US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Extra, extra! The Mass is changing!

Bryan Cones | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

With its story on the revised Mass translations, USA Today (via the Louisville Courier Journal) may accomplish what so far at least the US Catholic bishops, the Catholic media, and Catholic pastors have not: Get the word out to the 75 percent of Catholics who don't already know it that on November 27, it's the end of the Mass as we know it (to paraphrase the late, great REM).

The story's Louisville-based reporting--actually based in a single parish discussion group--doesn't find too many problems with the new translations among those gathered. At the same time, it doesn't find much enthusiasm for them either. Love this quote from theologian Gregory Hillis of Bellarmine University: "The new [translation] is 'neither completely amazing nor absolutely horrible,' he said. 'It's better than what we have.' " I'd call that damning with faint praise. We're talking about Eucharist here, folks.

Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, chairman of Vox Clara and a prime mover in the preparation of the new translations, suggests in a Catholic News Service story last week that few people in Australia really noticed the switch, implemented there last June: "I think a goodly percentage of the people didn't notice the difference." He goes on to suggest that Catholics should think of the liturgy as "a tiny bit like children's literature, because in good children's literature, every couple of pages there's probably a word the children don't understand, that expands their knowledge, and they have to either gather the meaning from the context or inquire about the meaning." Not sure I appreciate the comparisons, whether of the liturgy to a children's book or of the assembly to children.

The big question left unanswered--even unasked--is whether these translations will make any difference in the lives of the faithful; my suspicion is that the answer is no, which is why 75 percent of US Catholics haven't bothered to disturb themselves about it. As Jesuit Bill O'Malley writes in an essay in the December issue of U.S. Catholic: "When the official church has to publish a booklet explaining, step by step, why 'this is good for you,' bet your bottom dollar it’s not going to be any help at all—especially not where Catholics really need it to help, in their weary and puzzled souls."

Catholics deserve a liturgy that speaks to "weary and puzzled souls"--and Catholic souls have had much to be weary and puzzled about in these past 10 years. Why can't our leaders come up with something better than this? And why don't they want to know what we think?