Saturday, January 22, 2011

On the Implementation of the New Missal...

I was reading through the USCCB's guide to Implementation of the New Missal yesterday. My colleague and I were talking about how a lot of the spin is really aimed at a small minority of the Faithful.

I predict that the new Missal translation is really not going to bother most of the congregation. A five minute talk at the end of Mass on why the new Missal (presumably not the week before), and then the new rules for translation (laid down in Liturgiam Authenticam) calling for a more literal rendering of the Latin, give an example of a new translation of a prayer, compared to an old one, and that should really do it (ex. go look up the collect for the 4th Sunday of Advent... it will blow your mind!).

Here's why I think that this is all it will take. A few weeks back, we were very blessed to host the kids from Wyoming Catholic College, who come every winter to do a week-long winter outdoor experience, and stay at the parish. Part of their week-long routine, of course, is the spiritual component. The campus chaplain comes along for the week, and offers daily Mass. The college has a weekly Mass in the Extraordinary Form, held on Wednesdays when school is in session.

Knowing this, and my own affinity toward the usus antiquior, I made arrangements for them to have the EF on the Wednesday of their stay here. I also invited several parishioners who had never attended a Mass in the traditional form, and we had all of our elementary school kids from the after school program come along, as well.

The response (from the parishioners) was overwhelmingly positive! Though they were a bit confused about some of the differences in the Mass (I had handouts available), they were simply blown away with the noble simplicity of the Roman Rite. It was nothing grand or fancy, just a simple Low Mass, but it truly elevated their hearts to contemplate Christ-- indeed, what Mass should do.This is exactly what the Council Fathers called for when they wrote of the desire for the faithful to engage in a "full, conscious, and active participation" in the Mass. Even our elementary school kids responded very well to it.

Similarly, over Christmas, we travelled home to MN, where we had the baptism of our new baby in the EF, and then a Missa Cantata afterward. All of our relatives, many whom had either not been to a "Tridentine Mass" since their childhood, or never at all, responded very positively.

Now, of course, there was some confusion, but in both circumstances, most all of the folks in attendance said that, with a little bit of repetition, they would be very comfortable with having it offered regularly, and in fact (in the case of the relatives), would love it as an alternative to the uninspiring, protestantized Masses they have access to currently (their diocese is not in very good shape at all).

Now, if good, faithful Catholics, who had never had any experience of the Extraordinary Form, can walk away from a much more complicated form of the Mass, and not know the responses, and still have an intensely personal encounter with Christ, then I don't think changing a few words of the Mass in English is going to be the end of the world.

Which brings me back to the USCCB's guide for implementation... Both myself and my colleague were confused as to why we really need to spend a whole YEAR working on implementation. As I read through the document, I couldn't help but notice the absence of reference to Redemptionis Sacramentum, the document from the CDWDS on abuses regarding the Eucharist. Also noteworthy in this handy guide was the blurring of roles of ministers involved in the Mass-- for example, the equating of an Acolyte and Lector with an altar server and reader. Presuming best intentions possible on the authors, perhaps they were trying to K.I.S.S.,  but still, though lay ministers can be used in the Mass, there is a lot of nuance in Church teaching on when, how, and why, and that should be noted.

The real reason, I think, that there is so much frenzy over this new missal is in the fact that there is still a wrong-headed notion of "active participation," especially among "liturgists," and so all of the effort is on mobilizing the troops, making sure we involve all of the lay ministries.

For "everyone else" (i.e, those not involved in liturgical ministries) it seemed as though the document was trying to do a PR campaign on the Mass to get them on board. Many of these liturgists say that we need to do this, especially in the wake of the new bout of clergy abuse, the people in the pews don't need more upheaval. And maybe there's a fair point-- the Mass, after all, should be a stabilizing factor in the life of a Catholic.

But as I said, I think all that really needs to happen is a short, 5-minute explanation on why, and then to simply allow the Faithful to pray... Indeed, what an opportunity for us to all think about what it is we are praying, perhaps even for the first time.

There were some really very good things in the guide, but I can't help but think as a whole it's a very "Americanist" approach to things.

My advice to anyone involved in implementation of the Missal... do catechesis on the Eucharist. Talk about why we would even bother to come to Mass at all, and whether it makes a difference, anyway. 

Talk about how the Incarnation, God becoming man, has changed everything-- and we can't turn back from that. Talk about how we experience this mystery, the Incarnation, every time we come to Mass.

Once we have had an authentic encounter with Christ, then the words, especially with a more accurate rendering of the prayers in Latin, simply lead us more deeply in to that very mystery. Work on that, and no-one is going to make a huge fuss over words like "consubstantial," or "ineffable".

If we start to cultivate a "eucharistic orientation," then everything else will fall in to place. This new missal is a start--  it's a big deal, but let's not make it a bigger deal than it is, and rather, focus our energies on other things, as well. Like what, you might ask? Well, Pope Benedict has quite a few suggestions...


Many thanks to the good folks over at for re-posting my blog. For those visiting, feel free to leave a comment in the combox-- my blog is pretty new, but I hope to be posting regularly about all sorts of things. I hope you'll check back in the future. God bless you, and prayers for you this day!

