By Emily Stimpson - OSV Newsweekly, 11/28/2010
There have been more than a few bright, shining moments in Church history.
The early 1970s weren’t among them.
At the start of the decade, in thousands of parishes across the United States, Catholic priests began saying the Mass of Paul VI (also known as “the Pauline Mass,” “the novus Ordo Mass,” the “new Mass,” or “the ordinary form of the Roman rite”).
In some places, the now familiar changes in the Mass were introduced reverently and with careful explanations of why the specific changes were being made. There, good fruit was born.
But in other places?
To make matters worse, many changes came quickly and in a piecemeal manner. For well over a decade, the Mass often didn’t feel like the same Mass from one year to the next. What had seemed holy and unchanging, the inheritance of centuries, suddenly felt as unfamiliar and unpredictable as the Baptist worship services down the street. And that was in the better parishes and dioceses.
In the worst, the changes in the liturgy were more than merely disorienting. They were occasions for serious scandal.
“It was what theologian Joseph Ratzinger [now Pope Benedict XVI] has called ‘the hermeneutic of rupture,” explained Father Neil J. Roy, who teaches liturgy at the University of Notre Dame. “For some, whatever went before had to be discarded. The parts of the Mass were altered. In the most radical centers, priests even dared to replace the matter of bread and wine with pizza and beer or, for children, milk and cookies. It was bizarre liturgical experimentation that produced nothing but confusion and consternation in various quarters.”
It’s been more than 40 years since that confusion and consternation were unleashed.
But the Church has not forgotten the damage wrought where the transition was poor or abrupt. Which is why this time, with the introduction of the new translation of the Roman Missal, America’s bishops are determined to do things differently.
“It’s ironic,” said Father Hilgartner. “The Mass isn’t changing with the new translation. It’s going to look the same. But we’re doing far more catechesis for far less change.”
That process of catechesis started this year, when Father Hilgartner and other liturgical consultants for the USCCB took the new translation on the road, conducting seminars around the country that introduced priests and diocesan liturgical leaders to the coming changes.
This winter and spring, those priests and diocesan leaders will in turn be responsible for educating teachers, catechists and other parish staff and volunteers on the new translation. By next summer and fall, the bishops expect whole parish catechesis efforts to be underway across the country, with sermons, seminars and educational materials in place to prepare the laity for what they’ll experience at Mass starting Nov. 27, 2011.
It’s not, however, just the pending changes to words and phrases upon which the USCCB is now focusing or upon which they want priests and catechists to focus next year.
“The bishops have made it clear that this needs to be a very deliberative process where people aren’t just learning the words, but also learning what the words are about,” said Father Hilgartner.
“We have an unprecedented opportunity to talk about liturgy in a way we haven’t since the Second Vatican Council. We’re encouraging pastors to see this as an opportunity to teach about what we’re already doing.”
To aid pastors in that process, the USCCB has partnered with the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL), as well as numerous publishing houses, to produce booklets, DVDs and more that explain the changes, the reasons behind them, and the meaning of the liturgical words and actions themselves.
Many of those resources can be found on a new website created by the bishops: www.usccb.org/romanmissal. Other resources will be added throughout the year. The USCCB hopes individual Catholics, as well as parishes and schools, take advantage of the resources featured there, both to ready themselves for what they’ll encounter next year and to grow in their faith right now.
After all, as Father Hilgartner explained, “The end goal of both the new translation and this transition process is to deepen our faith and help us encounter Christ in the liturgy.”
Emily Stimpson is an OSV contributing editor.
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