Roman Missal revision readiness plan

Thirteen weeks and counting. That’s how long Catholics in America have until the new translation of the Roman Missal, Third Edition, makes its first appearance at Sunday Mass. Unfortunately, as of Aug. 1, only a mere 23 percent of Catholics have even heard of the pending changes (see story Page 5). Which means that if the Church (and individual Catholics) want to adequately prepare themselves and the souls in their care for the new words they’ll be praying come Nov. 27, a whole lot of work needs doing over the next few months. 

Where, however, do we start? What should we do and not do? What are the best (and most important) ways to prepare ourselves and others for this long-awaited, oft-debated and, ultimately, much-needed new translation of the Roman Missal — the 1,500-page tome promulgated by Pope John Paul II in 2000 that includes all the prayers and responses for Sunday and weekday Masses, as well as feasts, sacramental celebrations, funerals and more? 

Recently, Our Sunday Visitor put those questions to four men who are helping their dioceses and lay Catholics throughout the United States do just that: Father Rick Hilgartner, executive director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Divine Worship; Father Randy Stice, director of Worship and Liturgy for the Diocese of Knoxville, Tenn.; Father Jim Gretz, director of the Department for Worship in the Diocese of Pittsburgh; and English and classics scholar Anthony Esolen, who has spent the past year writing 87,000 words worth of commentary on the new translation for Magnificat. 

Based upon their advice, OSV has compiled two guides — one for laypeople, another for Church leaders — on seven of the most important steps Catholics can take to ready themselves and their parishes for the liturgical D-Day of Nov. 27. And with only 91 days left before the new translation goes into effect, it’s time everyone got stepping.

Emily Stimpson is an OSV contributing editor.

Preparing Yourself:

The Layperson’s Guide to Preparing for the New Translation of the Roman Missal 

1. Take the initiative  

Whether or not your parish has started talking yet (or talking much) about what’s coming down the pike this Advent, all Catholic men and women are well-advised to do a little research and reading on their own about the new translation.

“Catholics need to avail themselves of the resources that are out there,” Father Hilgartner said. “There are many materials they can access on their own that don’t have to come through the parish.”

That is something of an understatement. Resources tailor-made for helping lay Catholics understand the how, what and why of the new translation abound. There are videos, websites, books, folding diagrams and more, all available for the asking from the U.S. bishops, diocesan offices and most Catholic publishing companies, and you don’t have to be a liturgist or Latin scholar to make sense of most.

“Just start reading,” Father Gretz advised. “The more you read the more you’ll want and need to read.” 

2. Be a joiner 

If your parish or diocese already does have informational programming about the new translation under way (or when it does), do take advantage of the opportunity. Go. Show up. And take family and friends along with you. 

“For people who are nervous or apprehensive about the changes, talking with other people who have the same feelings can be helpful,” Father Hilgartner said. 

So can hearing explanations from people who have studied the changes in depth and come to understand the wisdom behind them. 

“These meetings offer people an opportunity to see the facts,” Father Gretz said. “They also offer increased exposure and the opportunity to pray through some of the prayers right now with other people. Seeing and doing that relieves much of the apprehension.” 

Even, however, for those who are as giddy as schoolgirls about the changes and who have been busying themselves doing research on their own, the group sessions can still be helpful. 

“As people ask questions, one person will often ask a question that another person never thought of,” Father Hilgartner said. “It becomes an opportunity to learn about things that people didn’t even know were up for discussion.” 

Lastly, he pointed out, “The liturgy is a communal act, so it makes sense that our understanding of the liturgy can be enriched by learning about it in a communal environment.”

3. Start using the new translation now 

OK, lay Catholics can’t exactly say the Mass on their own, let alone say the Mass using the new English translation of the Roman Missal. Nor can priests for that matter. That has to wait for Nov. 27, the first Sunday of Advent. 

But that doesn’t mean Catholics can’t start praying the Nicene Creed or the Gloria according to the new translation in their own private prayers. Nor does it mean they can’t, as a family, read passages from the Mass aloud and talk about them, essentially turning the prayers into a catechetical lesson for themselves and their children. 

