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

Published: Sunday, Sept. 25 2011 12:00 a.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."

Because many passages of the Mass are set to music, new music options have been prepared that accommodate the new language.

"Parishes can choose the music that they prefer with the new language," Dillon said. "But they will have to make changes to the music they've become comfortable with. It won't fit with the words anymore."

Priests all over the English-speaking world have been preparing for the changes. In the Diocese of Salt Lake City, a number of workshops have been held to help priests be better prepared to help their respective congregations make the adjustment. Even the Most Reverend John C. Wester, Bishop of Salt Lake City, has been participating in the training.

Bishop Wester told Intermountain Catholic that the changes are challenging to priests, "particularly those who have been saying this Mass, like me, for over 35 years." But as a result of the training, he said, "I'm starting to get more comfortable with the third edition. I feel more confidence in helping others learn it as well."

As the priests become more comfortable with the new language of the Roman Missal, they are working to help members of their congregations become more comfortable as well. Dillon said her parish talks about the new Missal for 10 minutes before services, and has also scheduled workshops during the week. Msgr. Servatius said discussions on the new Missal are being held in women's meetings and in their religious education program for children. He will also be holding special sessions, night and morning, during the week in late October or early November.

"It's going to be a learning process for all of us," Msgr. Servatius said. "I think we will draw closer to each other as we work together to prepare for this transition."

Dillon said that all of the parishes in the Diocese will have copies of the Missal available in church pews, as well as Pew Cards to help people with the new language while it is still new to them.

"For many people, it's been a long time since they looked at a Pew Card," Dillon said. "But this will help them until they are as comfortable with the new language as they are with the old."

Meanwhile, she said, she is looking forward to Advent Sunday, when English-speaking parishes will celebrate their first Mass with the new Missal.

"I'm sure there will be a great feeling of excitement and energy that Sunday," she said. "This will be new. People will be charged up for church!"

Msgr. Servatius, on the other hand, is hoping for a little less excitement. "My goal for that first Sunday," he said, "is a smooth transition. I just want everything to go smoothly."

Which sounds about right for a priest who likes to "go with the flow."

email: jwalker@desnews.com

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