(For those who haven't found this great site, I'd highly recommend it, especially for those who don't have all day to browse all of the very good blogs and Catholic news sources out there)


  1. Dear Mr. Owens,

    Aren’t you interpreting this a bit upside down? Allow me to state an alternative interpretation of the USCCB documents:

    The USCCB does not require a year of preparation in order to try to convince those opposed to the new translation of its merits. A year would never be enough, and they are smarter than that.

    Nor do they expect it to take that long for folks to get 'used' to the prayer. That would be insulting to the faithful, as you note.

    Suppose that the USCCB is thinking instead that this Missal is a tremendous opportunity: that these changes touch the core of who we are as Catholics, and that every possible opportunity we have to engage the Mass more consciously should be taken.

    We all need to deepen every facet of our participation at mass, to engage sacramental theology across the days of the week and the days of the year, just as the prayers of the missal do, and to see the marvelous in-breaking of God into THIS now. What better opportunity than revised translations to focus us on the MEANING behind the words?

    I would love to see from you, in addition to your critical commentary, some suggestions based on your own experience for useful and practical ways to get your community to engage the Mass in this positive way. Further, I would wager that all of your suggestions would be long-term initiatives, and that most of them would take a minimum of a year.

    The Devilish Advocate

  2. Dear "Devilish Advocate,"

    Thank you for your comments, and welcome to the blog!

    I agree entirely, a year would never be enough to understand the Mass fully-- indeed, a lifetime could not encompass such a thing. Perhaps in Heaven, where we'll have an eternity to contemplate the mystery.

    But perhaps I wasn't clear enough. The point of my posting is that, though the New Missal may be an occasion for catechesis, this catechesis isn't NECESSARY for implementation. As in, we can't implement until the catechesis is finished.

    Already, we are ahead of the MR 1st Typical Edition, because we're going to get the book all at once. We know what's in it. We know why things were changed-- specifically to add propers of new Saints, to come in to uniformity with the new rules for translation, etc.

    The shout out from blogs and critics of the new Missal for over a year has been, first and foremost "What If We Just Said Wait?" (and then "... No?") After they lost that one, the next excuse was that the people need time for implementation, or they won't want to change, or the clergy abuse scandal has rocked their foundations enough-- they won't be able to handle a new Missal translation without their confidence in the Church being shaken, etc.

    Now we get this Guide-- which, as I said, has many very good things. I like their suggestions on inserting information about the New Missal in to some aspects of the liturgical year. But strategic planning groups that develop mission/ vision statements, etc? It seems a bit OTT, even in a mega-parish. Perhaps for a diocese, I could see those things being necessary.

    A good parish catechetical program will incorporate these treasures of the Liturgy and fruits of sacramental theology which you speak of, by means not only of a systematic and organic catechesis, but a truly mystical catechesis, as well.

    As for me in my own pragmatic thinking, I have parents who, after I teach their kids about the real presence of the Eucharist, tell their kids that I don't know what I'm talking about, and that it's just bread and wine. I have adults who want to go 15 rounds about womenpriests, and how Jesus came simply to be a liberator of the poor, and that's the sole mission of the Church. If we can't get our parishioners to even consider another side of what the Church is, and the beauty and unity of Her teaching, how much effort do we really need to put in to "winning them over" to a new translation?

    So, back to my original suggestion... constantly incorporate the Mass in to catechesis. Do a class or two on the New Missal, open to anyone interested in coming. Share some excerpts of some of the prayers. Do a Q and A at the end. Make sure you have pew cards for the responses! Then, order your new Missal when they're available, and say some prayers to God for a successful, though probably bumpy (especially for those who don't go to Mass the first Sunday of Advent), implementation.

    Those who desire to grow and learn will show up to these things. I might add, use a class on the new Missal to sign people up for an adult catechesis program on something else.

    To conclude, yes, you're right. My own plans undoubtedly are long-term for the education of adults in the parish. We're actually about to have a "state of the catechetical program" meeting to specifically address this issue. But I don't think that catechesis on Missal Implementation specifically need be long term, which was my the point of my original post.

    "We've waited long enough". (joking. mostly.)

    God bless you, and many prayers for you this day!


  3. Ha, many apologies, that response sounds oddly like my original posting. I hope it added a bit of clarity, though. My criticism is not in catechesis, which is always good, but the length and amount and procedure "necessary" in order to make implementation of the Missal successful.

  4. Thanks for the reply: this is fun!!

    I thought at first you might be responding to the unfortunate bureaucratic format of many USCCB documents. Your response makes clear that this is not your criticism, although I wish it was, because it is a good criticism.

    I want to attempt to summarize your argument as I understand it, just for the intellectual stimulation it affords me of trying to get inside your head...

    You agree with me that eternity is not enough to understand the Mass.

    You would like to see some implementation during the catechesis, ie, now, and not delayed implementation for the sake of catechesis.

    I don't think that catechesis on Missal Implementation specifically need be long term. (Thank you for clarifying that this was your main argument.)