“The better people know and understand the text, the more fully they can enter into the mystery,” Father Stice said. “And one of the best ways they can do that is by becoming familiar with the text in a meaningful way.”

4. Take a second look at the familiar 

If there’s any experience all Catholics share, it’s the Mass: It’s the one thing every Catholic does (or is supposed to do) every Sunday. Accordingly, for the vast majority of churchgoing Catholics, the Mass is, if anything, familiar. But there can be such a thing as too familiar. A person can become so used to a thing that they stop seeing it or assume they know all there is to know about it. 

That is why, said Father Stice, the pending introduction of some unfamiliar words into the familiar liturgy, “is a good opportunity to look again at what is happening when we celebrate the Mass.” 

To help Catholics take that second look, there are newly released books such as “The Mass: The Glory, the Mystery, the Tradition” (Doubleday, $21.99) by Cardinal Donald Wuerl and Mike Aquilina, as well as easy-to-use guides such as Our Sunday Visitor’s laminated pew card on the revised order of the Mass. 

There also are the writings of the Church Fathers — homilies and reflections on the Sacred Liturgy that give a mystagogical catechesis on the Mass — a catechesis that, as Father Stice said, “goes beyond why we say this word or why we’ve changed that word,” to reveal the spiritual depths of what’s taking place every time the Holy Mass is offered. 

Father Hilgartner thinks this second look at the Mass can help people put the coming changes in perspective. 

“When we more fully see how we engage and encounter Christ, when we see the bigger picture, we can see how timeless the Mass is and that this one shift in this one moment isn’t changing the substance of that at all,” he explained.

5. Do a little lectio divina 

Lectio divina, the practice of prayerfully reading over and meditating upon the words of Scripture, is an ancient Catholic tradition, and one recommended by the wisest of spiritual directors. It’s also a practice that can be applied to reading the Roman Missal. 

“People should not just look at the texts of the new translation, but rather look at them prayerfully,” Father Stice said. “The prayers aren’t addressed to the congregation. They’re addressed to God. So it will serve people well to carefully reflect upon what those prayers are saying.” 

To aid them in that reflection, Father Stice recommended comparing the words of the current translation to the words of the new translation. 

He explained, “Spend time reading through them quietly, paying attention to what they say and how they’re different. Then reflect upon those differences. Think about what more is being said or the different meanings conveyed.”

6. Pull out a concordance 

Or better yet, visit There, you can download an annotated version of the Order of the Mass in the new translation. In this version, every single reference, quote or paraphrase of Scripture is duly footnoted and quoted fully at the end of the text. And as it so happens, there are quite a few footnotes. 

That, Father Stice said, is one of the best aspects of the new translation — how much more evident the scriptural roots of the Mass are in it. With greater attention given to accuracy in the translation, metaphors, allusions and exact quotes drawn straight from the Bible are now present on nearly every page. 

That matters, he continued, “because from the Scriptures, the prayers of the Mass draw inspiration and force. As Vatican II told us, Christ is present in the Mass not just through the Eucharist, but also through the Scriptures. When Scripture is proclaimed, Christ himself is speaking. A faithful translation of scriptural references makes that presence all the clearer and more powerful.” 

The annotated version available online or a biblical concordance aren’t necessary, however, for coming to a deeper appreciation of the more scriptural nature of the new translation. 

As Esolen explained, “Whenever someone hears a phrase in the Mass he’s never heard before, he should ask himself, ‘Does this echo the Word of God? Is this in any way scriptural?’ Much of the time, the answer will be ‘yes.’ The more we go back to Scripture whenever we encounter the unfamiliar, the more alive we’ll become to how deeply scriptural this new translation is.”

7. Be open 

Last but not least, lay Catholics can prepare themselves for the new translation by cultivating the right attitude toward the changes to the Mass. 

“When we face change, it’s normal to resist,” Father Hilgartner said. “The familiar is comfortable because it’s familiar. But we can’t resist the possibility of discovering something wonderful because we don’t like change. 

