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    Saturday, June 17, 2006

    Changes to the Mass

    I'm sure that y'all have read about the Vatican calling for use of a different English translation of the Mass which was confirmed by vote by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at their biannual meeting. It is the first change to the language of the Mass since Vatican II allowed it to be spoken in translation.

    To be honest, this whole thing really bothers me. Which is weird, as anti-nostalgic as I am, at least intellectually. I want to say, "Why not?" After all, I roll my eyes at the folks who think the Church was ruined by translation from Latin.

    But, as one who grew up Catholic, (and I would imagine this is true in other faiths as well), the language is in my body and has a visceral meaning I can't begin to articulate. The language is both a trigger and itself a site of what profundity I was capable of as a child, beneath it and within it lay the mysteries of my own faith, my relationship with God, and with the Church.

    I recognize fully that this is how the old guard felt when the Mass was translated; I understand that the language has its particular meaning because it was the language I heard repeatedly, at least weekly, through most of my childhood, rather than the meaning resting in the words themselves. If it had been the new translation when I was growing up, I'd probably bristle at a change in the opposite direction.

    All that said, the aesthetic and poetic changes are real. For example:

    The repeated exchanges "The Lord be with you" / "And also with you" between a priest and his congregation, for example, become "The Lord be with you" / "And with your spirit" in the updated version.

    This change isn't of particular concern to me, but the language "update" is clearly a move away from "simple" language into a more literary diction.

    Then there's this:

    The prayer said before Communion would become "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof" instead of "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you."

    I agree with Rebecca Hartong, this is, to me, the most beautiful moment of the Mass. I don't know how many times in my life I have spoken it, thousands, but it still can bring tears to my, now secular, eyes.

    Lord, I am not worthy to receive you. But only say the word and I shall be healed.

    This seems to be perfect in its simplicity. It acknowledges the body in such a different way; it refuses metaphor.

    In a way, I think the changes to the Mass exemplify one of the most serious disconnects between the Catholic Church and modern Western life. I think that those looking for spirituality and/or religion are looking to return to a sort of simplicity they can't find elsewhere. I don't think people are looking for an overly aestheticized church. I don't think the first worlders want high-flown, poetic diction or rich decor. And the Protestants speak to that desire in a way we don't.

    [Although, the two most common conversions in the US are to Catholicism and Judaism. (I wonder if that's not because those are the two religions most likely to ask spouses to convert - after all, if they don't, the marriage won't be recognized by either Church.)]

    It also seems to me that the stability of the Church is one of the major things it has going for it these days. While Protestant churches seem more freeform (correct me if I'm wrong) and their services seem to change, congregation to congregation, the Mass is the same everywhere you go. I personally find that deeply comforting. (Though maybe, since there's so much to know, it could be alienating to potential converts?) Anyway, big changes like this divest the Mass of some of its sort of ingrained power to folks who grew up Catholic (which is a major crop to harvest when looking for money and congregants).

    I don't necessarily think that any of these things are good reasons to keep the Mass as is. And, let's face it, the change is nigh. But I do wonder how this will affect the relationship of many raised-but-not-fully-practicing-Catholics to the Church.


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