Thinking I had to steel myself for the changes looming for the first Sunday of Advent was God’s joke on me, because the priest who presided over the Saturday evening Mass I just attended for the feast of Christ the King decided to go with the new translation one week early.
Glossy brochures in the pews clued us in with the new prayers and responses. Or perhaps I should say old prayers and responses. Certain words gave me flashbacks to my childhood: my First Communion class was one of the last years to receive the Eucharist in Latin. “Corpus Christi,” the priest said as he planted the Host on our waiting tongues, which my children now think of as a city in Texas. For a few moments during Mass tonight, the language made me feel like I was back in the Sixties. I could almost feel the bit of lace on my head, almost sense my mother’s frown at my faintest fidget. Nostalgia tinged my dismay.
I had read about the changes that were coming, of course, but when you actually have to say them, man, what a mouthful! ‘Consubstantial’, ‘incarnate of’, and the odd image of God entering ‘under my roof’. Much as I dislike the awkwardness of the new Missal, changing it up made me ponder and see in a new light the responses I have been saying by rote all my adult life. What was I actually saying I believed? What is the true intent of a certain phrase? The discomfort of no longer having the Mass memorized was an invitation to rediscovery.
In the weeks and months ahead, we’re going to be writing about, complaining about, thinking about, arguing about, and praying about the re-translated Mass. I fear it will have the effect of showing a whole new generation the door, as younger Catholics search for relevant worship that connects them rather than distances them from experiencing God, for liturgy that speaks to them. But it also occurs to me that big weird words are the least of our problems as Church. When we go along with political theories that posit that we are emphatically not our brother’s and sister’s keeper, or denounce the principles of Catholic social justice as socialism, or lobby for unjust laws that discriminate against our fellow human beings, or continue to churn with the scandal of sexual abuse of minors, maybe the language of the rituals inside our parishes is a small issue. Maybe squabbling about the words we are now using is not the battle that most needs choosing. And just maybe, the message of Eucharistic love transcends our feeble constructs.