“Catholics need to approach this with a sense of openness and trust,” he concluded. “This isn’t about one person or one agenda. This is the collective wisdom of the Church at work, and we need to trust in that.” 

Preparing Parishes:

The Priests’, Catechists’ and Parish Leaders’ Guide to Preparing the Faithful for the New Translation of the Roman Missal 

Father Stice
Father Hilgartner
Father Gretz

1. Be an expert 

Right now, most people have questions about the whats and the whys behind the new translation. Lots of questions. Priests, catechists and other parish workers and volunteers must be ready to answer those questions. Which means if they haven’t already done so, they need to hit the books. 

“The more time leaders spend studying, learning, reflecting and praying through the texts themselves, the more confident they’ll be in their answers,” Father Hilgartner said. “It’s important to be a step ahead of the game so that as people ask questions, they’ll have the ability to answer them.”

2. Watch your attitude 

In preparing Catholics for the new translation of the Missal, as in all things, attitude matters. It colors and shapes not just the work of preparation, but also the fruit of preparation — how open and accepting of the new translation people will be. 

“Most laity will take their cue from their priests,” Father Stice said. “If Father is positive, most will be positive. If Father is negative, many parishioners will become negative as well. That’s why it’s so important to be positive.” 

3. Be precise 

Confusion breeds concerns. So don’t let parishioners become confused about what is and isn’t happening come Nov. 27. 

“We need to clearly communicate that this isn’t a new Mass, it’s a new translation of a new Missal,” Father Stice said. “The gestures are the same. The posture is the same. What’s happening at the altar is the same. None of that is changing. Knowing that puts a lot of fears to rest.” 

4. Contextualize 

Just as a lack of precision creates concerns, so does a lack of context. That’s why, when it comes to liturgy, seeing “the big picture” helps people understand that the coming changes are a lot more natural and a lot less earth-shattering that they might otherwise appear. 

Accordingly, said Father Hilgartner, parishes should make an effort to give parishioners a sense of that big picture. 

“The Latin rite, as we know it, has evolved over centuries,” he explained. “It’s always adapting itself, in big ways and small ways, to the needs and signs of the time. This is just one moment in that very natural process. It is a big deal, but it’s not that big of a deal. So don’t blow the changes out of proportion. Give a little history and put them in context.” 

5. Take a sacramental approach 

In the Mass, gestures are never just gestures and words are never just words. Both communicate spiritual realities. The more priests and catechists use this time of preparation to help Catholics understand that, the more sense the need for the new translation will make. 

“We have to do mystagogical catechesis,” Father Stice said. “We have to show people that in the Mass the symbol isn’t just a sign that points to something else. Rather, it contains the reality signified. We’re making spiritual realities present through the words and liturgical actions of the Mass. That’s why the most precise translation is really important — because the words effect and contain the realities they convey.” 

6. Personalize 

Like people, no two parishes are exactly the same. As such, it’s generally a good idea for parishes to use the preparation plans laid out by diocesan Offices of Worship as the foundation for specific plans, but then build upon them to meet the unique needs of their individual community. 

“The needs of an inner-city urban parish are different from those of a large suburban parish or a rural parish,” Father Gretz said. “There is no one-size-fits-all plan, so parish staff should sit down and talk about what, in addition to whatever their diocese might be asking them to do, will best meet the needs of their parish.” 

7. Practice patience 

Transitions take time. In the vast majority of parishes, there will be glitches and snags, questions and confusion both in the pews and in the sanctuary, long after Nov. 27 comes and goes. 

And that, said Father Gretz, is OK. 

“Patience is really critical,” he said, “In my ivory tower, Nov. 27 is going to be a wonderful day. But in reality, it’s going to be messy. Depending on the community, it’s could be messy for a good six months to a year. Priests and parish leaders need to remember that and know that, in the end, it’s all going to work out just fine.”

