New Catholic Mass Already Causing A Stir This weekend, Catholics may experience a surprise when they attend Mass. The words and music are different, thanks to the first major change of the English-language Mass in 40 years. Supporters say the new prayers are more elegant; critics say they're clumsy and are a triumph of conservatives.
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New Catholic Mass Already Causing A Stir

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New Catholic Mass Already Causing A Stir

New Catholic Mass Already Causing A Stir

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This weekend marks a big change for people around the world who are Catholic, and who celebrate Mass in English. The words and music of the English Mass are now different, thanks to the first major change to the texts in 40 years. As NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty reports, the new, more formal liturgy is already causing a stir.

BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY, BYLINE: It was an unusual homily, but these are unusual times for the Catholic Church.

REVEREND CHESTER SNYDER: Let's practice it. The Lord be with you.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: And be with you in spirit.

HAGERTY: On a recent Sunday, Father Chester Snyder and the parishioners at St. Joseph's Church in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, did a trial run through the new Mass.

SNYDER: You're pretty good at this.

HAGERTY: As of this weekend, the liturgy has a new vocabulary - not an overhaul but enough to trip people up, especially those who have the old one memorized.

SNYDER: I believe in one God...

HAGERTY: For example, in the Nicene Creed, the old version said: Jesus is one in being with the Father. The new version says: Jesus is consubstantial with the Father. In the old Mass, people confessed they sinned "through my own fault." Now people say they have greatly sinned "through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault" as they strike their chests. Father Snyder was shocked at the changes at first, but then he considered what the Mass celebrates: the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.

SNYDER: And that's not everyday stuff.

HAGERTY: He says it's a profound mystery.

SNYDER: So when we enter into the realm of mystery, we try to have a language that is a little bit different than what we use in the marketplace or at the football stadium, or even in our everyday conversation.

HAGERTY: Which is precisely what the Vatican is trying to achieve. When the Latin Mass was translated into English 40 years ago, it was done relatively quickly, and everyone knew it would be revised. The new translation is closer to the Latin, in both words and sentence structure. Of course, there's a learning curve, member Janet Beveridge says. But it's nothing compared to the shift from Latin to English, and she likes mixing it up.

JANET BEVERIDGE: It's good because it makes you be on your feet and pay attention to what you're doing, and not take it for granted. And I never want to take my faith for granted.

HAGERTY: But Monica Malpezzi thinks the new language is stilted and confusing. It will only create a barrier between people and God.

MONICA MALPEZZI: If we have to scramble for understanding in what our prayer life is, I think that it'll make it harder for us to feel that God is right there with us.

HAGERTY: Malpezzi echoes the sentiment of many priests across the country. They say if the new people's prayers are awkward, the priests are sometimes unintelligible. Bishop Donald Trautman, who used to chair the Bishops' Committee for the Liturgy, says priests now have to recite some sentences that are 90 words long. And he says sometimes, the new translation is not faithful to the Bible. For example, it has Jesus, a poor carpenter, sipping from a precious chalice during the last supper.

BISHOP DONALD TRAUTMAN: It's a drinking cup. It's a vessel. It's not a chalice.

HAGERTY: Trautman says even Indiana Jones got that one right.


HAGERTY: He selected a wooden cup as the Holy Grail.


HAGERTY: But Bishop Trautman's concerns go beyond vocabulary to theology. He cites where the new translation says Jesus died, quote, for you and for many.

TRAUTMAN: In preaching, we will hear that Jesus died for all people. But at the altar, we will hear that Jesus died for many. For whom did he not die?

HAGERTY: Father Michael Ryan has similar reservations.

REVEREND MICHAEL RYAN: It seems that the Latin's more important than the theology. That's a pity.

HAGERTY: Ryan is pastor of St. James Cathedral in Seattle. He sees this as a power play by conservatives in the Vatican trying to rein in the English-speaking world. He says Vatican II wanted the liturgy to exhibit, quote, noble simplicity.

RYAN: This is anything but that. No, it's a total move away from the teaching of the Second Vatican Council.

JEFFREY TUCKER: There's a kind of paranoia about all of this.

HAGERTY: Jeffrey Tucker is managing editor of the magazine Sacred Music.

TUCKER: Oh, look, we don't want to go back to pre-Vatican II days with, you know, nuns that hit us with rulers; and where the priest is, you know, fussing at us for our sins all the time, or whatever. All we're really saying here is that we want church to feel and sound like church.

HAGERTY: Tucker says the new words and music are an overdue adjustment from a liturgy that he calls too chatty. Monsignor Rick Hilgartner agrees. He's overseeing the change in liturgy for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and he asks: Just how accessible does the liturgy have to be?

MONSIGNOR RICK HILGARTNER: People might say, well, what about children? Well, so do we then say that the whole liturgy has to be at a third-grade reading level? How long would that sustain adults in the faith?

HAGERTY: Hilgartner says the new words simply reflect the maturing of the American faith, and he asks people to be patient.

HILGARTNER: And I would hope people wouldn't Monday morning quarterback this on November 28th. And I think we all need to give each other some time to learn our parts so that we cannot just be focused on words but ultimately, get to a point that the words can start to speak to our hearts.


UNIDENTIFIED CHOIR: (Singing) Glory to God in the highest.

HAGERTY: The regulars at St. Joseph's are already committing the new words, music and rhythms to heart. But this weekend may be disorienting for the millions of Catholics who reserve their worship for the holiday season, which begins, yes, this weekend. Barbara Bradley Hagerty, NPR News.

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