Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Reminder: Mass changes are coming... this Sunday!

Most people don't really like change. We may say we do, for fear of sounding wimpy or something. But, if we're honest with ourselves, we like comfort and change forces us out of our comfort zone.

This coming Sunday, many Catholics across the U.S. are going to encounter some of the biggest changes to the Mass that have taken place in almost 40 years. Namely, some of the words that we sing/pray during the Mass, will be a little different.Words that we've all become very familiar with.

These changes are very positive. Overall, they'll add a new level of beauty and majesty to the prayers of the Mass we pray and sing each Sunday. The prayers of the Mass are much richer than what you and I have become accustomed to hearing and saying each Sunday. In many ways, the biblical richness of the Mass texts and the exalted and humbling words of the prayers have been stilted and muted in the deficient English translation we've used for the the past four decades. That is all about to change.

The changes will also force us out of our spiritual "comfort zones," because we won't be able to rely on rote memory to sing, for example, the Gloria. No, we'll be forced to look at the words and, in doing so, we might be forced to reconsider the meaning of those words.

Now, I won't get terribly bogged down in the details of what and why these changes have happened, because it's been hashed and rehashed many times all over the internet and information is not hard to find if you're interested and you know how to use Google. I will say that the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has a great website dedicated to this topic, and they have a detailed timeline here which deals with the history behind the changes. I will, though, give you a very brief synopsis.

Basically, here are the important points you need to know about why we are getting a new English translation of the Mass: 

- After Vatican II (the last major Church council, which ended in 1965), the Roman Catholic Church decided to revise the Mass and to allow more of the Mass to be prayed in the vernacular (i.e., local languages; which means English, for us). 

-The new, revised form of the Mass was introduced in Latin (which is always the language of the Catholic Church) in 1969.

-Only a few short years later, in 1973, an official English translation was rushed into service in dioceses of the United States. This is the translation of the Mass that we've used until this year.

-The 1973 translation was accomplished very quickly, using a form of translation which sought to preserve the gist of the text without necessarily translating all of the words. This "gray area" in this old translation was seen to be a problem almost from the start and it is what led us to today's changes.

-The Church decided to get the translation right, this time -- without rushing things. So, translators from the Vatican have worked with English-speaking Catholic bishops and other experts throughout the world for more than a decade to create new, more accurate and more timeless translations of the prayers of the Mass. The completed work is known as The Roman Missal, Third Edition.

-The new translations of the Gloria, the Sanctus and the Memorial Acclamations will begin to be used in many dioceses -- including ours -- on the first Sunday of September, 2011 (i.e. this coming Sunday!).

-The entire new translation (including all of the prayers of the priest and the people) will begin to be used on the First Sunday of Advent (November 27), 2011.

So, this coming Sunday, we'll begin using the new and improved translations of some of the "Ordinaries" of the Mass. The "ordinaries" are the hymns that are sung or said at nearly all Masses. They include the Kyrie ("Lord have mercy..."), the Gloria ("Glory to God..."), the Sanctus ("Holy..."), the Memorial Acclamation (one of three choices in the new Roman Missal) and the Agnus Dei ("Lamb of God..."). The Credo ("I believe...") is also considered an "ordinary" when it is sung or chanted, but we recite it instead at St. John's.

On Sunday, in accordance with the instructions of our bishop, we'll begin using new versions of the Gloria, Sanctus and a new Memorial Acclamation. The rest of the changes (i.e. the entire new translation of the Mass), will be used starting on the First Sunday of Advent.

With the Sanctus, only one word is changing in the new translation (the new version reads "God of hosts" instead of "God of power and might"). But with the Gloria, the changes are much more substantial. The translators in 1973 largely ignored the structure of the Gloria in the original Latin and left some lines of the hymn completely out. So, you'll probably notice more of the changes in that hymn starting this Sunday.

Here are the words of the new translation of the Gloria that we'll introduce on Sunday:

Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth, peace to people of good will.

We praise you,
we bless you,
we adore you, 
we glorify you,
we give you thanks for your great glory,
Lord God, heavenly King,
O God, almighty Father.

Lord Jesus Christ, Only Begotten Son,
Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father,
you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us;
you take away the sins of the world, receive our prayer;
you are seated at the right hand of the Father, have mercy on us.

For you alone are the Holy One,
you alone are the Lord,
you alone are the Most High,
Jesus Christ,
with the Holy Spirit,
in the glory of God the Father.

As I said above, the new translation of the Sanctus hasn't changed much. What will be different for us at St. John's is that we will sing it in English instead of Latin (at least for a while) so that we can all learn the new translation. If you want to hear the new English version of the Sanctus that we'll begin using on Sunday, click here.

The new Memorial Acclamation that we'll use reads: "We proclaim your Death, O Lord, and profess your Resurrection, until you come again." You can listen to the music for this new acclamation here.

What will not change in the new Roman Missal is the translation for the Agnus Dei. The English translation is not changing so there is nothing new for us to learn, so we at St. John's will continue to chant the Agnus Dei in Latin -- in line with desires expressed in the Church's documents on the liturgy since Vatican II.

We're being given a golden opportunity to re-discover the beauty and richness of the Catholic Mass. Our generation will be the first to pray this new translation of the Mass texts which is designed to be relatively timeless and should remain in use for many, many generations to come. It is a humbling realization. And a wonderful excuse to re-immerse ourselves anew in the ancient texts of the Mass.

Gloria in excelsis Deo. Glory to God in the highest!