Church musicians gave a lukewarm assessment of the new Catholic liturgy this week at a national gathering of pastoral musicians Downtown, but said that priests who worked hard to make it successful were able to bring new levels of meaning and participation to the Mass.
"One of the things I got most perturbed about with my own colleagues was the pronouncement of failure before implementation," said Jerry Galipeau, vice-president of World Library Publications, a Chicago company that has published the missal. "It's like a New York theater critic six weeks before opening, reading the script and declaring the play a bomb. We are about one-tenth of the way through a five-act play right now. It's a really exciting time to be a Roman Catholic."
The Vatican-mandated translation was introduced in November. It's a literal translation from the Latin, replacing a simpler, more relaxed translation from 1973. Advocates believed it would add more reverence to the Mass, while critics called its language awkward and obscure. Among the major changes for laity: The reply to "The Lord be with you" changed from "And also with you" to "And with your spirit," and in the Nicene Creed "one in being with the Father" became "consubstantial with the Father."
Mr. Galipeau spoke at the annual convention of the National Association of Pastoral Musicians, which started Monday and runs through today. It has drawn 1,700 musicians and priests from across the nation to the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.
Many bishops, he said, hoped the new liturgy would provide an opportunity to teach lay Catholics more about the meaning of the Mass as the changes were explained. "I haven't seen a whole lot of that," he said.
When a recent prayer spoke of "abasement," he said, many Catholics heard "a basement."
Some participants in his workshop shared stories about priests persistently stumbling over some of their prayers. Mr. Galipeau spoke of a cardinal who reverted to the old wording when he celebrated a Mass where no one had pew cards with the new words.
Yet many more shared stories about successes. A consistent theme was that a priest who spent months preparing the people, and who practiced the prayers before Mass so he could deliver them with tone and meaning, made all the difference. One music director described a priest who has continually taken the time to educate people in each Mass, highlighting various new prayers.
Because the new words didn't fit old tunes, sung parts of the Mass had to be changed. One musician said that before the implementation took place 200 people came to an evening where the priest talked about the changes and everyone sang the new responses.
"I was pleasantly surprised, and I didn't hear anyone complain," he said.
Another parish presented several possible new musical settings and asked the parishioners to vote on which they liked best. A priest at the workshop said that, with the preparation for singing the new responses, his parishioners are singing far more actively than they did before.
Others had horror stories about parishes where virtually no preparation took place. One woman said she thought she would try to help by writing a musical setting just for them. "I got hate mail," she said. "People thought I was personally changing the texts, and it was not well received."
But others had stories about finding deeper meaning, even in some of the changes that had been considered most controversial.
One man said he found a prayer about the Holy Spirit descending "like the dewfall" to be "pretty cool." Mr. Galipeau, who conducted workshops throughout the country to prepare people for the new liturgy, told of finding people who found great meaning in lines he had considered awkward, particularly in the funeral Mass.
One priest waxed rhapsodic about a prayer that speaks of God welcoming the dead into "the light of your face." He compared it to the Christmas hymn "Silent Night," with the "radiant beams from thy holy face," Mr Galipeau said.
Ann Rodgers: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1416.