It is a safe bet that at this point readers of OSV Newsweekly are among the best-informed Catholic Americans regarding the implementation of a new translation of Mass prayers that will be introduced on the First Sunday of Advent, Nov. 27. In this issue you’ll find the fourth in a six-part In Focus series on the changes themselves, what they’re all about, and resources for learning more.
But that puts you in the minority of Catholics in this country, as Melissa A. Cidade, a researcher at Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, writes in an exclusive report for OSV this week (see Page 5). Though the changes were announced a year ago, a full 77 percent of American Catholics say they’ve still heard nothing about it. Among weekly Massgoers, the number improves dramatically, but even 43 percent of them say they’re unaware.
Maybe, as some argue, this isn’t all that shocking or worrisome. After all, theses changes are really fairly minor, though they will take some getting used to. But they are nothing like the major changes American Catholics had to accommodate after the Second Vatican Council: a switch from Latin to English, relocated altars in church sanctuaries, and an emphasis on responsibilities of the laity.
Preparing Catholics for the 1970 changes was notoriously poor. This time around, we’ve had plenty of advance notice, and Catholic publishers have produced a plethora of resource materials. Expectations were high.
And yet, as our statistics show, many parishes have not yet begun to use this opportunity and prepare their people.
In some ways, that’s understandable. Amid the current economic hardship, tweaking the words of our Mass prayers may seem a low priority. Many parish staffs are stretched thin, barely able to manage the basics of parish administration and sacramental preparation and ministry. Many parishioners are preoccupied with employment or financial anxieties.
It may well be that even with little catechesis or preparation, the transition will take place without major trauma to Catholics in the pew.
But an enormous opportunity will have been missed to address a critical need in the Church.
For Catholics, the Mass is, in the words of the Second Vatican Council, “the source and summit of the Christian life.” And yet a paltry 22 percent of Catholics in the United States attend Mass weekly. Of equal concern is the likelihood that finding a Mass to attend is going to be an increasing challenge in many parts of the country. Over the next 25 years, it is projected that there will be a 35 percent decline in the number of priests in active ministry, even as the Catholic population continues to grow.
Recovering a sense of the importance and centrality of the Eucharist should be a top priority for all Catholics, and a main concern for parish leaders and catechists. Authentic Church renewal takes place through a continual return to the sources of its life, of which the Eucharist is the most basic.
That understanding has motivated some local churches, like the Archdiocese of New York, to proclaim this a Year of the Mass, combining preparation for the prayer wording changes with more basic catechesis on what the Mass is really all about.
Even at this late stage, just three months from the start of Advent, there is time for parishes and individual Catholics to seize the opportunity to renew their love for the greatest treasure given to the Church by Jesus Christ.
Editorial Board: Greg Erlandson, publisher; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; John Norton, editor; Sarah Hayes, presentation editor.