On the evening of Nov. 26, 2011, beginning with the Sunday Vigil Mass of the Advent Season, Roman Catholics in the United States of America will fully implement the use of their new Roman Missal.  It is the book that contains the instructions for conducting the celebration of the Mass (also referred to as the Eucharist) and the prayers that are said by both the priests and people throughout the liturgical life of the Church. 

Up until now, Catholics have either read or heard about the new translations arrival through a variety of means, including parish bulletins and newspaper articles, sermons, videos on YouTube, television programs, small group discussions, new music, Web site pages, or workshops by liturgy specialists, to name just a few ways folks have been getting ready for the new book and its new words.

The Mass – as we Roman Catholics know it and love it – is not changing.  However, the words we use will be new translations of the centuries old Latin.  So the familiar setting in which we find ourselves every Sunday, that is, in a pew or sanctuary at our local parish church, will be the same.  And the gestures and postures such as the standing, kneeling, sitting, praying, responding, listening, sign of the cross or sign of peace – all these will remain the same. 

The words that we will use are going to sound a little different.  These new words are the result of nearly a decade of preparation and discussion among our bishops, theologians, language scholars, and translators to help us pray well together by utilizing the full capacity and richness of our English language to move both heart and mind to God.  These new words offer us glimpses into our scriptural heritage, the truths of our faith, and our spiritual connection to our Lord Jesus.  These new words will help us all to pray better.

Both priests and the congregation alike have new words and responses to say.  In our pews, there will be a card or a book that will show all the new words in order to follow along and respond when appropriate.  The priests actually have the biggest adjustments. Yet it will not be too difficult for them either.  Priests will have to pay attention to the new words and the book’s directions and layout, but only a few prayers in the book are used at any given time for a Mass; allowing plenty of time and opportunity to review the prayers of the day beforehand which will help our priests to pray better too.

Human minds become used to routines, so we might easily slip back into our old way of saying things.  That’s fine.  Just move along.  Keep referring to the pew cards or books to help guide the responses.  And when or if we make mistakes, that’s all right.  Time and practice will help us all.

It is exciting to mark this new milestone together in Church history with the new translations of our prayers.  I leave you with these words from the beginning of the Mass and they remind us of St. Paul’s greeting to the followers of Christ: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all – and with your spirit!

The Rev. Mark Knestout is the director of the Office of Worship for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington.

Read more essays by area faith leaders at On Faith/Local.