    Your reasons for these three thesis are:
    1) Most faithful people already know why things were changed and what was changed
    2) Critics of the Missal are using this period as an opportunity to delay the implementation
    3) The implementation period has been hijacked by bureaucrats who fill the implementation documents with irrelevant malarkey
    4) Any good parish catechetical program already provides mystical catechesis.

    You give as examples to support these 4 arguments
    A) The fact that many Catholics in your experience do not have a rudimentary understanding of, or agreement with, basic church teaching (I’m afraid I think that contradicts your first argument)
    B) The fact that mass catechesis can be easily incorporated into existing classes and meetings


    One statement you made particularly struck me:

    “If we can't get our parishioners to even consider another side of what the Church is, and the beauty and unity of Her teaching, how much effort do we really need to put in to "winning them over" to a new translation?”

    It is precisely this attitude with which I wish to disagree. Au Contraire: 1) most people do NOT know why things were changed, even if they are faithful people, 2 and 3) critics can only delay implementation by catechesis if they give something that is not actually catechesis, but in fact criticism, and 3)it IS worth forging through unfortunate beurocratic requirements to provide mystagogical catechesis, to 'winning folks over'. I believe this action is called apostolic zeal, and it's what drove St. Francis Xavier to the Orient.

    In summary, my argument is that there is no evil in making things easy for folks.

    In response to your last paragraph, wouldn’t catechesis on Missal Implementation really be just the opportunity, the jump-start, that your ‘state of the catechetical program’ meeting has been needing?? Why reinvent the wheel? And, for those programs and directors without your initiative, for those who really need direction, is it so bad if the Bishops would like to provide a obvious opportunity?

    From where I am, we see a lot of folks hungry for what no one has ever had the courtesy to tell them, and it makes me indignant sometimes. Thanks for provoking me to write about it!

  5. Hello, again, Miss Advocate,

    Sorry, I will have to correct your understanding of my thoughts... but you're right, it is good to talk about catechesis and the liturgy, so I don't mind responding.

    First, your three conclusions:

    -Yes, I agree with you that eternity is not long enough to learn about the Mass.

    -NO, I have made no comment on a "staggered implementation," if you will. That, most fortunately is not my place to comment on, but rather, for our Bishops to decide. Something I wonder, though, is now that the text is approved, whether individual Bishops could go ahead and promulgate it, in advance of "the Date".

    In general, from a perspective of catholicity, I don't like either of these ideas, but will always respect the authority of my Bishop, or, in the case of the faculties granted to it regarding the Liturgy, the Conference of Bishops; so what they decide is fine with me.

    - Yes, you're correct-- I don't think that catechesis specifically on the Missal need be a long term project.

    Moving on to your next areas of clarification:

    1) No. I disagree with this statement entirely. And who is "faithful people"? Some of the most devout people I know are little old ladies who pray their rosaries every day, but couldn't define the doctrine of the Trinity if asked to explain it thoroughly. That is not to say one can't tell who faithful people are, objectively, but to simply say education is not a requisite for holiness.

    2) DEFINITELY YES. I know of people who are still hoping out.

    3)No. First, this is not an "implementation document," but rather, a suggested guide to help parishes with the implementation. The fact that it is from the USCCB, though, gives it clout. The implementation process prior to its approval (ie, all of the committees involved in coming up with the new missal translation), however, we might be able to make that comment about, but I can't really speak from an informed perspective on a lot of the inner workings of that process. I'll only say... we never got a translation of MR2. Why? Once the recognitio was granted, Cardinal George was pretty on the spot with a date, so, really, there is no "bureaucracy" to speak of.

    AS an aside, in the process of educating the clergy, I think it's been an opportunity for some very liberal liturgists to capitalize on what the documents don't actually say, anywhere, and is just their opinion. So perhaps that fits this category, albeit loosely. In this example, we are actually seeing all of this delay and "catechesis" actually being potentially harmful to the Faithful.

    4) I don't necessarily think a parish has to have a "catechetical program" in the American sense. But that's another topic, entirely. The Mass should be the catechesis par excellence, and really is the fullest form of mystical (or, mystagogical?) catechesis. At least, it should be. Perhaps I question the word "good". In an idealistic sense, a good catechetical program in a parish is one that does not need a DRE.

  6. (continued)

    and finally,

    A) obviously wrong (see above).
    B) Yes, catechesis on the Mass should be incorporated in to all catechesis. But as I said in my first response, specific catechesis on the new Missal is necessary, and in fact, can be a gateway in to reaching out to a population who is not currently receiving any catechesis, and the diligent catechist would have a follow up program to try and hook people in to.

    I'll not respond to the rest, as I think we're actually on the same wavelength, and much of it is based upon the previously mentioned misunderstandings.

    Finally, with regard to length of time on the implementation. I'd just point out that NZ has already started, and BCEW didn't announce their recognitio had been approved for several months after the USA, and they are doing a "staggered implementation," starting several months before us here in the US, who were allegedly ahead of the ball. Now, it seems, we'll be the last to implement.

    (and, for the record, I don't think "bureaucracy" is at all an appropriate way of speaking of the USCCB. They are our bishops, the successors to the Apostles, and I completely respect their legitimate authority where it has been given to them.)