This morning I was given an early Advent present.
I had heard a few months ago that the bishops of the United States had decided parishes could begin using the musical settings of the new revised translation in September, so that people could begin learning the translations before Advent came and the complete revised missal went into effect. But I hadn’t realized that my parish would choose to do so!
I was thinking about the revised translation as I drove to Mass, thinking how close we were and wondering what the first Sunday of Advent would be like across the country. It was much to my surprise, then, when I got to church, that there were handouts in the pews with the chants for the revised Gloria, Sanctus, and Memorial Acclamation, with a note detailing the permission of the bishops, the fact that more of the parts would be changing but that we were beginning learning these musical settings now, etc. The Agnus Dei isn’t changing, but the revised Missal contains a chant setting for that, too, which was included on the sheet.
So this morning, for the first time, I sang the revised Mass parts. The revised Mass parts about which I’ve been lecturing for the past few months, I’ve been reading about for the last few years, and the Church has been working on for many, many, many years.
You know what? They were beautiful.
Was the whole church singing? No. (Does the whole church sing the Gloria normally? … no.)
Does that mean it’s horrible? Doomed? Destroying our community?
Will it take time for us to learn them? Sure.
While I’m guessing choir directors and “music ministers” are stressing out about finding the best Mass setting with which to teach the text to their people, after this morning I can confidently say that singing the chant setting provided in the Missal itself will make it easier for us to learn the revised texts.
The people at my parish are already familiar with the “tune” of the Mass from Jubilate Deo (found here), so the English chant “tune” came very naturally to us. In fact, I’d be willing to bet there are more people in the pews familiar with the Jubilate Deo setting (or “Missa Primativa”) of the Sanctus or Agnus Dei than many priests think.
While I understand the crucial need to catechize the people in the pew at this time (believe me, I do…) I think that many people’s focus is in the wrong place. People are wasting oxygen and space on the World Wide Web complaining that these changes are too hard, that they’re being rushed, that they’re coming at a bad time, that people are going to reject them, yadda yadda yadda.
The changes aren’t hard. And if anyone leaves the Church over them, they’re leaving the Church for a lot of other reasons and using the “changes” as an excuse.
(I hate saying “changes,” because the far bigger change was after the Council, and in many cases the “changes” we’re making now are just revising what shouldn’t have been changed in the first place. For example, it’s clear from the writings of St. Justin Martyr (A.D. 100-165) and St. John Chrysostom that the response to “The Lord be with you,” is “And with your spirit.” If they had responded that way from the first century until the mid-twentieth century, and we began responding “and also with you” in the last forty or so, which is really “a change”?)
This time should not be about scaring anyone about changes or bemoaning the fact that they’re happening. This is a time to be catechizing on the liturgy, about what is happening at the Mass, why words matter, and how to enter into the great mystery we face each time we partake in the Holy Sacrifice.
I love what Father Finigan says in his blog today, after the churches in England and Wales used the new translation for the first time. Speaking of his thoughts about the former translation, he said, “of course, many people have been sanctified by their participation in the Mass using this translation, but if you have even a rudimentary knowledge of Latin, it is frustrating to know that the people are being denied the richness of the Church’s sacred texts” (emphasis mine).
It’s not about politics. It’s not even just about Latin. It’s about the richness of the texts. It’s about the theology of our word. It’s about the ability to enter into the liturgy more fully.
My prayer every night for more than a year now has been 1) for the priests, that they be obedient to the Holy Spirit during this time and listen to Him speaking through the Church and 2) that the people in the pew approach these revised translations and the time of renewal with an open mind and heart.
As I await the full introduction of the revised texts in November, I can’t help but think: Glory to God- they’re almost here!