This weekend is the last Sunday of the Catholic Mass as I’ve known it since I was a child. Starting on the First Sunday in Advent, a new missal translation will go into effect. And as a church, we’ll go from flying through rote memorization to stumbling over new words and prayers in the pews.
I am not looking forward to this.
The changes are no surprise. They were in the works when I graduated from divinity school, and all the liturgy students were a-twitter about new Mass parts and catechizing the changes. But with such drama and politics and ups and downs about how when (and even whether) the new translation would be put into place, I did what any wordsmith faced with the prospect of drastic change in well-loved prayers would do.
I ignored it.
I tried to pretend it wasn’t happening. I hoped it would get caught up for years – or even decades – with bishops bickering or committees quibbling. I prayed that the Spirit would move the church to invest its energy in debates other than “consubstantial” vs. “one-in-being.”
And – surprise! – it turns out that this was a foolish way to go. Because just like denying that your baby is growing up or your teenager is heading off to college, the change was coming. Whether I liked it or not.
So for the past few weeks, I’ve been moping around Mass. As our choir started singing the new Gloria in preparation for Advent, I frowned. As the bulletin grew fat with inserts about relearning the Mass parts, I grumbled. As priests preached from the pulpit about the coming changes, I sighed.
And then on the drive home from church one Sunday, I got that unmistakable itch. The uncomfortable restlessness that means God is speaking and I’m not listening.
Dang, I hate that itch.
I realized that I needed to figure out a way to embrace the change. To see good. To find peace. Because change was coming and I’d have to live with it.
So I sighed and pulled out a stack of papers that I’d stuffed in a drawer. A copy of the changes to the Mass parts. A list of FAQs about why this is happening now. Commentaries on the meaning of the new translations.
I sat down and read them all. And decided that if I had any hope of embracing the new, I first had to grieve the loss of what was old and comfortable.
Before you roll your eyes – it’s just some new words! who cares? does it really matter? – let me remind you that anyone who dares to call themselves a writer, even in the most amateur use of the term, believes that words matter. That beauty and poetry matter. That the power of words to shape our thoughts and beliefs matters.
And because I believe words matter, when I finally sat down and faced the new words right in front of me, I discovered – surprise! – that I actually appreciated some of the changes. If I could lovingly let go of the past, I might just be able to peacefully accept the future.
So this week and next, I’m going to spend some time on both sides of the changes. One post on what I will miss from the old translation and one post on what I can embrace in the new.
If you’re Catholic, I hope this sparks a new wrestling with the words on the page. Because words matter. And if you’re not, I hope this inspires a new reflection on what you profess and believe. Because words matter.
As any parent of a frustrated toddler will patiently remind you, you have to use your words. And use them well. My prayer for our church as we push into this period of transition with translation is that we can use our words and use them well.
Because words matter.