Most Catholics Happy With New Missal

Debut of long-awaited translation ruffles few feathers, as Vatican cardinal predicts profound impact on the Church.

WASHINGTON — As Msgr. W. Ronald Jameson, rector of historic St. Matthew’s Cathedral listened to the responses at yesterday’s 11:30 Mass, the priest noticed that even the parts of the Mass that remained unchanged in the third edition of the Roman Missal were said with unusual vigor.

Like other Catholics around the U.S., parishioners at St. Matthew’s read from laminated pew cards that supplied the correct responses for the new version of the Roman Missal introduced in churches Nov. 27.

Msgr. Jameson felt that the Mass went smoothly, in part, because “we’ve had a lot of preparation over the year and not just crammed into a few weeks, and that has given the people a sense of comfort.”

The introduction of the new Missal was low-key at St. Matthew’s, as congregants participated in a quick rehearsal of the new translation of the Sanctus before the processional. 

Msgr. Jameson made reference to the changes in his greeting and asked good-naturedly at the conclusion of the Mass, “How do you think you did today?”

The parishioners’ responses sharpened up over the course of the first Mass, and few appeared to stumble when they reached the new response “And with your spirit” (which replaced “And also with you”) at the end of the liturgy.

After the Mass, people streamed out of the cathedral and onto Rhode Island Avenue and gathered in clumps to chat. Most people looked favorably on the new Missal and the translation, which rendered the Latin in a markedly higher tone than the version that had been used for some 40 years.

Tom Cunningham, 33, who was visiting the cathedral from his usual local parish, replied, “I really appreciated it. The heightened language says that this isn’t just ordinary speech.”

“I liked it because it made my ears perk up because we were saying something new,” said Monica Wilcox, who was visiting Washington from Indonesia.

“It was more traditional, and tradition is a hallmark of the Catholic Church,” said Ann Reidy, a convert who became a Catholic in 1985. “I like it.”

I Believe

One of the notable changes is that Catholics now say “I believe” — a literal translation of the Latin credo — instead of “We believe” in reciting the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds. 

This met with the approval of St. Matthew’s parishioner Betty Sullivan.

“I like the ‘I’ in the Creed because I think that it is a more personal statement, and it makes it more intimate as well as still speaking for the whole body. It is touching,” she said.

Cardinal Raymond Burke, a member of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship, who is based in Rome, told Catholic News Agency shortly before Sunday’s debut that the new Missal is likely to have a profound impact on the Church. “I have a feeling that this will be a great moment for deepening people’s liturgical piety and liturgical spirituality,” said Cardinal Burke. “The prayers are much more beautiful, and they carry with them a staying power.”

The American cardinal believes that the new version of the prayers will “get people thinking about what they prayed, and taking consolation from it, and also inspiration.”

Dominican Father Giles Dimock, a prominent liturgist, had already celebrated Mass according to the new Missal twice — once for the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist in Ann Arbor, Mich., and also for Christ the King Catholic Church, which supports charismatic renewal, in Ann Arbor — when he spoke with the Register.

“We liked it,” Father Dimock said. “I think it is going to be very important for the life of the Church because we are rediscovering language that is sacred and speaks of the majesty of God. Our present Pope, Benedict, likes to say that beauty isn’t just decoration added but is, rather, an overflow of the liturgy. Some people who wouldn’t come to the Church through a statement of the truth will come through beauty.”

Father Dimock also praised the more precise scriptural references incorporated into the new translation, including calling God “Lord God of Hosts” and restoring the words of the centurion — who says he is not worthy that Christ should enter under his roof — to the Mass.

Not Over

A longtime champion of liturgical reform, Helen Hull Hitchcock, co-founder of the Adoremus Society for the Renewal of the Sacred Liturgy, was also pleased by Sunday’s Mass.

“I think it went very smoothly,” she said. “What we had today was an accurate translation of the Latin. It is an historic moment, but we should say with Churchill that this is only ‘the end of the beginning.’”

There remain other rituals, she noted, such as the marriage and funeral rites, to be translated anew. The Liturgy of the Hours, Hitchcock noted, also awaits a new translation.

The new Missal has not gone down well in some quarters, however. 

Maribeth Lynch, of Elm Grove, Wis., was quoted in North Carolina’s Charlotte Observer vowing that she would refuse to “learn the damn prayers.”

“It’s ridiculous,” Lynch told the Observer. “I’ve been a Catholic for 50 years, and why would they make such stupid changes? They’re word changes. They’re semantics.”

But Father Michael Ryan, pastor of St. James Cathedral in Seattle, who launched an online petition urging postponement of the new Missal, promised in an interview that he would stick carefully to the new text.

“I am not going to change a word, because the only way it will get evaluated is if people hear it as it is,” he said. “I trust the people will indeed speak up.”

Yale University student Travis Heine, who wrote a recent column arguing in favor of the changes in the new Missal for the Yale Daily News, was worried about going to Mass on Sunday.

He had heard grumbling about the new translation and wondered if people would be able to accept it.

Attending Mass in his hometown parish of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Houston, Texas, however, the Yale student said he was “pleasantly surprised.”

“I could perceive audibly and by watching body language that people were comfortable,” Heine said.

“It seems, to me, that by using words such as ‘consubstantial’ [in the new translation of the Nicene Creed],” Heine said, “the Mass will help people make words like these part of their vocabulary, which is a good thing because these words appear frequently in Catholic theology. This will help people learn more of the theology of the Church.”

Still, even some people who welcome the new Missal feel a whiff of nostalgia about putting the old one on the shelf. Father James Gould, pastor of St. John the Evangelist in Warrenton, Va., said he was “glued to the rubrics” in order to get it right yesterday.

Father Gould admitted that it was “hard to let go” of the version of the Mass he has celebrated for many years. Then he quickly added, “But the new one is so much better.” 

Register correspondent Charlotte Hays writes from Washington.