What are “the Folks” saying about the new Roman Missal?

by Gloria Ulterino

     What are “the folks” saying about the new Roman Missal?  The ones who faithfully sit in the pews, week in and week out?  The ones who are to be brought into the “full, conscious, and active participation” of the Mass, by virtue of their baptism?  The ones who truly are the Church.  What do they say?

  • This, for starters: “The first time I experienced this new liturgy I cried in the pew as I felt I was a stranger in my own church!  Jesus died for all, not for many, and he did not raise a chalice he raised a cup!  May we the people be heard.  And may the justice due our Lord Jesus Christ be heard.  I feel this is an injustice to God as well as to God’s people.”
  • And this: “My heart is heavy and saddened by the changes that have been forced upon me.  I leave Mass feeling less connected and very much an outsider.”
  • And this: “My heart is broken.  I just experienced Mass with the new Missal.  It makes no sense.  It did not touch me other than to make me weep for the loss….  Why would we do this to the church we love?  Why would this be done to the beloved people of God?  Why?”
  • And so much more, to be noted shortly.

But first, where do these opinions come from?  A small group of us from across the nation- deeply disturbed by the new Missal, both the product and the process which created it- formed a web site (www.misguidedmissal.com) in the summer of 2011.   Some of us are experts in liturgy; some are teachers; some are- or have been- pastoral leaders.  But all of us have come together out of love for our Church and its liturgy.  As our mission statement proclaims: “out of love for the Church,” we educate… respectfully… using solid research and articles.  Furthermore, we “call for” this Missal’s “immediate withdrawal and/ or revision,” as well as “reconsideration of the 1998 Sacramentary (Missal).”  This past Lent we offered a survey, a place for folks to express their views, either briefly or in more detail.  As I pored over the 23 pages of heart-felt comments and suggestions, I was not prepared for my heartbreak at the pain of so many self-described faithful Catholics.  These voices must be lifted up, their hopes and dreams heard.  They propelled me to write, with the hope of beginning an ongoing conversation about the new Roman Missal.  Many of the comments seemed to naturally fall into the following eight categories, which represent the heart-felt thrust of all the responses.

  1. Alienation from worship

Like a river, grieving runs deep through these comments, from groaning lament… to anger… to wistful longing.  Out of the depths, questions pierce the heavens: Where’s the joy?  Why doesn’t the Mass lead our hearts- our very selves- into an encounter with the Living God?

  • “Mass feels like a funeral now.  It is so sad, so very, very sad.”
  •  “At the age of 14 I stopped going to church because I had never felt a part of the Catholic community.  Part of this was because memorizing rote prayers that all sounded like I wanted God to strike me dead for even being alive had nothing to do with the God I had grown to know and love.  Four years later I was invited to attend a Catholic Church with the promise that every thing had changed, and it had.  The missal, especially, had changed and the words spoke to me in a much more positive way.  For the next 38 years I would become so deeply involved in my church that my entire life pretty much revolves around it.  When the missal changed, so did my life.  I can no longer participate without feeling those horrible feelings of 42 years ago.”
  • “I am not really praying at Mass any more, I am ‘seething’.”
  1. Deep concern about the faith of future  generations

Parents and grandparents raise their voices in a chorus of lament.  If this Missal has become such a desolate experience for them, how can it possibly attract younger folks?  Surely, the biggest turn-off is the “archaic,” wooden language, “the strange wording and endless sentences.”

  • “My heart goes out to my grown children, who have been trying to be good Catholics, and want to pass their faith on to their children, and they are so discouraged with the Church, that they have pulled their young children out of any Church related activities.”
  1. Sadness that the Missal is a giant step backward

So many folks remember the Second Vatican Council as a “breath of fresh air.”    Was it the prophet Isaiah (43:19a) speaking of God’s actions in our day?  “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”  At the same time, compromises were written into the documents’ pages, of issues not fully resolved, and power struggles yet to be played out.  And power struggles there have been, so much so that many folks feel oppressed.  In their view, this Missal has been forced upon the rest of us, “in direct contradiction to the documents of Vatican II.”   

  • “The new translation… is a return to dualism and to exclusion of most of the church, The People, The Body of Christ.”
  • “Sadly, at a recent Mass, all I could hear was the sound of the final nail being pounded into the coffin of Vatican II.”
  1. Unhappiness that the Missal reflects  pre-Vatican II theology

How can this Missal possibly facilitate “an encounter with God” rather than a return “to a pre-Vatican II translation of the Mass?”  How did this happen?  After 15 years (1982-1997) of diligent work by ICEL (International Commission on English in the Liturgy), a beautifully revised Missal was sent to all eleven conferences of English-speaking bishops.  Within a few months, they all readily approved this 1998 Missal.  But it sat on Vatican shelves until Rome spoke.  In 2001, the Vatican changed the rules of translation, according to Liturgiam Authenticam. Rome took charge, complete control.  This Missal is the result.

