By Brian Reynolds - The Priest, 3/1/2011
Over the past six months I served as one of the presenters for the series of national workshops introducing the new English translation of the Roman Missal, Third Edition. These workshops were sponsored by the Bishops Committee for Divine Worship and the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions. One topic presented at each of the workshops concerned the issue of managing change. Beyond the important questions of language, translation, and ritual, we considered how priests and parishioners will move through the preparation and implementation steps required by the changes in the liturgy.
While we know what is changing, it is less clear how we will experience the changes. We live in an age of change and uncertainty where we are impacted by a volatile economy, new laws and regulations, changes in the environment, innovations in technology and shifts in cultural norms. We are not in control of the majority of changes that affect us. Most change has traditionally been viewed as evolutionary, where we modified the way we did things.
However, it seems more often that change today is revolutionary, causing more radical shifts in our lives or organizations. We have only to look at current developments in health care reform or airport screening or communications to identify how change is the norm, not the exception. These dynamics create a climate of uncertainty that is perhaps the backdrop to what is occurring in the Church.
After listening to feedback from hundreds of priests across the country it is clear that the change involving the Roman Missal has produced two clear voices. To some, the changes in the revised missal are disturbing; to others, the changes are good news. These polar opposite stances are not uncommon developments whenever change occurs. What is often most disturbing about change is that it is a disruption in our routine and we have to learn something new. Other times we simply may not like or agree with the change itself.
On the other hand, the good news comes from appreciating that something new can keep us from getting stale and allow us to learn and grow and see things differently. It is likely that as these two perspectives are found among priests, they will also be found among our parishioners.
Regardless of whether you like the changes in the liturgy or not, as a priest you are a key player in the implementation of the third edition of the Roman Missal. Your thoughts naturally turn to what it will mean for you, and then, of course, you consider the impact on the people you serve. No doubt you would like, somehow, to make this change easier for them and for yourself. The reactions and responses you notice in yourself will likely be reflected in the reactions you hear from your parishioners.
Using a simple definition, there are two types of change: self-initiated and imposed. There is an obvious difference should you choose to go on a diet as compared to being directed to do so by your physician. Likewise traveling for a vacation is very different from traveling to a meeting you are required to attend. Our response to the dynamics of change is dependent, in part, on which type of change we are facing. Yet regardless of the source of the change, responses to change commonly move through four stages: resistance, confusion, testing and recommitment.
Resistance: All change, even when viewed as positive, involves some resistance. The movement from what is known and familiar to something unknown requires adjustments. The saying “old habits die hard” is accurate. Imposed changes to our habits and routines often lead to a sense of loss, anger or insecurity. Resistance may be expressed in sadness, complaining, resentment or stubbornness. It is common to feel anxious, cautious or apathetic. These are all a normal part of the change process.
Confusion: Initial resistance often moves into a stage of confusion. The credibility of decision makers is questioned and there is fear that hasty or unnecessary changes are taking place. Since what is familiar is gone, whatever takes its place feels uncomfortable or confusing. This is a period where frustrations are expressed through repeated questioning, lack of cooperation and poor listening.
Testing: Eventually, as the changes are tested, they become more familiar and comfortable. There is a shift toward acceptance and a willingness to take some risks. There is less focus on the past and more attention is given to what is ahead. Anxiety is reduced, and there is new energy for planning and problem solving.
Recommitment: In the final step of the change process there is willingness to actively pursue the goals of the change and fully implement whatever is needed. Involvement and support that were diminished during the resistance phase are replaced with positive and productive action. There is often a sense of personal satisfaction that the process is complete and the change in place, and desired comfort and security return. In some cases, there even appears a readiness to accept additional changes.
We often think that change occurs at a particular time, like a decision or an event. The focus is on getting to a result or moving from something old to something new. However, it is often more helpful to use the concept of a transition. Successful change occurs when leaders accept responsibility for leading their organization through a process of transition. Transition considers how change is dealt with and makes all the difference in whether the change strengthens or weakens a community. This is the challenge for priests, particularly those leading a parish or similar community: How do I successfully lead people through the transition to the revised missal?
In his book Managing Transitions, William Bridges describes transition as a process of change that begins with acknowledging things that are ending, then moving through an in-between time, and arriving at a new beginning. Each part of the transition process requires intentional actions by the leader. Bridges’s process can be helpful in looking at the steps a parish might go through during the coming year.
In order to accept what is “ending,” parishioners will need to know what is changing and what is not going to change. The role of the leader is to describe what is taking place and present the reasons that have led to the changes in the liturgy. This can be accomplished through a communications plan, which should employ all the usual and contemporary methods used in your parish. People’s trust will be built based on your words and actions. Be careful not to punish resistance but to accept it as a natural response to change.
During the “in-between” time, while people are coming to understand what is occurring, provide as many opportunities as possible for them to ask questions. Listen without judgment to what folks are saying, and express empathy for those having difficulty accepting new wording in prayers or music. Provide materials to help them to feel more in control of the situation, such as study guides or liturgical aides. Parishioners will look to their priest for guidance and support.
In time, parishioners will accept that the liturgy has come to a “new beginning.” When this occurs, remember that not everyone has reached this point simultaneously. While you and your most involved members may have known about the changes for many months, others will likely just be hearing for the first time that things are different. As weeks pass, affirm the assembly as the people make progress learning and using the new responses and prayers.
Of course, while you may be leading others through this transition process, you also will be doing your own preparation since the new missal obviously contains far more new materials for the priest to learn. You, too, will have your own travels through the dynamics of change. It is always best not to move through these processes alone. Creating a transition team for your parish will allow you to share the work of educating and encouraging the parishioners. Likewise, for your own preparation, consider forming a group of priests to work together as you learn and practice using the new translation.
Let us all pray that this time of preparing to use the new English translation of the Roman Missal, Third Edition, will not only teach us useful lessons about change, but also serve as a time of renewal for our parishes and for our Church worldwide. TP
DR. REYNOLDS serves as Chancellor for the Archdiocese of Louisville.
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