November 27 was a historic Sunday for English-speaking Roman Catholics, who began using a long-awaited and more accurate Mass translation. The change, however, involved its share of awkward moments.
“I think everybody experienced some awkwardness or stumbling,” said Father Daniel Merz, associate director of the U.S. bishops' Secretariat for Divine Worship, noting a common thread in the reactions he received from across the country.
But those who “had either received some catechesis” in advance, “or had catechized themselves and were prepared for it, seem to have had a fairly positive reaction to the changes,” he told EWTN News on Nov. 28.
Many priests, he said, were trying to take the learning process “with a good sense of humor,” while encouraging parishioners to deepen their understanding and appreciation of worship through the newly-rendered prayers.
“We're all going to be learning our way and stumbling for a little bit here, and that's okay,” Fr. Merz said.
He expects the learning process will take “a couple of months” for those who attend Mass only on Sundays. Meanwhile, priests and daily Mass attendees may learn new habits – like giving the response “and with your spirit,” or confessing their “most grievous fault” in the penitential rite – more quickly.
“After Christmas, or by Lent hopefully, we'll be in very good shape,” Fr. Merz predicted.
During the run-up to the translation's debut, the U.S. bishops' conference hailed it as a chance for Catholics “to deepen, nurture, and celebrate our faith through the renewal of our worship and the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy.”
But even Chicago's Cardinal Archbishop Francis E. George, past president of the conference, admitted that he “tripped up a couple of times,” due to the persistence of old liturgical habits. “I found myself reverting back, and therefore I was a little bit upset at myself,” Cardinal George said in a Nov. 27 homily, according to the Chicago Tribune. Many in the pews had a similar experience, even with the assistance of handouts spelling out the changes. Even Fr. Merz acknowledged being caught off guard by one major change. “The most noticeable and common change is from 'And also with you,' to 'And with your spirit,'” said the liturgical director, who has been “gearing up for this (new translation) for a long time.”
“When I participated in Sunday Mass as a concelebrant, I gave that response back. But it's a whole different feel. So it's going to take a little getting used to.” “I'm happy with that change – but nevertheless, it's a change. It'll take some adjustment.” Many companies and publishers, he noted, have produced materials explaining the changes that bring the English-language Mass more closely into line with the original Latin text. Fr. Merz also welcomes feedback on the translation, even from those who might be feeling surprise or confusion.
“The response I've been giving is, if there are specific things that you didn't understand or that disappointed you, let us know,” said the associate director for worship. “We can work together to try and come to a better understanding.” While it is not yet familiar, the new translation offers much to appreciate.
“People have said that they really appreciate the greater fidelity that the new prayers embody, and they like the more formal or 'higher' tone that it carries across. There is a sense of reverence and poetry there.”
Fr. Merz indicated that the learning process itself can be an opportunity to find out more about the faith, and grow closer to God.
“Whenever I've given workshops, it's not just been 'Here are the changes,' but 'Here are the reasons behind the changes, and here's some additional information about the meaning of this place in the Mass.'”
Several priests have told him that they intend to spent more time preaching about the meaning of Catholic worship, as a participation in Christ's death and resurrection. “It's an incredible opportunity to do that,” he pointed out. “And I think that will make a big difference for people.”
Fr. Merz said the new translation also shows the continuity of Catholic tradition before and after the Second Vatican Council. “Chuch historians have often said that it takes close to a century to fully implement an ecumenical council,” he noted. “As time goes on, we're starting to understand the Second Vatican Council more fully.”The norms guiding the translation were spelled out in the 2001 Vatican document “Liturgiam Authenticam,” which was itself inspired by the council's decree on the liturgy, “Sacrosanctum Concilium.”
“The real vision of Vatican II, for us today, is a deepening and 'interiorizing' of our experience of liturgy,” Fr. Merz reflected.
He described the new translation as one part of the larger effort to “really deepen our interior engagement in the liturgy, and our interior participation,” in keeping with the council's intentions.
The improved translation, he expects, will draw some estranged Catholics back to the Church.
“If there are people who were disappointed, or felt discouraged, that the translation before was less faithful, I think they have been encouraged to come back with this new translation,” he said.