Changes are coming to the way that English-speaking Roman Catholics pray on Sundays.
Pope Benedict XVI recently approved a new English translation of the Roman Missal, the book of prayers and worship rules used worldwide in the faith's central spiritual event, the Mass.
U.S. bishops then set Nov. 27, 2011, the first Sunday of the Advent season, as the date that U.S. Catholics must begin using the new missal. It is intended to be a more accurate version of the church's ancient Latin texts than the ones that English-speaking Catholics have been using for more than 40 years, since the Second Vatican Council led to the Mass being celebrated in local languages around the world.
The new translation stems from an effort by Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI to make Catholic liturgies more true to their ancient roots, and to unify Catholic worship across language groups, Omaha Archbishop George J. Lucas said in a recent interview with The World-Herald.
“In a way, this is just another step in our renewal, to really use the richness of the prayers that have been offered in the church,” Lucas said.
The new English translation, in the works for more than a decade, hasn't been published. But it already has been controversial, in part because it will change several of the prayers and much of the music to which Catholics have become accustomed.
Some will welcome the new translation as bringing back some things that were lost when the Mass was hurriedly translated into English in the 1960s.
Some will consider the loftier language to be needlessly cumbersome.
Lucas said the new translation does not represent a rollback of Vatican II changes, nor is it a step toward returning to the Latin Mass for everyone.
The altered language is meant to be more meaningful, lyrical and appropriately solemn to the occasion.
For example, when the priest says “The Lord be with you,” the people will respond, “And with your spirit,” instead of the current reply, “And also with you.”
When they recite the Nicene Creed, the people will say at one point, “consubstantial with the Father,” instead of the current, “one in Being with the Father.”
Church leaders in Nebraska and Iowa, as elsewhere, are beginning to educate clergy, liturgists and music leaders. The people in the pews will be next.
Over the coming year there will be bulletin inserts, sermons, seminars and meetings to teach the 370,000 Catholics in Nebraska and 500,000 in Iowa about the changes and answer their questions.
“The concerns, or the resistance, or the questions, we will be able to address that in an open and respectful way, so that it's not dropped on us all of a sudden,” Lucas said.
The Omaha Archdiocese will launch its public efforts Saturday. Lucas will lead a convocation of clergy, liturgists and musicians at St. Cecilia Cathedral in Omaha. In Iowa, the Diocese of Des Moines is conducting workshops in local parishes, including one that took place Sept. 18 at Sts. Peter & Paul Catholic Church in Atlantic.
The Lincoln Diocese plans a November study day for priests, and is producing for them a CD on the liturgy changes.
Grand Island Diocese Chancellor Kathy Hahn led a seminar on the new missal on Sept. 18 at the diocese's Festival of Faith in North Platte. The title — “New Words, Deeper Meaning, Same Mass” — speaks volumes about local church leaders' approach.
“We see this as a real important moment of catechesis, of teaching,” Lucas said.
People value the Mass and the prayers they know, and might not like to see those things changed, the archbishop said.
“We're doing it because the Holy Father decided it would be good for the life of the church,” Lucas said. So the archbishop hopes people will “receive what's being given, not so much critique it.”
This is an opportunity, he said, for people to learn more about their faith and the meaning of Mass as they learn about the new missal.
Lucas called it “a chance to understand the mystery of what we are about at the liturgy. We really are participating in something that God is doing for us. It's not our project.”
Ideally, that's how people will respond, said Eileen Burke-Sullivan, an associate professor of theology at Creighton University.
“If you want to make sense out of the translation, you have to ask, what do these words mean?” she said. That could lead to a deeper exploration of faith, and even changes in how people live their faith.
“If it's too off-putting, though, people could say that's not me, that's not my language, and they could be too resistant to open it up and try to understand it,” Burke-Sullivan said.
The new translation will be used everywhere English is spoken: from the United States to the United Kingdom, to the Philippines. Australia and South Africa.
Brother William Woeger, director of worship for the Omaha Archdiocese, said the 1960s translations into English were done “rather hurriedly.”
“Many of the metaphors and images, or Scriptural references, were not retained,” he said.
For example, Catholics currently pray before communion, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.”
The new translation: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”
The latter refers to a Gospel passage in which a Roman soldier approaches Jesus to ask him to heal a servant.
As for saying “And with your spirit” instead of “And also with you,” it's not merely about a more literal translation of the Latin, Lucas said.
“It's a recognition of the spiritual anointing that the priest has,” Lucas said. “It's not just an exchange of greetings, like, hello, how are you.”
The new translation also will lead to new musical settings for many acclamations, or the things that the entire congregation recites together. The Archdiocese of Omaha will encourage more chanting by priests, musicians and the congregation.
The new missal, Woeger said, should lead to a more solemn liturgy — one that is less rooted in a culture that increasingly demands entertainment in everything from news to church services.
“Suddenly now, instead of the worship being about God, it's become about how do you seduce people into participating,” he said. “That entertainment model really does a disservice to worshipping in spirit and in truth.”
Critics say the complex vocabulary and sentence structure in the new translation will be inaccessible to most people.
“You can't worship God and praise God if you can't understand what the heck they're saying up there,” said the Rev. Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest and senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University.
He does not expect the translation to be well received in the pews.
“This is like watching a train wreck in slow motion,” Reese said. “I don't think the bishops yet realize how divisive this is going to be when it's introduced. ... Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe people will stop and applaud. But I think they're going to scratch their heads and say, ‘Why are we doing this?'”
Locally, church leaders who have been introducing the new translation said that they have heard concerns from people leery of the changes but that the feedback has been mostly positive.
“It really has been a good opportunity for people to reconnect with some of the symbols in our worship, words among them,” said Kyle Lechtenberg, director of the Des Moines Diocese's Office of Worship.
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