Catholic Mass revisions launch war of words

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As America’s 68 million Catholics celebrate Easter this weekend, they also will start preparing to absorb significant revisions to the Mass that include a greater focus on sin and changes in wording that hearken back to majestic, traditional language used at the time of the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s.

What some have called a “stem-to-stern” revision of the English-language missal - the ritual text for the celebration of the Mass - has been in the works for eight years. It has not come without controversy and dissent.

The new missal may not appear in parishes until the end of 2011; however, the first of 22 workshops across the country to train priests and diocesan leaders in its use begins this month in Cincinnati, Richmond, Va., and Phoenix.

Members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which represents 85 percent of the world’s English-speaking Catholics, have argued among themselves about the texts for years. After rejecting a large portion of the text at their spring 2008 meeting, they did not approve final sections until November.

The USCCB has allocated a good portion of its Web site, usccb.org, to explaining the changes.

Although some bishops have hailed the revisions as more reverential toward God, a Facebook page devoted to the controversy has 1,358 fans opposing the new missal. Even the former head of the USCCB’s liturgy committee has come out against the revisions, saying the language was not accessible to the average Catholic.

“To what extent are the new prayers of the missal truly pastoral?” Erie, Pa., Bishop Donald W. Trautman wrote in a 2007 essay in America magazine. “Do these new texts communicate in the living language of the worshipping assembly?”

One change with which he disagreed comes from the Nicene Creed: Worshippers who now say that Jesus was “born of the Virgin Mary” will soon be saying that Jesus was “incarnate of the Virgin Mary.”

The changes have come in the wake of the 2002 release by Pope John Paul II of a new Latin version of the missal. The Polish pontiff then ordered a new English translation, saying he wanted a more literal English text that better reflected Catholic doctrine and the Latin original.

The new missal is expected to have a liturgical life of about 30 years. It also will have prayers for recently canonized saints, additional prefaces for Eucharistic prayers, more prayers for various needs and updated instructions for the Mass.

The revised language hearkens to a liturgical style dating back some 40 years, placing increased emphasis on God’s transcendence, on spiritual warfare and the supernatural.

“Grant us, Lord, to begin with holy fasting this campaign of Christian service that, as we fight against spiritual evils, we may be armed with the weapons of self-restraint,” according to a new prayer for Ash Wednesday.

That language carries more dramatic punch than the current Ash Wednesday prayer: “Lord, protect us in our struggle against evil. As we begin the discipline of Lent, make this day holy by our self-denial.”

Other changes include:

• Instead of Jesus being described as “one in being with the Father,” he is “consubstantial with the Father.”

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About the Author
Julia Duin

Julia Duin

Julia Duin is the Times’ religion editor. She has a master’s degree in religion from Trinity School for Ministry (an Episcopal seminary) and has covered the beat for three decades. Before coming to The Washington Times, she worked for five newspapers, including a stint as a religion writer for the Houston Chronicle and a year as city editor at the ...

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