Editor’s Note: On Nov. 27, the first Sunday of Advent, the new English translation of the Roman Missal will be implemented in all Catholic parishes in the United States. Here we present part 4 of a five-part series about the new translation–and the reasons behind it. You can read part 3 here. Part 5 will appear next Thursday.
Catechesis, Catechesis, Catechesis
Widespread failure to correctly understand and implement the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council has produced a decades-long liturgical crisis in the Catholic Church, leaving the true aims of the Council fathers largely unrealized to date. However, during this dark and turbulent period for the Church, scattered glimmers of light have reflected the Council’s true vision for liturgical renewal. Two of these have been the Adoremus Society and Ignatius Press, both founded by Father Joseph Fessio, a Jesuit priest who studied for the priesthood under Cardinal Ratzinger in the 1970s. A close friend of our current pontiff, Father Fessio is deeply familiar with his traditional Catholic vision of the liturgy, and has conveyed that vision for many years in publications such as the Adoremus Bulletin, the Adoremus Hymnal and numerous books by Ratzinger, especially The Spirit of the Liturgy. These materials have helped familiarize American Catholics with the true spirit of Vatican II regarding the liturgy.
Another bright glimmer of light in the darkness of the post-Vatican II era has been the daily celebration of Mass in the tiny chapel of Our Lady of the Angels Monastery founded by Mother Angelica in Irondale, Alabama. Here, as in few other places in America, the celebration of the Novus Ordo liturgy has consistently followed the terms of Sacrosanctum concilium: certain parts of the Mass are always said or sung in Latin; Gregorian chant is a mainstay of the liturgical music; and missals are available to help people follow along with the Latin parts of the Ordinary. Different priests vary in their use of Latin and English in the liturgy, offering a good example of the flexibility that Cardinal Arinze referred to. Like the Benedictine monasteries of the European Dark Ages, Our Lady of the Angels has helped preserve the rich liturgical tradition of the Latin Rite and the true spirit of Vatican II through difficult times for the Church in the United States. Not only has it done that, but through daily broadcast of the Mass on the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), it has communicated that tradition and that spirit to millions of Catholics across the United States, providing invaluable catechesis and promoting liturgical renewal in fidelity to the Second Vatican Council.
The implementation of the Missale Romanum, Third Edition, presents an excellent opportunity to correct the widespread misperceptions regarding the liturgical reforms of Vatican II. However, this educational opportunity must be seized and taken proper advantage of, not allowed to slide by. Pope Benedict underlined the importance of this in his April 2010 address to members of Vox Clara when he stated that “the opportunity for catechesis that it [the new Roman Missal] presents will need to be firmly grasped.”
Education is the key to understanding. Without proper catechesis, English-speaking Catholics of the Latin Rite will not correctly understand the reasons for the changes or appreciate the new translation. This catechesis should currently be going on in parishes across the United States to prepare parish staff and musicians for the new Roman Missal. However, the author is concerned that not enough is being done at the parish level to prepare the average Catholic in the pew for the changes in the Mass text. The extent of catechesis he has seen in his parish so far has been a brief mention in the bulletin of an invitation to a meeting being held at a neighboring parish to discuss the upcoming changes in the Roman Missal. This approach is simply not going to cut it for the millions of American Catholic laypeople who make up the lion’s share of the Church in the United States. These people shouldn’t have to go out of their way to learn about the new Roman Missal that will soon be taking effect. The catechesis should be brought to them on a platter when they come to church on Sunday. It should be served by the priest from the pulpit, on color inserts in the bulletin, in flyers in the pews, in the parish newsletter, and in pamphlets in the back of the church that people can take home with them. Catechesis about the new Mass translation must take the form of an all-out informational campaign based on the premise that all Catholics must be informed and prepared; otherwise, it will be ineffective, and the vast majority of Catholics in the United States will be unprepared for November 27, 2011.
All the same, there are many things that lay Catholics can and should do to educate themselves about the liturgical changes. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has a special section of its website devoted to the new Roman Missal that gives basic information and includes, under “Sample Texts,” the full new text of the Order of Mass as well as side-by-side comparisons of the old and new Mass text for the people and the priests. Every Catholic with access to the Internet should take advantage of these resources and print them out for closer study and review in preparation for implementation. In addition, Catholics who lack knowledge of Latin should start getting familiar with it. Two excellent resources for this purpose are the Adoremus Hymnal, which includes the Order of Mass in Latin and English side by side, and Jubilate Deo, both available from Ignatius Press and through the EWTN Religious Catalogue. Every Catholic of the Latin Rite should at least know the Gloria, the Credo, the Sanctus, the Pater Noster, and the Agnus Dei in Latin. For a better understanding of what the Mass is, Pope Benedict XVI’s little book The Spirit of the Liturgy offers a brilliant presentation of the theology of Catholic worship and the 2,000-year history of the Church’s liturgy. And finally, Catholics who have not yet done so should pore over Sacrosanctum concilium to soak up the true spirit of Vatican II and clarify their understanding of the Council’s liturgical reforms.
Yet even with proper catechesis, some Catholics will still object that changing the words of the liturgy now after forty years is a recipe for pastoral disaster, as it will cause people to leave the Church. This objection stems from all the misperceptions of the Second Vatican Council recounted in this article. Ironically, it is being made by those who are themselves predisposed to leave the Church because they disapprove of the changes. If some Catholics can’t live with the changes, that is their problem. For its own good, the Church must remain faithful to the true spirit of Vatican II, even if that means alienating some people. When the Vatican approved the new Roman Missal translation in July 2010, Cardinal Francis George, then president of the USCCB, admitted that some people will not like it but that in the end, “it will be the text the Church uses for prayer.” The implementation of the new Roman Missal will be a litmus test of fidelity to the Church. It will separate the wheat from the chaff—true, faithful members of Christ’s Mystical Body from parasites who hitch onto it for their own comfort and convenience. This pruning process will render the Church slightly leaner but stronger and healthier, in line with Pope Benedict XVI’s vision for the “new springtime” of the Church originally predicted by John Paul II.