and the development of the Mass.
Third, they will be a better sign of the unity of the Church, at least in the Mass of the Roman rite.
Those are all positive things, and like most pastors, I want to accentuate the positive.
By definition, any ritual is routine. By frequent use, we run the risk of saying words automatically and without reflection.
Even though the changes in the Mass are relatively minor, they will make us more attentive.
When the priest says, “The Lord be with you,” those in the pews will have to say, “And with your spirit.” The addition of the word “spirit” makes us aware of the spiritual quality of the greeting. It makes us conform to the translation in other languages.
No doubt we will bumble around for a while. But we will be more aware of our words.
Like most parishes, we have bought laminated cards with the changes highlighted in bold print. For a while, we will be holding the cards and reading the words. But, eventually, we will learn them. After a while, it will become more natural.
The National Catholic Reporter recently reported that Catholics in South Africa are now getting used to the new words after a rocky start more than a year ago. The same will happen here.
The very strangeness of some of the new words will make us think about them. I doubt that anyone uses the word “consubstantial” in everyday speech.
The change will make us talk about the historical development of the creed — why it was important to the Greek fathers who wrote the Nicene Creed that we emphasize that the Christ is “homo osseous” (in Greek) “of the same substance” with the Father. They were trying to make it clear that Jesus, the Christ, is a co-equal member of the blessed Trinity. He is not merely some exalted “creature.”
Even seemingly trivial changes, such as changing “seen and unseen” to “visible and invisible,” will make us think. God is the creator of things that we cannot see. It is not so much about our perception as it is about God’s creation.
Some changes will make us more aware of the Scripture. For example, at the invitation to Communion, the priest will say, “Behold the Lamb of God.” This is a direct allusion to John the Baptist when he sees Jesus near the Jordan.
The congregation will reply, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof,” making a direct allusion to the centurion in Matthew’s Gospel when he asks Jesus to heal his servant.
All these changes will make us more aware that we are part of a ritual that extends beyond our language and culture. The changes also bring us into better conformity with the other languages of the Roman rite.
For instance, in the Confiteor we will again say “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault,” just as they do in Italian and Spanish. It is a better echo of the “mea culpa” of the Latin. It reminds us of our link to the universal Church.
The changes to the Mass are coming. After much discussion, we are going to implement them, ready or not.
I think this might be a good chance to learn from them.
Father Peter J. Daly is author of the “Parish Diary” column for Catholic News Service. He writes on church life from his parish, St. John Vianney in Prince Frederick, Md.