Catholics facing changes in liturgy

  • Article by: ROSE FRENCH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 22, 2011 - 1:39 PM

After nearly 40 years, Catholics brace themselves for a new translation of the mass that sticks closer to the original Latin.

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Tom Leier, Minneapolis, prayed during mass at St. Olaf's Catholic Church on Wednesday afternoon. Leier said of the change to the new translation of the Roman Missal, "It's going to be hard to learn, but hopefully the priests will be patient with us."

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Catholics are preparing for the most significant changes to the mass in decades -- a new translation that returns the worship ceremony closer to the original Latin.

The latest version of the Roman missal is welcomed by those who like the language that recalls the days when the entire mass was celebrated in Latin. But it also has sparked criticism among Catholics who argue the more literal translation has left some passages incoherent or awkward sounding.

"It doesn't flow off the tongue," said Karen Fitzpatrick, who attends Guardian Angels church in Oakdale. "It sounds like a language we would only use in church. I don't think it does anything for, especially, our younger people other than make it more distant and confusing."

For more than a year, anxious Minnesota priests and parishioners have been readying themselves for the rollout of the missal, which goes into effect Nov. 27. Much of the wording in the mass has changed, leaving Catholics no choice but to learn a new worship service many previously could recite by heart. While some have found a few changes to be more poetic and lyrical, others think the translation will turn people off.

In the new translation's Nicene Creed, for example, the phrase "one in Being with the Father" will change to "consubstantial with the Father." Another change has congregants saying, "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of hosts" instead of "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of power and might."

"The language doesn't always translate well into English, as people are used to hearing and praying it," said David Haas, a member of St. Cecilia church in St. Paul and director of the Emmaus Center for Music, Prayer and Ministry in Eagan.

"I don't think we should be speaking in public prayer the same way we speak when we're having pizza together. At the same time, the language needs to have a simplicity and a sense of accessibility and ... comprehension. I believe the translation at times is not easily comprehensible or accessible."

'Change is jarring'

As the deadline nears, priests across the state and the country are speaking about the new translation from the pulpit and handing out pamphlets to help parishioners learn the changes.

With one of the biggest Catholic congregations in the Twin Cities, about 3,100 households, Pax Christi church in Eden Prairie started more than a year ago to develop a series of videos outlining the changes to help parishioners make the transition. Vicki Klima, director of leadership development, said the church divided the mass into 25 parts, produced short videos about the changes for each part, and started showing them in May.

"We wanted people to understand the changes and not be scared of them," Klima said. "It's a big deal because we consider the mass to be the central thing we do. Different isn't necessarily better, and it isn't necessarily worse. It'll be jarring for a while because change is jarring."

Klima says she's traveled the Twin Cities archdiocese giving talks to parishes about the new translation and finds Catholics both skeptical and supportive. The most receptive people are old enough to have attended mass when it was celebrated in Latin and "like the fact that we're going to be closer to the Latin."

Latin masses were dropped in favor of local languages after the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, a move meant to modernize the church and increase participation from worshippers. A missal translated for English speakers was produced in 1973, though that version was deemed temporary. The new translation comes out of a Vatican directive issued almost a decade ago, which required that translations be closer to the original Latin.

Catholic leaders and scholars don't see the new translation as having the same impact as the sweeping changes that followed Vatican II. Many Catholics then were upset to see the church drop Latin in favor of local languages and swing the altar around so the priest faced the congregation.

But the new changes have sparked fierce debate among the nation's nearly 77 million Catholics, many of whom want reassurances that the reforms of Vatican II will remain.

The Rev. Jan Michael Joncas, associate professor of Catholic studies at St. Thomas University in St. Paul, has written about the new translation and traveled across the country to talk about the changes.

"The pastor in me says we are receiving these texts from the church, and our task is to learn how to pray them ourselves as priests and then how to help our people pray them," Joncas said.

But as a scholar, Joncas believes the new translation is problematic. Not only are some passages awkward and stilted, but sentences are meandering and the phrasing is not always clear.

For example, just before communion, congregants say, "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed." But under the new translation, it's "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be haled."

"It's closer to the underlying Latin but also makes a reference ... of a scriptural story where a Roman centurion tells Jesus, 'I'm not worthy to have you come under the roof of my house,'" Joncas said. "If you don't know that scripture passage ... and if you think the roof here doesn't mean the reference to the centurion and the roof of his home, but rather the roof of your mouth because you're going to be receiving a communion wafer, that can be a real mess."

'It will take getting used to'

Chris Kosowski, coordinator of liturgy at St. Frances Cabrini church in Minneapolis, said the translation changes have been explained in church bulletins, but some parishioners are still not looking forward to the change.

While Kosowski finds some of the translation befuddling, she thinks other passages are an improvement. She points to the one when the priest offers the blessing, "Lord be with you," and parishioners respond, "And also with you." Under the new translation, the response will be "And with your spirit."

"I think that's a lovely and poetic way to say it," she said. "It will take some getting used to for people. When we've been doing something for decades, it will be quite an adjustment to read responses and not have them come from deep in our hearts."

Rose French • 612-673-4352

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