Can a Priest Change the Words in Mass Prayers?

Dear Catholic Exchange,

I am currently in a dialogue with my pastor about using titles for God the Father that are not in the Sacramentary, i.e. Creator, Lord, Holy One. At times the prayers sound distorted and unnatural. He tells me he does this because some women have been hurt by their fathers and would stop coming to Mass if he always called God Father as written.

Last week he substituted "God the Father" with Lord and called Jesus Lord in the same sentence.

Is there a good and succinct explanation why he should stick to the prayers as written, other than just being obedient?

My personal opinion is that he is being patronizing and placating to women. This seems to distract and detract from worship which is why we are there at mass. He also adds "sisters" to any prayer that mentions brothers or brethren. But so does the bishop.

This seems too horizontal and not enough vertical.

Thank you for any help you can pass along.

Elizabeth McClintic


Dear Elizabeth,

Peace in Christ!

Principles for sticking to the text of the Mass are given in Chapter 1 of the Constitution for the Sacred Liturgy, (Sacrosanctum Concilium).

I would suggest including in your dialogue the following considerations:

"By calling God ‘Father', the language of faith indicates two main things: that God is the first origin of everything and transcendent authority; and that he is at the same time goodness and loving care for all his children. God's parental tenderness can also be expressed by the image of motherhood [Cf. Isa 66:13; Ps 131:2.], which emphasizes God's immanence, the intimacy between Creator and creature. The language of faith thus draws on the human experience of parents, who are in a way the first representatives of God for man. But this experience also tells us that human parents are fallible and can disfigure the face of fatherhood and motherhood. We ought therefore to recall that God transcends the human distinction between the sexes. He is neither man nor woman: he is God. He also transcends human fatherhood and motherhood, although he is their origin and standard: [Cf. Ps 27:10; Eph 3:14; Isa 49:15] no one is father as God is Father" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 239).

"Experience promotes the intelligibility of the Christian message. This corresponds well to the actions of Jesus. He used human experiences and situations to point to the eschatological and transcendent, as well as to show the attitude to be adopted before such realities. From this point of view, experience is a necessary medium for exploring and assimilating the truths which constitute the objective content of Revelation. Experience, assumed by faith, becomes in a certain manner, a locus for the manifestation and realization of salvation, where God, consistently with the pedagogy of the Incarnation, reaches man with his grace and saves him. The catechist must teach the person to read his own lived experience in this regard, so as to, accept the invitation of the Holy Spirit to conversion, to commitment, to hope, and to discover more and more in his life God's plan for him" (General Directory for Catechesis, no. 152).

To apply these paragraphs to his situation, your pastor has many opportunities in his homilies to bring the Good News of God's loving Fatherhood — communicated throughout the Mass in its carefully selected text — to the experience of those abused by parents. To simply change the words of the Mass to avoid offense, besides being misguided (cf. Chapter 1, Sacrosanctum Concilium) is not meeting the needs of these women.

United in the Faith,

Eric Stoutz
Director of Catholic Responses
Catholics United for the Faith
827 North Fourth Street
Steubenville, OH 43952
800-MY-FAITH (800-693-2484)

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  • Guest

    Those who have been hurt by their biological fathers have a unfulfilled need for a loving father, a father who's love is unconditional, who will always be there and will always love them.  

    Avoiding the normal and natural hurt caused by abuse to the extent of avoiding talking about loving fathers is not going to help these women heal.  How is a woman to heal and achieve a loving relationship, with God (and the possible relationship with her husband and father of her children) while avoiding the Fatherly love that she is offered?  

  • Guest

    Jesus said to call no man "father" for we have but one "Father", Who is in heaven. He was saying that human "fatherhood" is designed to be a reflection of God.  So we are only "fathers" in as much as we reflect this reality. And in as much as we fall short, we are failing to truly be "fathers."

    I would suggest that it is confusing to change or substitute the reference to God as Father.  If anything, women who have been so badly hurt might refer to their biological dads as their "male parent" and preserve the word "father" to use, as Jesus said, for the reality of God as our loving "Father" in heaven.

    If the shadow distorts the reality of the real thing which it is imaging, we should not change the how we describe the real thing.  We should, if anything, change the way we describe the shadow.

  • Guest

    My beef is not allowing the person to heal and forgive the past. This is psychology of the secular nature, not of the heavenly. To avoid the mention of the word Father is to avoid accepting the Graces that come from the reconciliation that is life giving. Even if your father is your enemy, are you not commanded to love him? To forgive doesn't mean you have to forget. But it does mean you have to love.

    "Do not try to please everybody. Try to please God , the angels, and the saints. These are your public. If you are afraid of other people's opinion, you should not have become Christian." St John Vianney