  • “ ‘We’ expresses community and ‘I’ reverts to the ‘Jesus and me’ mentality, definitely pre-Vatican II.”  (For example, I believe rather than we believe.)
  • “I am not opposed to change, but this is regression….  I agree we need to take a good look at the 1998 translation…  Something is ‘rotten’ somewhere that it was placed in a closet at the Vatican.”
  1. Constant criticism of the wording and sentence structure of this translation

When translations from Latin into native languages began in 1969, the process of dynamic equivalence was to be used.  In other words, the meaning of a phrase was faithfully translated from Latin to English, for example, allowing for poetic expression.  But, in 2001, the process was abruptly changed to formal equivalence: virtually word for word, according to the Latin sentence structure.  Presumably this is more accurate… and yet, not always.  During one of the Eucharistic prayers, we are said “to be,” rather than “to stand” in God’s presence.  Yet the Latin word means “to stand;” but we, the People of God, are directed by Rome to kneel.  In this case, posture trumps accuracy.  Furthermore, folks commonly criticize the translation as “sexist, clerical and incomprehensible.”     

  • “If my seminary Latin professor could read the words of the NRM with its cognates, dangling modifiers and sometimes unintelligible translations, he would have a temper tantrum!  ‘Speak English correctly’ he would yell at us!”
  • “The language of the new Missal does not speak to me.  Rather than saying that many means ‘all,’ why not just say ‘all’?  In my Latin classes we learned to translate into English in ways that make sense rather than an awkward transliteration.  Rather than praying I am getting distracted by words that are not part of everyday use, such as oblation, consubstantial, conciliation, campaign of Christian service.  Many sentences are far too long.”

6.  Disbelief in the God of the Missal

Who is the God we worship?  Is it not the God of Jesus?  Compassionate beyond measure.  Incomprehensible Mystery, yet more intimate to us than our skin.  Challenging us to become all we are meant to be.  And yet, the god who leaps from the pages of this Missal seemingly longs to see humans grovel.

  • “The words of this ritual give people the notion that God is far from them…. That their sins are so great, God cannot be close….  I reject this.”
  • “The new language places the people of God in a groveling position… beating our breasts and kneeling rather than celebrating the presence of the risen Christ.  This type of ‘prayer’ soon imparts a way of believing.”    

   7.  Non-reception of this new Missal

Reception is an ancient practice, first codified in the 12th century.  According to canon lawyer Jim Coriden, “In order for a canonical regulation to have real effect, those for whom it was made must acknowledge it and comply with it.”  Non-reception takes many forms, both individual and communal.  I know personally of three Roman Catholic communities in good standing that do not use the new Missal, out of pastoral concern for the people.  And I know people who refuse it.

  • “I actually do not respond at Mass with the new language; just say the response we said before11/27/2011.  Because, “all voices must be heard.”
  • “My personal rebellion with the Roman Missal is to not recite the words I find offensive (i.e. ‘for us men’).  I will never believe that Christ came for ‘many,’ not all.”
  • “I am a professor of New Testament, and I teach translation and interpretation theory….  This NRM should not be ‘received’ by the church- and perhaps the folks behind this translation theory should be sent back to school for remedial studies.”
  • “People who disagree with the new missal must make their opinions heard.  Staying silent on the belief that there is nothing that we can do, will be taken by the” leaders “as passive acceptance, and they’ll use it as a signal to roll back even more of the things we hold dear.”  What a challenge to us all!

8.      Longing to see the servant leadership of Jesus at work in church hierarchy

Jesus is very clear.  “Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.  For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve…”  (Mark 10:43-45a)   And the Vatican II documents mirror his words: “In exercising his office of father and pastor the bishop should be with his people as one who serves” (Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops in the Church, #13).  But, did the leaders responsible for this Missal create it out of service to the vast People of God?

  •  “I yearn for a church with true servant leaders, who stand for those they have committed to serve rather than bowing to Roman power.”
  • “When I preside at Liturgy, I’m just reading words….  The heavy handed way this is mandated is in violation of being followers of Jesus who said that leaders must be servants and not lord it over others.” 

      In all, there were angry words, thoughtful words, sad words, and defiant words.  There were words from folks in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Scotland.  There were words from priests as well as laity.  There were words of thanks, that here was a place to give voice to these words.  And one person offered this prayer: “I pray for a return to worship where people praise God with their unified voices in a common tongue.  I pray for the work of the people to be about the people relating to their God and not about reinforcing how unworthy we are to be in God’s presence.  I pray for a liturgy that helps us to thank and honor the Creator for what we have been given instead of continually petitioning God to make us stronger believers and more blessed.”

A final challenge to us all: Words matter.  People of all stripes agree on that.  From ancient times we have known that the way we pray forms the people we become- “lex orandi, lex credendi.”  If we long to become like Jesus- people of loving integrity, people who try to set things right according to the Gospel- must we not act as Jesus acted?  Must we not speak our truth, even when it’s difficult, even when our leaders may not want to hear it?  Our Vatican II Constitution on Church demands as much of us (#37): “the laity are empowered- indeed sometimes obliged- to manifest their opinion on those things which pertain to the good of the Church” [to their pastors].  We must stand up; we must speak up… for the good of the Church and the glory of God.