We are about to have a nanosecond (in terms of church history) in which we can have a dramatic impact on the faith lives of Catholics. Catholic worshipers are beginning to be aware that a new translation of the Roman Missal is on the horizon. As we get closer to the mandatory implementation date, that awareness will grow. And so will their questions. Their number-one question will be: Why is this change being made?
There are many answers to that question, but there is only one that matters to your parishioners. It is the answer to a deeper, probably unspoken question: How will this change affect me?
How will we respond?
That is the golden opportunity before us. The introduction of the new translation will get people’s attention. They will have a genuine question about their experience of worship, and we will have a very brief window of time in which to answer that question. I think that means we have to do two things. First, we have to stir up as much buzz as possible about the new translation so more and more people will start to ask questions. Second, we have to prepare an answer to that deep, unspoken question.
If someone asks why these changes are being made (and is really asking how these changes will affect the way he worships) what will you reply? If you are standing in front of a room full of people who are asking that question or preaching at Sunday Mass about the coming changes, what will you say?
A deep question needs a deep answer
If you are not a fan of the new translation, it may be difficult to find a graceful answer. And if you are a fan of the new translation, it may be difficult to avoid getting bogged down in line-by-line comparisons of the old and new. In both cases, we have to broaden the scope of the answer to fit the deep concern of the question.
I don’t think most parishioners are going to be all that wrapped up in the new texts. Most of the changes will be in the words the presider says. The changes to the assembly responses will be novel and maybe even jarring for a while, but people will adapt quickly. So one possible answer could legitimately be that the parishioners’ experience of the liturgy will not change all that much.
Parishioners expect great things
However, I don’t think that is the answer people are looking for. I think they want to know that these changes are being made to improve the Mass and make worship better—more spiritual, more prayerful. They want to experience the liturgy as both more reverent and more fascinating. If you don’t like the new translation, you might find it difficult to promise them that. And if you do like the new translation, you would be overpromising if you expect a new text, alone, to accomplish improvements on that scale.
Time for a liturgical renewal
So here is the challenge before us. Between now and Advent 2011, what changes can we make to the way we worship every week so we can honestly say to parishioners that the introduction of the new missal will have a dramatic, positive impact on the quality of the liturgy? In other words, how can we grasp this brief opportunity—when we will have the attention of parishioners perhaps like no other time in our ministry—to institute a year-long liturgical renewal in our parishes? If we begin now to improve all aspects of our worship, by the time the new texts are introduced, they will be more smoothly incorporated into our more active and vibrant parish worship.