Vision: “This time is a unique opportunity that’s been given to us by the Church to catechize people anew on the treasures of the Mass. Even more important, we’ve been blessed with a translation that really emphasizes the beauty and grandeur of the Sacred Liturgy, and which uses more biblically-based language. Together, the two can’t help but lead us to a deeper appreciation and awareness of the mysteries being celebrated.” 

Jim Gontis, director of religious education, Diocese of Harrisburg.  

Goal: “I think a lot of people imagine this is going to be a lot more difficult than it is, or that the changes are more dramatic than they are. Once they see them, however, they’ve been accepting them right away and seeing the value in them. As such, we want to give as thorough and uniform of an exposure as possible to everyone in the diocese.” 

Father Joshua Brommer, administrative assistant to the Bishop and Liturgy Coordinator, Office of Liturgy, Worship and Prayer. 

The plan:  

  • “Holy Words for Holy People” — a series of talks given around the diocese throughout July, August and September that introduce people to the coming changes and address any questions they might have. 

  • Six weeks of pre-Mass catechesis, beginning in October and running through November, that focuses on the primary changes to the people’s parts in the new translation. 

  • A series of bulletin inserts and homilies throughout the fall that cover the changes in-depth. 

  • A six-week age-appropriate curriculum for all Catholic school children and parish religious education students in grades 2-12 that covers the nature of the Mass, the Introductory Rites, the Creed, the Offertory prayers and Sanctus, the Eucharistic prayers and the Communion Rite. 

  • A series of diocesan newspaper articles on the changes.  

The resources: 

Bulletin inserts, homily notes, articles and religious education curriculum, all written and produced in-house by the staff of the Diocese of Harrisburg and, in large part, available on the diocesan website,


Vision and goal:

“Like all parishes in the diocese, we’re taking part in a diocesanwide plan that’s rooted in prayer, systematically introduces people to the changes in such a way that the transition is smooth and continues until Pentecost 2012.” 

Msgr. Gerald Calovini, Holy Family Catholic Church, Steubenville, Ohio 

The plan:  

  • Daily prayers on the part of parishioners for a smooth transition and openness to the changes. 

  • Two Masses said during the summer and fall for the intention of the transition process.   

  • Evening sessions in October and November that discuss the changes with parishioners and answer questions. 

  • Nineteen 5-10 minute, pre-Mass catechetical talks and practice sessions that began in June and will continue until May 27, 2012 (Pentecost Sunday) on topics that include: the nature of the Mass; the reasons behind various postures and gestures; the role of words and symbols in the Mass; an overview on the parts of the Mass; the nature of and changes to the Introductory Rites, Penitential Act, Liturgy of the Word, the Creed, Liturgy of the Eucharist, Mystery of Faith, Communion Rites, Concluding Rites and Gloria; liturgical seasons; the relationship between liturgy and life; the sacred liturgy as the sacrifice of Christ; the Paschal Mystery; and the role of the Holy Spirit in the liturgy. 
  • Presentation notes provided by the diocesan Office of Worship. 

  • Publications authored by various publishers, including the USCCB. 

  • Music resources from the International Commission on English in the Liturgy and Oregon Catholic Press.


Vision and goal: “We want everyone to know that exciting changes are happening and use this time of preparation to get our shovels out, dig deep into the translation and start mining it for the rich treasures it contains, treasures which connect us to the source of our faith and appreciate it afresh.”

Dominican Father Michael Hurley, St. Dominic Catholic Church, Benicia, Calif.

The plan: 

  • A 20-week cycle of bulletin inserts, which explain the coming changes line by line, beginning in July and running through November. 
  • A series of evening lectures hosted in September and October, which explain the changes and the reasons behind them in depth, and which also answer any questions parishioners might have. 
  • Sacramental prep and Sunday homilies in October and November that focus on the meaning and purpose of the Sacred Liturgy and address the new translation. 
  • The gradual introduction in November of new musical settings, composed by parish musicians, for the Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus and more. 

The resources: 

  • Bulletin inserts written by Dominican Father Allen Moran, a priest of the Province of St. Joseph. 
  • The Magnificat companion to the new translation, written by Anthony Esolen.