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home : opinion : perspectives

5/5/2011 9:16:00 AM
SEMINARIAN DIARY
New priests and the new Missal translation
BY JAY ATHERTON


Much has been said about the upcoming implementation of the new English translation of the Third Edition of the Roman Missal. For many, it is a source of anxiety; for others, it's a source of excitement or hope. For some, it's even a point of resentment.

As a newly-ordained priest this Advent, when the new translation takes effect in parishes, I will certainly be on the front lines of the effort to make this liturgical transition.

Before we try implementing the new missal, we need to explain the changes to our people and collaborate with fellow clergy and laity who are experts in liturgical and sacramental theology.

There will need to be much preparation if we have any hope of staying in line with the urgings of the liturgical movement of the 20th century, which highlighted the necessity of not just attending the Mass, but of praying the Mass.

Long before Advent, we ought to lead some courses in our parishes on the development of the Creed. The shifts from "we believe" to "I believe" and from "one in being with the Father" to "consubstantial with the Father" are going to be awkward.

Adult faith formation must be part of a successful transition to the use of the new translation of the missal. (Parishes where the leadership is obstinate or neglectful of catechesis will likely experience this transition as unnecessarily painful.)

On the matter of the Creed, the pastor and his associates can play a valuable role as theologians. Situating the profession of the Creed within the historical context of centuries of struggle, argument, schism and reformulation can help people take the words seriously.

Without this historical perspective on the Creed, we really have no answer to the question, "Why do we need to make these changes? Who cares what we say?"

One facet of the new translation ought to be easy to accept: Most Catholics understand the centrality of the Bible in Christian life and worship, so they understand the value of making sure that scriptural translation is accurate and up-to-date and incorporating its use more clearly into the liturgy.

I anticipate one shift in the habits of priests regarding the Mass: Currently, the language of the priests' parts is so natural and intuitive that it's a rare priest who has to spend time going over these parts of the Mass in advance.

I suspect that this will have to change. If priests approach this change as a way of becoming more fully integrated in their celebration of the Mass, it could make the Mass more accessible to their congregations.

When I sat before the Priest Placement Board last December to discuss my first assignment as an associate, a board member asked me, "If your pastor goes to you and says, 'I don't want to deal with the new Missal - you handle it,' what would you do?"

I've been pondering this question. There is a chance that I will be assigned to a pastor who has been gearing up for the new Missal with adult education classes, pointed homilies and catechist retraining even before my arrival on July 1.

In such a situation, I'll fall into line with the preparations the parish is already making and support his project with my time and know-how.

More likely, however, is a scenario that falls between these extremes - but wherein my pastor is hoping that I have the latest training and preparation under my belt.

If the preparations get dumped in my lap, this begs the question, "Why doesn't he want to deal with it?" Is he frustrated with yet another set of changes, which he sees as undermining the work he set out to do after the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s? Does he feel inadequately informed as to the reasons for the changes or unable to explain their specifics to the people?

There is also the question of where the people are at as they look ahead to this transition: Are they excited, dreading it or indifferent?

The majority of people will find the new wordings awkward to speak and to sing, and possibly even theologically challenging. Those who are dreading the inconvenience or resenting it as a Vatican imposition are going to need coaxing to view it through a broader lens. Those who are indifferent will need to be challenged to look at the Mass with a fresh perspective.

The implementation of the new Missal will most likely be my first involvement in a major pastoral project as a priest. Depending on how it goes, it also stands to be either my first experience of pastoral success over a long-term project, or long-term pastoral frustration and exasperation.

Only an open mind and an open heart on my part and that of my fellow priests will be able to guide others through this shift from the familiar to the new.

Yet this project will involve so many areas - so much integration of theological knowledge, pastoral expertise and prayer - that it can be a wonderful opportunity for the newly-ordained to share our formation fully with the people we will serve this Advent.


(Jay Atherton is a seminarian studying for the priesthood for the Diocese of Albany at Mundelein Seminary in Illinois. He will be ordained in June.)

This is part of The Evangelist's ongoing series of reports from diocesan seminarians on their studies, work and development. To read previous installments, go to www.evangelist.org and search for "seminarian diary."





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