Same Mass, New Words

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass
St. Ignatius of Antioch

Many of you may have heard that the words of the Mass are changing next Advent. This is mostly true. The English translation is being adjusted to be more like the rest of the world. To understand why this is happening, we need to know the Church’s understanding of liturgy. Liturgy is the Catholic Church’s official public worship. St. Ignatius of Antioch is the man who is thought to have coined the term “Catholic” in reference to the Church (or at least his is the oldest surviving written use of the term). Katholicos is the Greek term for “universal.” Calling the Church “Catholic” means that it is the same all around the world; it is universal. Faithful Catholics hold to the same beliefs, and if there are any discrepancies, we have the local authority (the bishop) to officially recognize those beliefs which are in line with the Church and reject those beliefs which are not. As St. Ignatius stated in his Letter to the Smyrnaeans (8), “Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.” They all held the bishop of their area to be the authority for their area, and (for greater unity) the bishop of Rome (the pope) as the head of the Church–the one guy who had the authority to settle all disputes about the faith. Catholics express what they believe in their official public ceremonies–their liturgies. The chief among these liturgies was (and is) the Mass, at which the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is made present on the altar as the bread and wine become His body and blood. They are offered to the Father by the priest. All the people who have assembled unite themselves to the priest’s offering both in mind (as the priest offers the sacrifice to God) and in body (as they receive Jesus in Holy Communion). This is Catholic worship. This is what Catholics believe, and this is what the words and actions of the liturgy are crafted to express.
The Roman Missal
In order to be truly “Catholic” in Her worship, the Church has established instructions on how to celebrate the Mass, and She carefully guards how the liturgy is celebrated, to make sure that the authentic Catholic spirituality is being expressed. The Roman Missal is the official name for the book of how to celebrate the Mass. In it there are many instructions (rubrics) written in red, stating what is supposed to be done and words in bold black for the priest to pray aloud. You’ll see the priest reading from the Missal (sometimes also called the Sacramentary) during the Mass. The Church is so careful about how the Mass is celebrated that any variations need to be approved by the pope’s special liturgy cabinet (The Congregation for Divine Worship and the discipline of the Sacraments). There are certain options that are given to bishops to decide for their dioceses (such as whether people in his diocese will kneel or stand after the Lamb of God) and there are minor options that each priest is allowed to choose (such as which direction to face or which language to use, etc.). Aside from those few options, however, the Church tries to make sure that the liturgy is uniform, so much so that the Second Vatican Council stated: “Therefore no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the Liturgy on his own authority.” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 22.3, reiterated in the General Instructions of the Roman Missal 24)

The Pope with Bishops who were working on the English Translation.
The official documents from the Church are all produced in Latin (the official language of the Catholic Church) and then translated into English. The Roman Missal has seen some updates through the years, always trying to more explicitly express our faith. The most recent update to the Missal was in 2000. Since that time the English speaking bishops called for a complete revision of all the texts we use for Mass. They wanted to make sure that what we English speaking people say at Mass is more like what everyone else around the world speaks. They wanted to make it more Catholic. They also wanted to make the words more explicitly state what we believe. In this age where so many Catholics do not know Church teaching well, who can blame them?
A great effort was made by people across the world to try to make a revised translation that was as accurate to the original Latin as possible and one that more explicitly stated what the Church believes. We Catholics learn much about our faith simply by going to Mass. The reverence and solemnity with which the Mass is offered and the words we hear & say are all designed to draw our minds up, out of ourselves, and focus us on God. This new translation provides an opportunity for all of us to come to understand the Mass better and to focus more on what it is that we are saying–thereby truly participating in the sacrifice with our minds and hearts and enabling us to be drawn even closer to God. We say the same things at Mass each week because they are important, but this repetition can cause us to take it for granted. This new translation will help us to concentrate more on exactly what we believe. This will hopefully help all of us come to a better understanding of God and of our Catholic faith. It will also help us to be more Catholic–that is, more “universal,” more like the rest of the Catholic world in the ideas we express by the words at Mass. The rest of the world already expresses most (if not all) of the words in these more accurate ways.
How much is changing? Not much. In an average Mass there will be less than 150 new words. To give you an idea of how little that is, it is about twice the size of this paragraph. It is still the same basic structure, just a little tweaking here and there to make the language more accurate. Not much is changing, but it will definitely be noticeable and it will hopefully be very helpful for all of us.
We will be having multiple opportunities for you to learn about the new translation before it gets implemented next Advent. If you would like a sneak peak, the US bishops have a good web site for information about the translation:

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