Embracing change: Revisions to the music and language of Mass subtle but extensive

Published: Friday, Sept. 23 2011 4:00 p.m. MDT

Bishop John Wester of the Salt Lake Catholic Diocese celebrates Mass at the Cathedral of the Madeleine in Salt Lake City.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

For Monsignor Robert Servatius of Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Sandy, it's 1969 all over again.

"I was just a young priest back then," said the bright, articulate 73-year-old who many parishioners refer to simply as Monsignor Bob. "I was trained in Latin — that was the language of the Mass when I was first ordained. I was comfortable with that. But then, after Vatican II, many things changed, and we had to adjust to an English mass."

He pauses to take a sip of coffee, then adds: "It wasn't hard to adjust. You just go with the flow."

And that pretty much sums up the counsel of the longest tenured pastor in the Salt Lake Diocese to Catholics throughout the English-speaking world who will be adjusting to the third version of the "Roman Missal" — the collection of prayers, chants and instructions used in the celebration of Mass — later this year: "go with the flow."

"There will be a degree of difficulty," Msgr. Servatius said in reference to the language and musical changes that will make the Mass experience different for both congregants and priests beginning on Nov. 27, the first Sunday of Advent. "It may seem a little awkward at first. But it won't be long before these changes will be comfortable and familiar for everyone. I believe they will ultimately enhance our ability to celebrate the glory and majesty of the Mass."

The Roman Missal, up to now known as the Sacramentary, is the red book the priest uses during the celebration of Mass. Included within its pages is the language of Mass, both spoken and sung, by both the officiator and those who are in the congregation.

The first English version of the Roman Missal was prepared soon after Vatican II. Prior to that time, Mass was always conducted in Latin. But beginning in 1969 English-speaking parishes began using texts that had been translated into what Jill Maria Murdy, director of Liturgy and Music at St. Frances Cabrini Parish in Wisconsin, called "common language" that "aimed for a 'spirit' of the texts rather than an exact literal translation of the Latin words."

A second English edition of the Roman Missal was issued six years later, and English-speaking Catholics have been using this version since then.

"For the new Roman Missal, there was a desire to have the language of the English Roman Missal more closely reflect the Latin," Msgr. Servatius said. "They wanted a more direct translation, one that more closely corresponds to the original Latin and one that more accurately reflects the scriptures."

And that is what the new Roman Missal — the third English edition — represents: a literal translation from the Latin texts, and more closely compatible with Bible passages.

"The changes are subtle, but extensive," said Ruth Dillon, who oversees liturgy and music for the Diocese of Salt Lake City. "For example, in the greeting, the priest now says, 'The Lord be with you.' And the congregations responds, 'And also with you.' In the new translation, the priest still says, 'The Lord be with you.' But the congregation now responds: 'And with your spirit.' "

"That isn't a huge change," Dillon continued, "but it more accurately reflects the Latin version of the greeting."

Msgr. Servatius referred to a similar change in the Creed that is recited during Mass.

"Most of the language of the Creed is the same," he said. "But instead of saying, 'We believe in one God' we say 'I believe in one God.' Throughout the Creed we use 'I' instead of 'we,' making it truly a more personal profession of faith."

Other changes are more dramatic. In the Memorial Acclamations, the proclamation of the mystery of faith has changed from "Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again," to "We proclaim your Death, O Lord, and profess your Resurrection until you come again."

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