Father Paul Turner was in Beaumont April 28 to speak to clergy and lay leaders on the upcoming changes to the Roman Missal, commonly called the sacramentary. While in town, ETC editor Karen Gilman talked to him about the changes.
Q. What is the Roman Missal?
A. The Roman Missal is the official prayer book we use for Mass in the Catholic Church. Most people know it today by the name sacramentary. They see it at every Mass they go to. The priest reads from it at the altar and whenever a server holds it for him.
Q. How is the Roman Missal different than the missalette that the people use at church?
A. The missalette is an abbreviated version of the contents of the Roman Missal. The Roman Missal has no hymns in it which you might find in a missalette. But all texts of the Mass that the people say are all found within the Roman Missal. So the missalette has taken its words from the Missal.
Q. Why is the Roman Missal changing now?
A. There are two reasons why. One is that it is upgraded might be a way to say it. Like you would upgrade an app on your phone. The Missal is being updated with some new prayers and instructions. The other reason is that the Vatican has changed its philosophy for how prayers should be translated from Latin into English. Almost everything we say at Mass is originally a Latin text. The Vatican is looking a little more carefully now on how those words get translated into other languages.
Q. What are some of the major changes?
A. Some things that most everybody is going to experience would be the greeting. When the priest says “The Lord be with you,” their response will now be “And with your spirit.” They’re also going to see some changes to the Creed. For example, instead of saying “We believe,” they’ll start with “I believe.” There are a number of changes within the Gloria. Just enough to make people need to look at paper again. Parts of the Mass that they’ve got memorized they will now have to examine one more time and relearn.
Q. Why is going back to the Latin text going to be better?
A. A couple of things. First of all, those Latin texts were worked on for hundreds of years. A lot of people don’t realize this but, like when the priest says at the beginning of Mass Let us pray, and then starts in on a prayer, you are hearing an English translation of a prayer that might date to the sixth century. That prayer was worked on very hard in Latin to get it up into the shape that it is in. One reason that it’s important to go back to the Latin is to study again what it has to say and make sure that what we’re saying fits it. The other reason it’s important to go back to the Latin is that we are a universal church, and even thought Mass is celebrated in different languages around the world, we all use Latin as our common text, the text out of which all of these other translations were made. So, understandably, the Vatican would like that all of the different vernacular translations around the world would pretty much say the same thing. The way that you safeguard that is to have people keep looking back at the Latin and not copying from one another in the modern languages.
Q. Is this just turning back the clock to what we had before?
A. Not at all. All of the work that is being done pertains to the work that followed the Second Vatican Council. A lot of the prayers we say at Mass date to the early years of the Church, but the particular arrangement of them in the Mass that we know now has all been given to us since Vatican II. The retranslation is a look at that work. The post Vatican II Mass and the Latin that was in there is a retranslation of that. For example, Eucharistic Prayer III is a Eucharistic prayer that people would hear on a typical Sunday. That entire prayer was written after Vatican II but it was written in Latin so that all of the vernacular languages could translate. They knew from the beginning that it was going to be done in the vernacular languages, but it was composed in Latin. So that’s what this whole project is. It’s going back to that time period after the Council to look at those texts and translate them once again.
Q. What are some concerns people are voicing about the new Missal?
A. I think part of it is that we are so accustomed to doing it for 40 years that it’s hard to think about having to relearn things. That’s one concern. Another concern is that some prayers we are going to hear are more dense and the sentences are longer. It’s going to be more of a challenge for the priests to say them and for the people to understand them upon first hearing. There’s some concern about that that people won’t be able to grasp the meaning of what is being said. I would say that people can understand it. The longer sentences have been in use in other languages outside of English, and people have been able to follow them along just fine. It will cause an adjustment for us but I really think in time people will grasp how to listen to the prayers that are being said and be able to pray right along.
Q. Is the Mass itself changing?
A. No. No. There will be almost no change to the Mass itself. When you talk about say the gestures that are used, the postures, when we stand and sit, the processions, the vestments, the scripture readings, even most of the music that people sing, none of that is changing. That much is all staying the same. This is all about words. It’s a different translation of the words that we say and hear at every Mass from day to day.
Q. Do the upcoming changes only affect the Mass?
A. At the present time, yes. They only affect the Mass. But they will eventually affect the other sacraments and prayers that we say as a Church. The Mass is the most important one so the work has begun there. But once these changes are implemented I think you can expect to see similar changes coming in all of the other ceremonies that we use in the Catholic Church.
Q. When are they thinking these changes will go into effect?
A. No one knows for sure when we are going to see these but we are guessing it will be Advent of 2011. But that’s just a guess. We know that as of today, the committee that has been advising the congregation on this translation has completed its work. But now the congregation has to make its final decisions and then it will take a year for publishers to have the books ready. So we’re thinking it would be about a year and a half from now.
Q. If these changes are going to go into effect maybe Advent of next year, why are we talking about the changes now?
A. Because the changes that pertain to the order of Mass, that’s the part of the Mass that everyone deals with from day to day, those changes have been published about a year and a half ago. At that time the Congregation (Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and Sacraments) asked us to begin catechesis on them so that we could understand what is changing and why. Right now we need some time to explain to people so that people can think about these things before we have to actually put them into practice.
Q. What kind of catechesis will be necessary for the people sitting in the pews?
A. I think people naturally have some very practical questions. Why did this one change? Why did that one change? We need to be ready with good answers for them. Sometimes we have to learn those. We need to learn more about the evolution of the Mass how it got to the place where it is today. So people will need a little time to figure all that out and put some words on to it.
I would encourage people to start to become familiar with the parts of the Mass that will change so that they all will be prepared for them and won’t be surprised when the day comes. If they have questions about why things are changing this would be a good time to ask those questions and to read up on some answers on what is coming and why.