To change or not to change: Responding to the new Mass

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Article Parish Life Prayer and Sacraments
American Catholics who still strongly dislike the new liturgical texts once they are implemented this Advent season will have three options:

1. Stop going to church.

2. Keep attending but stop participating fully in Mass.

3. Attend, participate, and learn to live with them.

Church leaders say they are confident most people will choose that third alternative. Those finding it hard to adapt to the changes should focus less on words and more on actions, says Sister Lois Paha, O.P., director of the Department of Pastoral Services and Office of Formation in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson, Arizona.

“For those who are unable to accept it, I try to encourage them to take a deeper look at the whole process and purpose of our communal prayer,” Paha says. “The celebration of the Eucharist is the center of our life as Catholic Christians. Christ comes and continues to call us to live our baptismal call. We come to the table of the Eucharist and say ‘Amen’ to receiving the body of Christ. In that action we give testimony that we are the Body of Christ. This is the message I try to communicate, so that I don’t get stuck on a particular word or action or person that will distract me from the heart of what we do as people of faith.”

Paha says she hopes that the revised English translation will not deter Catholics from participating in the liturgy “and the call of the liturgy to nourish our lives of service and ministry. I know that it will take some time to adjust to the changes in the Confiteor, the Gloria, the Creed and to learn the new memorial acclamations. I am also aware that the singing of a text will help commit it to memory. It will just take some time.“

Father Theodore Book, director of the Office for Divine Worship at the Archdiocese of Atlanta, says he doesn’t foresee the issue posing much of a problem. He says he has found that before they have an opportunity to learn about the texts, many people are apprehensive about the process of change. But once they have a chance to learn about them, they tend to have a much more positive attitude.

“Where the new translation is presented well, I don’t think that there will be many parishioners who will strongly dislike it,” Book says. “For some, the change may be more difficult than for others, but I suspect that someone who has a strong ongoing issue of disliking the text has some deeper issues regarding their relationship with the church that they need help with. I have not encountered anyone in Atlanta who has not been able to come to terms with the new texts.”

Although she is excited about the new texts, Peggy Lovrien, director of the Office of Worship at the Archdiocese of Dubuque, Iowa, is more understanding of those having trouble. She urges church leaders to be patient with critics.

“We’re leaders and we need to be aware we are guiding others in their faith,” Lovrien says. “What we’re really dealing with is parishioners who pray texts by heart and are in love with them. We’ve talked with folks about acknowledging that. We’re learning new habits. We’re letting go of something we’ve known for 35 to 40 years. Maybe we’ll suffer with this a bit. We need to let go of the past in order to embrace the future.”

At the same time, Lovrien says adult Catholics, despite their own misgivings, are obligated to serve as role models for their children.

“They need to find a way to embrace them,” she says. “It gives them the mission of Jesus. Help them move beyond the self and . . . that will evangelize the youth around us.”

This article appeared in the May 2011 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 76, No. 5, page 15).