wrestling with the new missal (because words matter)

Life is full of firsts and lasts. But sometimes even when we see change looming on the horizon, it’s no easier to accept.

This weekend is the last Sunday of the Catholic Mass as I’ve known it since I was a child. Starting on the First Sunday in Advent, a new missal translation will go into effect. And as a church, we’ll go from flying through rote memorization to stumbling over new words and prayers in the pews.

I am not looking forward to this.

The changes are no surprise. They were in the works when I graduated from divinity school, and all the liturgy students were a-twitter about new Mass parts and catechizing the changes. But with such drama and politics and ups and downs about how when (and even whether) the new translation would be put into place, I did what any wordsmith faced with the prospect of drastic change in well-loved prayers would do.

I ignored it.

I tried to pretend it wasn’t happening. I hoped it would get caught up for years – or even decades – with bishops bickering or committees quibbling. I prayed that the Spirit would move the church to invest its energy in debates other than “consubstantial” vs. “one-in-being.”

And – surprise! – it turns out that this was a foolish way to go. Because just like denying that your baby is growing up or your teenager is heading off to college, the change was coming. Whether I liked it or not.

So for the past few weeks, I’ve been moping around Mass. As our choir started singing the new Gloria in preparation for Advent, I frowned. As the bulletin grew fat with inserts about relearning the Mass parts, I grumbled. As priests preached from the pulpit about the coming changes, I sighed.

And then on the drive home from church one Sunday, I got that unmistakable itch. The uncomfortable restlessness that means God is speaking and I’m not listening.

Dang, I hate that itch.

I realized that I needed to figure out a way to embrace the change. To see good. To find peace. Because change was coming and I’d have to live with it.

So I sighed and pulled out a stack of papers that I’d stuffed in a drawer. A copy of the changes to the Mass parts. A list of FAQs about why this is happening now. Commentaries on the meaning of the new translations.

I sat down and read them all. And decided that if I had any hope of embracing the new, I first had to grieve the loss of what was old and comfortable.

Before you roll your eyes – it’s just some new words! who cares? does it really matter? – let me remind you that anyone who dares to call themselves a writer, even in the most amateur use of the term, believes that words matter. That beauty and poetry matter. That the power of words to shape our thoughts and beliefs matters.

And because I believe words matter, when I finally sat down and faced the new words right in front of me, I discovered – surprise! – that I actually appreciated some of the changes. If I could lovingly let go of the past, I might just be able to peacefully accept the future.

So this week and next, I’m going to spend some time on both sides of the changes. One post on what I will miss from the old translation and one post on what I can embrace in the new.

If you’re Catholic, I hope this sparks a new wrestling with the words on the page. Because words matter. And if you’re not, I hope this inspires a new reflection on what you profess and believe. Because words matter.

As any parent of a frustrated toddler will patiently remind you, you have to use your words. And use them well. My prayer for our church as we push into this period of transition with translation is that we can use our words and use them well.

Because words matter.

6 thoughts on “wrestling with the new missal (because words matter)

  1. Lauren says:

    A beautiful reflection, L. I too have been wrestling with the coming changes, grateful for the books I’ve been editing that have helped me come to terms with the shifting vocabulary. I have, for the most part, absented myself from conversations about the translation. The anger that people expressed, though valid, was not helpful in my processing what is to come.

    Yes, words matter. How we pray matters. A lot.

    I too am savoring these last liturgies of the current translation.

    • mothering spirit says:

      Anger doesn’t always serve us well – wisely said. We have to move to look ahead with grace as well.

      Have you come across any good books on the translation that you can recommend? (Or maybe they’re still coming down the pipeline if you’re editing them.) Would love to have more good input.

  2. Anita 'Woods' Fischer says:

    Thank you for these words (yes, they matter). I find myself a bit melancholy these days for there are many words that I will miss, but like you, many I have grown to appreciate and love. Peace be with you this week and in the weeks to come.

    • mothering spirit says:

      Melancholy – that’s a good word. I know there will be things I will come to love about the new translation, but I’m not there yet. We have to live in the limbo time. And be grateful for the wise people in leadership in our church (wink, wink) who will help guide us through the changes.

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