Catholic Mass changes don’t upset faithful

November 27, 2011

Ask any Catholic, or better yet, just greet her with “The Lord be with you.” Nine times out of 10, the memorized, instinctive response is: “And also with you.”

As of Sunday, that answer is wrong. The new response, “And with your spirit,” is not so different, but it also is not on the tip of the tongue, not embedded in the DNA of Mass-going, not so automatic that you can mutter it while fighting the urge to nap or suffering through caffeine deprivation or giving misbehaving kids the hairy eyeball.

Undoing that auto-response is partly the point, the church says, as a new English translation of the Latin liturgy goes into effect. The language of the Mass in English strayed too far from the Latin original, the Vatican determined in 2001 when Pope John Paul II ordered revisions to bring the languages into closer synchronization.

The result is that prayers learned and memorized in school, such as the Nicene Creed, the Apostles’ Creed, the Penitential Act, the Gloria, are now different enough to cause the congregation to stumble, hesitate and stutter, as some parishioners did through the 10 a.m. Mass on Sunday at St. Augustine Catholic Church in the District. It was a scene repeated in Catholic churches around the English-speaking world, as churchgoers tried to get in step with the long-planned change, just in time for the first Sunday of Advent.

“I was grateful for the paper!” said Sandra Glover, a St. Augustine parishioner, turning to the photocopied pew card that served as a cheat sheet. Parishioners received a laminated version of the new language, along with several booklets explaining the liturgy changes, when Mass ended.

“Back in the ’60s we did this, when we went from the Latin Mass,” said her friend Karen Shaw. “You get used to it. It’s really not that profound a change.”

Shaw is right; this is the biggest change since Vatican II, when the Catholic Church moved from holding its services in Latin to the vernacular language of each parish — hence, the Spanish, Polish, Vietnamese and Korean Masses that now can be found in most urban archdioceses.

But while those changes brought the congregation closer to the Catholic Church, the English translation of liturgy strayed too far, church officials said. Given that more than 1 billion Catholics attend English-language Mass, the revision is significant.

For example, when the priest says, “Let us proclaim the mystery of faith,” a typical response is “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” The new translation of the response is: “We proclaim your Death, O Lord, and profess your Resurrection until you come again.”

The U.S. Conference of Bishops explained such changes in commentary about the old and new language.

“This line, although powerful, is not found in the Latin,” the bishops wrote. “In addition, unlike the other acclamations, it does not directly address Christ made present in the Blessed Sacrament, nor does it speak of our relationship with Him.”

The Rev. Patrick Smith — the pastor of St. Augustine, which a group of emancipated black Catholics founded in 1858 — advised congregation members Sunday to use the opportunity to deepen their faith by thinking about what the language really means.

In the back rows, a mother bent over the pew card with her elementary-school-aged daughter and son, pointing out the new language. The children passed the card back and forth, studying the boldfaced changes. They were more enthusiastic about singing.

On the church steps after the service, several departing parishioners said the changes didn’t particularly bother or excite them. Glover said she wasn’t worried about the faithful adapting.

“I don’t think it’s going to be an issue,” she said. “But I’m going to have to look up one of those words, what was it?”

“Consubstantial,” Shaw answered.

The word replaced the term “one in being.” Consubstantial is more accurate, church authorities say. It means of the same substance.

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