Liturgy changes for U.S. Catholics
Share with others:
After 15 years of heated argument with the Vatican over how best to translate the Latin liturgy into English, the nation's Catholic bishops voted 173-29 to accept a new translation that hews more closely to Latin wording than the prayers now in use.
• Old: "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed."
• New: "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and I shall be healed."
Response to 'The Lord be with you'
• Old: "And also with you."
• New: "And with your spirit."
"Without a doubt, this is the most significant liturgical action to come before this body for many years," said Bishop Donald Trautman of Erie, chairman of the conference's Committee on Liturgy. However, he backed down from his previous fierce opposition to some of the changes.
"It will take some adapting, but it is not earth-shattering when you think of the changes we went through 40 years ago," he said, referring to the Second Vatican Council, which paved the way to translate the Latin Mass into living languages.
The most obvious difference for laity changes the pre-communion prayer from "Lord I am not worthy to receive you ..." to "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and I shall be healed." Also, after the priest says "The Lord be with you," the congregation will respond "And with your spirit" instead of "And also with you."
The text that passed was a compromise that amended some Rome-backed translations many bishops had objected to. The bishops rejected a proposal to change a phrase in the Nicene Creed from "one in being with the Father" to "consubstantial with the Father."
"I'm pleased that the text has been significantly amended. That made an important difference for me," said Bishop Trautman, who would have preferred to leave the pre-communion prayer and response to the priest as they are now.
It will take time for the Vatican to evaluate and, presumably, approve the text. Because translations of other prayers are still under way, it will be at least two years before parishioners experience these changes, he said.
In the year leading up to the vote, about half the U.S. bishops objected to many of the changes, especially to 12 lines said by the congregation. But the battle was often less over wording than about whether Vatican officials or a nation's bishops should decide how to translate doctrine into the local language and culture. It divided the bishops into factions and pitted some against the Vatican's liturgy office.
"This is another example of Rome taking authority away from bishops and bishops' conferences. Basically, it's saying that people in Rome -- including people for whom Spanish and German is their first language -- know how to translate the Mass into English better than the American bishops and the other English-speaking bishops do," said the Rev. Thomas Reese, senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center in Washington, D.C.
Bishop Arthur Roche of Leeds, England, who chairs the translation committee, assured the U.S. bishops yesterday that the changes were improvements.
"Translators have found that they need to stay close to the Latin in order to remain faithful to it, and users of these texts will be learning a new language of liturgical prayerful courtesy," he said.
The phrase "enter under my roof" was added to the pre-communion prayer because it is biblical, taken from the Roman centurion who asked Jesus to heal his servant, he said.
The bishops yesterday also rejected a proposed translation to have priests invoke "the dew of your Spirit" in a prayer of consecration. That line now calls for "the outpouring of the Holy Spirit."
But Bishop Roche had earlier urged the bishops to do the "dew."
"It has been objected that this translation does not resonate or communicate with contemporary Christians. But surely, dew still exists. I noticed an advert on the street yesterday for a drink called Mountain Dew," he said. "Dew has a unique set of natural and scriptural associations. It speaks of freshness."
Yesterday's vote has a long history. After Vatican II permitted the Mass to be translated out of Latin 40 years ago, English versions were done in haste. Many people felt that some passages lacked poetry and meaning. Efforts at revision began in the 1980s but stalled over gender-inclusive language for human beings and use of everyday words for theological terms.
Officials of the Vatican office for liturgy insisted that translations must hew to the Latin, even if the result sounded awkward or archaic. This became universal church policy with the 2001 publication of a document called "Liturgiam Authenticam."
The champion of those who want more natural sounding, contemporary English has been Bishop Trautman, whom the bishops elected to lead them in this fight both in the mid-1990s and in 2004. Bishop Trautman, an authority on the Bible and liturgy, has previously accused Vatican bureaucrats of "micro-managing" and of violating the directives of Vatican II.
Cardinal Francis Arinze, the Nigerian in charge of the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, set the stage for a showdown last month when he said they must follow the guidelines of "Liturgiam Authenticam" and that his office would not grant approval of a translation that failed to follow the Latin closely.
His letter tossed a salvo at Bishop Trautman, who had argued that there can be pastoral reasons for keeping familiar prayers.
Because Pope John Paul II wanted conformity to the Latin, "it is not acceptable to maintain that people have become accustomed to a certain translation for the past 30 or 40 years, and therefore that it is pastorally advisable to make no changes," Cardinal Arinze wrote.
"The attitudes of the bishops and priests will certainly influence the acceptance of the texts by the lay faithful as well."
It remains to be seen how laity will respond.
"While I can see someone in Rome wanting to imbue our English liturgy with grace and awe, the currently suggested wordings seems somewhat archaic and unnatural," said Lisa Pawelski, 47, a dermatologist from St. Joseph parish in O'Hara.
"I think the average person in the pew finds it confusing when liturgical language or posture is changed without adequate explanation."
The changes won't cause riots but may stir resentment if no clear reason is given, said the Rev. Charles Bober, pastor of St. Kilian in Cranberry.
"People will accept it and understand it if we explain it well, but [the bishops] need to help us understand why there is a need to change," he said.
Bishop Trautman said the bishops would prepare a major effort to prepare Catholics for the changes.
"Change is always difficult for people to accept. We need a major catechetical movement," he said.
"We have to have information to explain to people the new richness and the reason for the changes."
First Published June 16, 2006 12:00 am