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Words of Mass are changing

Francis Cardinal George leads Mass Tuesday morning November 1, 2011 at St. Agnes Church celebrating the 100th anniversary of Franciscan St. James Hospital in Chicago Heights, Illinois. | Art Vassy~Sun-Times Media

Catholics who may not have been to Mass since last year are in for a surprise during the first Sunday of Advent this week.

The Catholic Church is changing the words of the Mass for the English-speaking world. From the USA to the United Kingdom and from Africa to Australia, Catholics will find a more formal text and chants.

The 41-year-old liturgy, with its colloquial English phrasings, will be replaced by a revised Roman Missal that’s word-for-word more literally tied to the original Latin of the church.

“People are going to be seeing a greater connection between the scripture and the prayer text,” said Todd Williamson, director of the Office for Divine Worship for the Archdiocese of Chicago. “Because it is a more literal translation, the Latin syntax may be a little more challenging, and people are going to have to listen differently. It’s just a matter of time before they train their ear.”

Parishes across the Chicago area have been preparing for the changes for the last two years, but some still expect Mass will be “a little messy” during the transition. The current language has been in place since 1969.

“You get into a rhythm of saying the same thing every day for 42 years, so we’re going to have to be careful,” said the Rev. Hilary Mahaney, moderator at St. Mary of the Angels, 1850 N. Hermitage. “We’ll probably make mistakes, but that’s no big deal. It’s going to take awhile to get used to the readings.”

The U.S. bishops’ website praises the “noble tone” infusing changes that affect almost every sentence.

“God merits elegant language, not ‘Hey, God, it’s me,’” says Monsignor C. Eugene Morris, director of Sacred Liturgy for the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio, where 185 men studying for the priesthood are training in the new liturgy.

Morris says the new, more scholarly and repetitive wording offers greater depth and richness, “elevating our minds. It makes you slow down, be more deliberate and conscious.”

Critics deride the Missal as a throwback to the days before the 1960s Second Vatican Council. Vatican II’s key changes included invigorating the laity and shifting from strictly Latin Mass to offer the sacrament in the common language of the faithful.

Bishop Donald Trautman, former chairman of the U.S. bishops’ liturgy committee, has slammed the revision as “elitist,” incomprehensible to the average Catholic and a looming “pastoral disaster.”

Among the revisions:

†When the priest says, “the Lord be with you,” the congregation will reply “and with your spirit” instead of “and also with you.”

†Before communion, parishioners will proclaim, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof,” whereas they once said, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you.”

†The Nicene Creed will begin with “I believe” instead of “we believe” and state that Jesus was “begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father” rather than “begotten, not made, one in Being with the Father.” The word shift, according to the commentary on the bishops’ website for the Missal, is a mini-lesson in theology, reinforcing the doctrine that Jesus equally shares his father’s divinity.

†The Gloria hymn’s familiar opening “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on Earth,” is narrowed to offer peace only for those who have accepted Jesus as messiah, considered by the church as “people of good will.”

The chant piles on poetic repetition, going from simple worship and thanks to five ways to praise, bless, adore, glorify and thank God.

Hundreds of Irish priests had no praise for the Missal. They called on their bishop to delay the move and challenged the scholarship behind the changes, according to the British Catholic Herald.

Seattle priest Michael Ryan launched an international Web campaign, asking the Vatican to slow down and market-test the Missal on a pilot group of parishes.

It didn’t work. So Ryan is proceeding, as he must, to prepare St. James Cathedral parishioners for the changes. Once people hear it, the church will hear from them, Ryan says.

“People are the church, and this is not the bishops’ prayer, it is their prayer. Prayer is not something you tamper with lightly, and you’d better be sure when you do that it’s manifestly better.”

But many are hoping the new translation will provide an opportunity for people to discover the deeper meaning behind the words and develop a better understanding of Mass, which is the central act of worship for Catholics consisting of prayers and rituals.

“Right now people pray the creed and they may have memorized it when they were a kid, so looking at it like it’s new might help people reflect a little more about what they are saying,” said the Rev. James Hurlbert, pastor of St. Alphonsus, 1429 W. Wellington.

“Maybe it will lead to a heightened appreciation of the theology and the spirituality.”

Gannett News Service, with ChicagoCatholicNews.Org contributing