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.”
• The Apostles’ Creed will read that Christ “descended “into hell” instead of the current “to the dead.”
Not everyone is a fan of the planned revisions.
Some find the language stilted, awkward and, in some places, grammatically incorrect. The Very Rev. Michael G. Ryan, pastor of Seattle’s St. James Cathedral, calls the new translations “seriously flawed.” His Web site, whatifwejustsaidwait.org, has collected 20,000 signatures from priests and laity in 74 countries asking the bishops to delay the changes.
“What is at stake, it seems to me,” he wrote in a Dec. 4 essay in America magazine, “is nothing less than the churchs credibility. It is true that the church could gain some credibility by giving us more beautiful translations, but clumsy is not beautiful, and precious is not prayerful.”
Those pushing the new translation, he added, “have an agenda that will seem at best trivial and at worst hopelessly out-of-touch.”
Monsignor Anthony Sherman, executive director of the USCCB’s Secretariat of Divine Worship, said the new missal is the third English translation of the Mass since Vatican II, the 1962-65 church council that first allowed the Mass to be said in the vernacular. The first two were published in 1974 and 1985.
“There is a definite tendency [in the new missal] to more exalted language,” he said. “It’s more formal than before. I don’t think there’s been any translation work in the world that’s been looked at by so many people.”
One of the sticking points in the new missal is the confession portion of the Mass, when members of the congregation say their sins were committed “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.”
Monsignor Sherman said the repetition was truer to the Latin text.
“We don’t use language solely to communicate information but to communicate emotion,” he said. “To say these words three times is a way of inciting within a person an emotional response so that you are conscious of your failings.”
Another sticking point is in the language used at the consecration of the bread and wine.
Currently, in Eucharistic Prayer II of the Mass, the priest says, “Let your Spirit come upon these gifts to make them holy, so that they may become for us the body and blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ.”
The new prayer will say: “Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray, by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall, so that they may become for us the Body and Blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ.”
Some have objected to the word “dewfall,” arguing that it’s not current English usage.
“This got to be a hot issue,” Monsignor Sherman said. “Some people maintain Americans don’t know what ‘dew’ is. But the Latin did talk about the ‘dew’ of the Holy Spirit. You had to come up with a translation of ‘dew’ because that is what was in the Latin text.”
The new wording “is richer,” he added. “In a certain sense, Bishop Trautman feels that in an age of sound bites, this exalted language will not work for people. I think over a period of time, people will get used to it.”