October 23, 2009


Changes in the liturgy

Yes, there will be changes in the liturgy—but not immediately.

The liturgy has made news during recent weeks. Some of the stories have been true, while others have prompted rumors and cries of alarm by bloggers who often don’t know what they are talking about.

Here is a rundown on what is coming and what is not coming, despite the rumors.

There will be changes in the wording of many of the prayers at Mass. This is because the Vatican issued a new edition of the Latin version of the Roman Missal back in 2003, and bishops of the English-speaking world have been preparing an English translation ever since. The Criterion has reported on the bishops’ actions each time they approved parts of the missal.

It is expected that final approval of the translations will happen at the bishops’ meeting in November. Then the missal will be sent to the Vatican for its approval.

After that happens, it will take time for publishers to print the new edition of the missal. So perhaps we will start using it in Advent of 2012.

Meanwhile, as we reported in our Aug. 28 issue, the U.S. bishops have launched a new Web site to educate Catholics about the translation: www.usccb.org/romanmissal. However, priests have been told not to jump the gun and begin using the new translation before the date set by the bishops.

Frankly, we don’t expect much trouble with the changes. We have done it before—when the present translation was put into effect. Some of the changes, in fact, revert to previous language.

For example, we will translate “Et cum spiritu tuo” as “And with your spirit” instead of “And also with you” as we are now saying. “Credo” will be “I believe” instead of the present “We believe.” The English will be a more accurate translation of the Latin.

Perhaps because some of the changes in the language revert to what we said in the past, the rumors started that the Vatican is intent on “reforming the reform” of the liturgy, as it has been stated. The Holy See’s secretary of state, though, has denied that that is the intention.

It is true that the Vatican has approved greater availability of the traditional Latin Mass. But that is no indication that this form of the Mass will necessarily become more common or replace the Mass in the vernacular.

Actually, most Catholics are not that concerned about that one way or the other. A survey by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate found that 63 percent—almost

two-thirds—of Catholics polled have no opinion about the availability of the traditional Latin Mass. A quarter of them liked the idea while only 12 percent opposed it.

It is also true that Bishop Edward J. Slattery of Tulsa, Okla., has resumed the practice of facing away from the congregation—ad orientem, “toward the East”—when he celebrates Mass in his cathedral. (We wonder how many Catholics even know that altars in churches are supposed to face the East.) But that is an isolated case. It doesn’t mean that others will follow suit.

With all this going on, it is probably not surprising that a rumor floated among the bloggers that the Vatican will forbid the practice of receiving Communion in the hand—the way most American Catholics receive the Eucharist. Not to worry. That is not among the changes contemplated.

That rumor started after a journalist assigned to the Vatican reported that the Vatican’s liturgy congregation made the recommendation to the pope that Communion in the hand be stopped in order to somehow increase the sense of sacredness at Mass. Whether or not the recommendation was made, it is not among the changes.

What about restricting the reception of Communion to the species of bread and not offering the consecrated wine? Although Christ is sacramentally present under each of the species, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “the sign of Communion is more complete when given under both kinds, since in that form the sign of the Eucharistic meal appears more clearly” (#1390).

What about forbidding girls to be altar servers? Again, no. That practice is clearly too entrenched now to be changed back to boys only.

Yes, some changes are coming, but not all those that have been the topic of rumors.

—John F. Fink

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