Today is not just the First Sunday of Advent. Today also marks the first day that the new Roman Missal will be used in Catholic Mass. For months, I have been anticipating these changes, learning about them, and debating them with friends and fellow Catholics. Many welcome what is inarguably a more accurate translation of the original Latin. I respect this position. For older Catholics, Catholics who have studied theology, and Catholics who regularly attend Mass, these changes may not seem problematic at all- to some, they may be easy to comprehend and memorize. Nevertheless, we must remember that not all Catholics fit in to those categories. For those who are new to Catholicism, those who may not speak English as a first language, and children, these changes can be problematic.
When one has been a Catholic for his or her entire life, it is sometimes easy to forget that Catholic dogmas can be hard to explain and difficult to understand. The Trinity is a tough concept to learn as it is. “Consubstantial with the Father” is less clear than “one in being with the Father.” As a divinity student, I know what consubstantial means. But back when I was a nine year old altar server, I didn’t. The nine-year-old child in the pews today is no less important than the twenty-two year old graduate student. The mass is for her as much as its for me, and for the entire people of God. In much the same way, “Lord I am not worthy to receive you” is clearer than “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof.” The latter may more closely resemble the original Latin, but it is also clearly a metaphor to describe the sentiment expressed in the former. As a child who went to Mass almost every Sunday, I was able to understand “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you” but “I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof” probably would have thrown me for a loop.
The same can be said for the response “and also with your spirit.” This is not natural, it is not the way we speak. “And also with you” is much clearer.
One may argue that the words we say at Mass should not resemble the way we talk in our ordinary life. However, we must remember that Jesus spoke to His disciples in their own language in terms that they would most readily understand. He spoke in parables that were relevant to that time and culture. The Gospels were written with specific audiences in mind, composed in such a way as to appeal to those particular groups of people. In 2011, following Jesus to call to preach the Good News to all people is no less important. Our main concern should be that people truly understand what is happening at Mass. The best way to ensure is this is to use language is that most accessible to today’s churchgoers.
Finally, I like to think of the Catholic Church as open to all. Sometimes people fall away from the Church for a while. Sometimes people do not go to Mass for many years for whatever reason. Yet, many times God calls these people to go back to Church. I would like to think that when “returning home,” these Catholics will find the Church to be as welcoming as possible. Yet, I fear that Catholics returning to Mass after a long absence will only feel more isolated when they find that they are saying the wrong responses.
While I must admit that I will be missing Mass this evening since I am currently on a bus back to school after Thanksgiving break, I plan on going to Mass next Sunday. I may disagree with the changes made to the Roman Missal, but they certainly will not make me want to leave the Church. Regardless of the responses used, God will be present. I will be receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus. Nevertheless, I will wish that the Church did not implement these changes so quickly. Especially today, in a time where many young Catholics are inarticulate about their faith, our concern should be making sure parishioners of all ages know what they believe. The main priority of the Church should be to make Catholics feel welcome in the pews on Sunday and increase ordinary Catholic’s knowledge of their faith tradition. At a time when there are kids in Confirmation class who do not even know whether Jesus or not Jesus is the Son of God, and who cannot pronounce the names of some of the most significant biblical figures, changing the Roman Missal should be low on the Church’s list of concerns.
Also, if accuracy is a concern, where’s the gender inclusive language to show that God is transcendent, beyond the categories of male and female? Because even with the translations, God still sounds like a man. But that’s for another post, another time……