Collectively, churches and changes don’t go well together. Whether it’s change in the way people dress for worship; the addition of multiple service times and Saturday night services; replacing the choir with a worship team; or the preacher switching from the NASB to The Message; we tend, as a group, to be very uncomfortable with the transitions.
In Evangelical circles, the ongoing tension is often expressed as, “The Bible Wars,” or “The Music Wars.” Like the weather, everyone has an opinion on these topics, and some people simply vote with their feet and move on.
For Roman Catholics, the parish system dictates where your primary place of worship is located. Catholics actually led the rest of us in the switch to contemporary music, with the folk masses of the early 1960s, so it’s not a prime breeding ground for music battles. Their scripture readings form a smaller part of a much larger liturgy, and use the NAB (New American Bible), NRSV, Jerusalem Bible and even the Catholic edition of the Good News Bible allows some flexibility.
In fact, the NAB went through a revision this year; a revision somewhat ignored by the rest of the Christian community, and totally overshadowed by the release of the 2011 edition of the NIV. But it was not without controversy especially over — you can pause and make a guess here — the use of inclusive language. So now we hear the NABRE (revised edition) is “approved for private use and study. It will not be used in the mass. “
While we wait for that story to sort itself out, comes word this week that changes are coming to The Missal, a book which really has a larger place in the structure of the mass than the Bible itself. What might be called “focus groups” are getting together across the USA to “test drive” the new order of service, as USAToday Religion reports:
…They [are] preparing for a revised text of the Mass that will take effect on Nov. 27, the first Sunday of the liturgical season of Advent and of the church year.
The revisions reflect a new translation for the English-speaking world of the Roman Missal, the official Latin-language set of worship documents. It includes words and instructions for conducting the Mass, the central act of Catholic worship, in which priests bless and distribute bread and wine as essentially the body and blood of Jesus.
Virtually every prayer and proclamation in the Mass is undergoing at least some revision, marking the biggest change in worship for American Catholics since they began having Masses in English rather than Latin after the reformist Second Vatican Council of the 1960s.
Much of the debate within the church is over whether the changes, ordered by the Vatican to achieve more literal translations from the Latin, are good or bad.
Proponents say the new version is a more precise reflection of the original Latin. They say it is richer in its poetry, more reverent in its references to God and fuller in its allusions to the Bible and church creeds.
Critics say the Vatican dismissed years of work by scholars who had been working for the bishops of English-speaking countries. They call the new version rigidly literal — difficult for priests to recite and lay people to understand.
It contains technical theological terms — such as Jesus being “consubstantial” with the Father, replacing the current phrase “one in being,” and “oblation,” replacing the term “offering.”
But for many Catholics, such discussions haven’t even registered.
A national survey released in August found that three-quarters of Roman Catholics are unaware of the changes to come.
Other highlights from the article:
- [Michael] Diebold sees the revisions as showing “symbolically where Rome is headed” — away from a cooperative vision of church as the “people of God” toward one defined by its hierarchy.
- Others worry about how young people — whom Catholic and other churches are already struggling to retain — will react.
- The Rev. Joseph Fowler, a retired priest, said the phrasing is “going to be very foreign” to people.
- The vocabulary is “not the language of the street, it’s not the language I may pray on my own,” [Archdiocese worship director Judy Butler] said. But it reflects the current Vatican emphasis on using a “sacred vernacular” — which people recognize as devotional language.
- “If any priest picks up that Missal on that first Sunday and has not read it out loud, he’ll be in over his head,” said the Rev. Paul Scaglione, pastor at St. Barnabas.
So for non-Catholics, how does this affect you?
I think that for the most part, Protestants and Evangelicals have done a decent job of surviving the Bible wars and music wars, but not so good a job at “refreshing” the liturgy. We still tend to lapse into dated and awkward phrases at time, and the repeating of the ‘words of institution’ at The Lord’s Supper or Communion could easily be refreshed since they are straight out of I Cor 11 and the other translations already exist.
While mainline Protestant churches focus more on liturgy, Evangelicals focus on the sermon, and this is another area where help is needed. One Atlanta pastor is known as “one of America’s top communicators;” but I wonder if the issue is not the number of people in the pulpit on Sunday morning who simply aren’t good communicators, or are perhaps really bad communicators.
The Roman Catholic church is working to address a badly needed change; but it’s insistence on a “sacred vernacular” that is difficult to grasp may signal change that is moving in the wrong direction.
Some excellent articles on the new missal can be found at Catholic San Francisco:
- The New Missal: Just the Same House Redecorated
- a before & after example of a revised Eucharistic Prayer
- answers to common questions
- more frequently asked questions
- questions about the music used at mass
Again, from a non-Catholic perspective, it would be great to see so much thought and consideration being poured into the words spoken during our worship services, especially given the Evangelical penchant to speak extemporaneously, or as one pastor told me years ago, “to wing it.” Winging it simply doesn’t respect people’s time, intelligent or the place of things sacred.