We Catholics tend to feel passionately about the way we pray for many reasons, including the meaning the words convey, the love of the familiar, the rote prayers, and the ability to meditate on the memorized when we pray. (We also acknowledge the truth in the saying that the way we pray is the way we believe – the law of prayer is the law of belief – “lex orandi, lex credendi”.) This is especially true at a time of crisis; in my own extended family, I’ve often recognized that the funeral Mass, with all its expected prayers and pattern, “carries us” when we are in a difficult emotion state. A book could be written on why we prefer liturgy and standardized prayers in many cases.
Every few decades, changes are made to the Mass and to the exact way in which we participate and pray. On the first Sunday of Advent this year, it was not the Mass itself which changed but the wording for the English translation which did. The intention is to make the English version closer and more true to the Latin. But it was not anticipated with much joy by the majority of Roman Catholics in America.
Some of it feels like a reversion to the 60s: “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault” or “it is right and just”. Some of it really is an improvement (the Nicene Creed begins with “I believe” or Credo in Latin – so it is appropriate that when we say it, it’s in the first person singular, not plural, or “we believe”). Some of it is awkward, if more theologically precise.
Given how emotionally charged the issue has been, I have to congratulate the faithful and its leaders in the U.S. – or at least in my area, the Diocese of San Jose – for handling the transition very well. Many parishes began to warm up their communities ahead of time by introducing elements, especially songs, well in advance. On the day of the beginning of the use of the new translation, it seems that presiders and people were both ready. There were tools available to make it easier for us who are so used to rote responses to adapt to the ones we didn’t yet know by heart.
Perhaps most helpful was the warm hearted understanding that it is going to take time for us to get it down. As we get to the response “and with your spirit”, it’s going to take some time for all of us to be on the same page and not revert to “and also with you”. We are an imperfect lot and it’s going to take some getting used to, some time.
Many thanks to those who encourage us and soften the transition, and kudos to the Catholic community in every area of the church for working hard to make this a gentle and easier change. Given how attached we are to what we are used to, this could have been much more difficult had it not been for great effort on many levels.