Old habits die hard. 

More than one month after the new English translation of the Roman Missal took effect, many Catholics during Mass still respond to the priest-celebrant, “And also with you,” rather than, “And with your spirit.” 

Sometimes, the priest finds himself praying the old phrases even while reading from the new Roman Missal. The faithful also still often require the assistance of laminated cards to say the new translations of the Gloria and Nicene Creed. 

Gaining familiarity

Still, Catholics in the United States, for the most part, appear to be accepting of the new translation, and are slowly accustoming themselves to its distinct phrases and rhythms, even if they have to look up the definition of words such as consubstantial. 

“I’m getting the impression that people are beginning to understand some new perspectives as they learn the new words and new phrases. My sense so far is that it has been pretty positive,” said Msgr. Richard Hilgartner, director of the Secretariat for Divine Worship for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. 

Msgr. Hilgartner told Our Sunday Visitor that where priests have taken the time to catechize and preach on the reasons for the new translation, the faithful have taken to the new language, and are rediscovering the richness of the liturgy. 

“I think for now it’s still a matter of gaining familiarity and gaining comfort. Hopefully in the next couple of months, that will lead to people beginning to understand it more and being able to pray it deeply and letting the words speak to their heart,” Msgr. Hilgartner said.

Deeper, more reverent

On Nov. 27, the First Sunday of Advent, Catholics in the English-speaking world — including the United States, Canada, England and Australia — began using a more literal English translation of the original Latin text of the prayers used at Mass. 

new Roman Missal
A woman looks over a guide highlighting the new changes in wording for Mass before a service at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Alexandria, Va., Nov. 27. Many Catholics still need the assistance of guides to say the people’s parts of the Mass. CNS photo by Nancy Phelan Wiechec

Church leaders, as well as many prominent lay ministers and faithful, say the new translation has a certain poetry and majestic quality lacking in the old English translation, and that the new language lends itself to a deeper, more reverent celebration of the Mass. 

“I like the fact that it’s not watered down like the old version was and that it is a more accurate translation like it should be. It should have been like this from the beginning, “ said Bryan Mercier, a lay Catholic evangelist and retreat leader from Milford, Conn., who finds himself concentrating more at Mass. 

“I still make mistakes. I hear everybody make mistakes, too. But each week, I hear more and more people getting the right lines down. The new translation snaps me out of the routine of saying something out of habit. It helps me realize what I’m saying,” Mercier told OSV. 

“I’m still messing up every other Sunday on, ‘And with your spirit.’ Twenty-five years of saying the same thing gets ingrained in you, but I’m glad they finally corrected the awful Latin translation. I feel like thanking the Church for translating it correctly and moving us out of the 1970s,” said Tom Gamull, a data systems engineer from Atlanta, Ga. 

Chance for reflection

Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington D.C., said during a December teleconference with reporters that the new translation provides an opportunity to reflect anew on the sacred mysteries of the Catholic faith. 

“I think sometimes we can be, maybe, just so familiar or so used to, not that we take it for granted but we are just so comfortable with it that it helps to step back and say, ‘What is actually happening?’ 

“And as a way, almost as a side effect of the new translation, all of a sudden we are forced to, as we are saying the prayers, to stop and go very slowly and very reverently so that the mysteries of the now become even more accentuated,” said Cardinal Wuerl, who tied the translation to the ongoing new evangelization within the Church. 

“The introduction of this new translation is tailor-made to helping people get a deeper grasp of their faith so that confident in that faith, they begin to share it,” he said. 

Continuing opposition

However, not everyone within the English-speaking Catholic world sees it that way. The new translation’s critics argue the new language violates the Second Vatican Council’s vision of the faithful praying and worshipping in a simple, clear vernacular and taking an active role in the liturgy. 

“I am left to wonder, ‘What is it all about?’ and whether the changes are significant enough for everyone to have warranted the trouble of conducting them,” said Raymond P. Veary, a Massachusetts state judge and former prosecutor who attends Mass weekly. 

Adding that he has never before heard “consubstantial” in everyday conversation, Veary questions the wisdom of using non-contemporary language to discuss a core Catholic concept such as the divinity of Christ. 

“Our forebears understood that you write with terms that can make a visceral, bodily impression on the readers, and that those impressions will stay with them, where abstract impressions tend to be ephemeral,” said Veary, who added that he still falls into his “old, well-worn ways” of saying the old responses at Mass. 

An association of hundreds of Irish priests called for the new translation to be scrapped. More than 22,000 people, including several priests, endorsed a petition on the website, whatifwejustsaidwait.org, to postpone the new Mass and to call for a grass-roots review of the Roman Missal. 

The petition’s drafters said they believe that “simply imposing (the new translation) on our people — even after a program of preparation — will have an adverse effect on their prayer and cause serious division in our communities.”

Proper language

Father Dan Barron, a priest of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary and the editor of MagnifKid, a weekly worship aid for children, said during the December teleconference that he quickly learned that he had to focus more while celebrating Mass, and that he knew the transition would be “a little messy for a few weeks.” However, Father Barron said he believes the new translation enhances spirituality and reverence because the essence of the sacred is “otherness.” 

“When language becomes popular, I think we lose a sense of who we’re talking to,” Father Barron said, “And with this new translation, I think we’re deepening because the wording isn’t expected, and because there’s a certain elegance and depth to the vocabulary, I think it draws us more into a sense that we’re addressing the Lord.” 

Gamull, who attends Mass at St. Catherine of Siena Church in Kennesaw, Ga., told OSV he had no problem using words like “consubstantial” on Sundays. 

“The language at Mass should always be different than your common language because it’s about God. It’s something sacred and set apart. You wouldn’t go into a confessional and say, ‘OMG, I am sorry for having offended you,’” said Gamull, who credited his pastor and parish’s pastoral team with preparing the congregation for the changes. 

The most effective manner of preparing a smooth transition has been the priest who explains the new translation during his homily, Msgr. Hilgartner said. 

“The places where it has been done effectively, it has not just been a matter of people being ready for new words but having the concept about what we do at Mass,” said Msgr. Hilgartner, adding he hopes that ongoing catechesis and discussion will deepen Catholics’ appreciation for the new translation. 

“When people have an understanding and a sense of the background, of what the goals have been for this, I think it’s helped them to have the motivation to put in the effort to learn more,” he said. 

Brian Fraga writes from Massachusetts.