Launching the Missal: Attitude

Attitude: every family with teenagers knows how powerful it is. With a good attitude, the most distasteful task can be a joy. Conversely, a bad attitude can make even a trip to paradise miserable. Attitude is nearly always just a few syllables away. The word "Disney," for example, evokes warm childhood memories of princesses and little boys who didn't want to -- and didn't have to -- grow up. The word "Electrolux," on the other hand, makes us think of endless daily drudgery and repetitive chores that sometimes make us feel un -- or at least under -- appreciated.

There is one word, though, that pulls us in both directions -- change. The idea of change excites and inspires us. We think of all that is wrong about the way things are, and hope for change that will bring tangible improvement. But change also makes us uncomfortable. It can even frighten us. That is because most of us who are so anxious to see the world around us change, aren't nearly so willing to have something within us or about us change. The challenges are compounded when something we consider solid or stable, world-defining or self-defining changes. For Catholics, there is nothing that fits into that category more than the Mass.

For the entire English-speaking Catholic world, however, the Mass -- or more accurately the language we use at Mass -- is about to change. The words we say will change on the first Sunday of Advent. The words we sing -- at least some of them -- may begin to change in September.

Most of us go to Mass week after week without fully realizing that if we're not praying in Latin, we're praying in translation. The words we know so well, and regrettably often say without thinking, are the current English version of the universal prayers of the Universal Church. They are not written in stone; and that's a good thing, because something -- at times a significant something -- is invariably lost in any translation.

For nearly two decades, 11 bishops conferences have been preparing a new English translation of the Mass. I know, I know; "if it isn't broke, why fix it?" But instead of asking the Church to make a line-by-line case for the changes that will come regardless, why not decide that we'll approach them with a positive attitude? Why not decide to take all we have gained from the Mass as we know it, and now take advantage of every good thing the new translations will offer us?

Will there be things you'll love about the changes? Certainly! Will there be things you don't like? Sure. Like everything on this side of eternity, the new language and official chants won't be perfect. But if we're honest, we have to admit that the words and music we use now aren't perfect either. Only in heaven will liturgy be what it truly is -- divine worship.

Perhaps the greatest fruit to be harvested by ushering in the new translation is fully accepting that most Catholics don't really know what the words we already use really mean, or fully appreciate what is truly occurring at Mass. These changes offer us a unique, once-in-a-generation opportunity to teach about the Mass. Encountering new words can help lift our participation at liturgy out of what is mostly habitual, toward something that is more intentional. When we are suddenly asked to say "consubstantial with the Father," we may realize that we didn't understand what it meant when we were saying "one in being with the Father" all those years. Stumbling a bit over what words to say, we have the opportunity to discover, or rediscover, why we are saying them.

So, whether you are a parishioner, DRE, liturgical musician, deacon, priest or pastor, you have a rare chance to set the tone for how you and others will experience the Mass. The spiritual and pastoral benefits of enriching the liturgy are beyond measure. But if we are to make good use of this teachable moment, we'll need to open our own hearts to what the Church is offering us, and allow ourselves to be taught as well.

Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an inspirational author, speaker, musician and serves as an Associate Children's Editor at Pauline Books and Media.