It was the first weekend of Advent 2011. Some paged through the crisp new Roman Missals stacked at the end of the pews. Others glanced over the laminated pew cards, wondering if the red responses were their parts or the priest’s.
It has been a year since the Church introduced the new translation of the English Mass and, for the most part, phrases such as “and with your spirit” or “it is right and just” have become second nature.
“This was not the first major change since the initial changes after Vatican II. The introduction of the RCIA program in the 1980s was pretty huge, but it didn’t affect the Mass. The changes that occurred last year to the Mass probably would be the biggest change in the past 25 years,” said Msgr. Richard Hilgartner, the executive director of the USCCB’s Secretariat of Divine Worship.
Beginning in 2007, the priest from the Archdiocese of Baltimore was intimately involved with the translation of the new English text. Once the text was approved and finalized, Msgr. Hilgartner helped lead and facilitate liturgical leaders in developing catechetical resources for the future changes.
“I, along with many others scholars and liturgists, conducted workshops and seminars on the new Missal in dioceses across the United States. My concern at the time was how the change in the text, especially in the various responses and acclamations at Mass, would affect how the faithful would participate,” he said. “However, the preparation was quite effective and the transition has gone more smoothly than we had imagined.”
In St. Louis, Jerry Naunheim agreed that the “new Mass” has been a good thing for the Church.
“I was glad to hear that they were normalizing the translation to more closely match the Latin. The holy Mass is the most important and meaningful prayer in Christian life,” Naunheim said. “My prayer was that this would be the first step in discouraging some of the ad-libbing and other liturgical abuses that were occurring in some parishes.”
In Appleton, Wis., St. Pius X parishioner Joe Tremblay echoed similar sentiments. “I thought this was a major step for the Church in recovering not only better, more accurate, expressions of liturgical prayer, but also a recovery of the expression of Faith itself.”
Tremblay, who blogs at catholic-skyview-tremblay.blogspot.com, added that, in particular, the new penitential rite has demonstrated why we need Christ.
“To emphasize sin in the penitential rite with ‘my most grievous fault’ better emphasizes why we need Christ. As Fulton Sheen said, sin is not the worst thing; it is the denial of sin. The fact is that in the last 50 years, sin has been downplayed in a major way. However, if there is no sin or if sin is not that big of a deal, then Jesus Christ and his redemptive love and sacrifice is not that big of a deal. The bottom line: If we are not deeply conscious of the tragedy of sin, then we cannot be profoundly grateful for the holy Sacrifice of the Mass, hence the decline in Mass attendance.”
Not all the faithful were excited about the changes to the sacred liturgy. Among them was Benedictine monk Father Anthony Ruff. For six years, Father Ruff was part of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy, an agency formed at the Second Vatican Council that works with English-speaking countries to translate liturgical texts. In February 2011, he withdrew his support and participation of the new Missal in an open letter to the U.S. bishops that was published in America magazine.
A year later, Father Ruff, who is an associate professor of theology at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minn., said that the transition among the faithful has been better than expected. “The new texts are a step forward in that they are more serious and dignified,” he told Our Sunday Visitor.
However, he cautioned that from a pastoral perspective, he feels that people are tuning out the new texts due to their “awkward and difficult collects that do not proclaim well.”
A teaching moment
From a publishing standpoint, David Felber, director of the Office of Creative Services at the USCCB, said that the response to the new Roman Missal was fantastic. He noted that, obviously, the official altar editions of the Roman Missal were successful, but equally impressive was the demand for the “Guide to Implementing the Roman Missal, Third Edition” (USCCB, $9.95).
“There are 18,000 parishes across the United States,” said Felber. “We sold 25,000 copies of this parish guide.”
There was a high demand for pew cards, workbooks, a book of essays and DVDs related to the change. Felber said the demand for these products was so high because the changes provided a wonderful teaching moment to deepen Catholics’ understanding of the sacred liturgy. “The life of the Church is rich beyond description, and the liturgical life of the Church is a treasure in particular,” he said.
The bishops’ publishing office had two major goals for the launch of the liturgical changes, Felber said. First, to meet the hard deadline of the Advent 2011 implementation date and, second, to prepare pastors and Church leaders for an easy transition.
“We devoted considerable energy to developing multimedia tools to help promote and implement the new texts,” Felber said. “The issues revolving around the translation revealed an incredible depth and range of questions. These included: ‘What is active participation?’ and ‘Why is more formal language appropriate to the mysteries of salvation?’.”
On the first anniversary of the changes, Msgr. Hilgartner told OSV that the USCCB has received a wide variety of comments, both favorable and unfavorable.
“As time goes on and we get collectively more familiar and comfortable with the new texts, people are generally becoming more appreciative of the texts,” he told OSV. “It will take time and we have to continue to be patient as we work toward the most effective proclamation of the prayers and other texts of the Missal. All in all, we are in a great place so soon after implementation.”
Eddie O’Neill writes from Colorado.