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Dreading new missal translation: What now?

November 21, 2011 by  
Filed under Fr. Bartunek, Liturgy, Mass

Dear Father John, I am looking forward with dread for the new missal translation in our parish. Our priest doesn't take the liturgy very seriously and, well, I don't think it is going to be good. Can you provide some practical insight into how I should look at all of this and prepare my heart? I really care about how we honor Christ in Mass and already struggle a lot with the lack of reverence that I see.

First of all, for any of our readers who aren’t familiar with what the new missal translation is, I want to recommend a couple of resources. The new English translation of the missal (the book containing the prayers, antiphons, and responses of the Mass) goes into action on the First Sunday of Advent, November 27, 2011. What is this new translation and why is it being instituted and what’s it all about? Here are some worthy (in my opinion) explanations:  Life Teen’s video; The Bishops’ Conference videos (longer and less flashy than the Life Teen video; EWTN’s discussion with Fr. Mitch Pacwa (hour-long video interview). And if you prefer to read about it, here are a few of the best resources:

National Catholic Register

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Now on to your question.

The Perfect Prayer

Clearly, you care deeply about the Mass, the perfect prayer, the origin of all Christian prayer, and the central act of worship of all time.  Your concern and even anxiety about careless or irreverent celebrations of the Mass come across strongly in your question. But that concern can work against you. Even if a priest appears to you to be celebrating the Mass irreverently, the Mass still remains the Mass. Even if he is sloppy and blasé, the Church is still praying through him and Christ is still offering himself to the Father through him. And this is really the main point about praying at Mass: it is our objective worship. Of course we would love to be emotionally (as well as spiritually) uplifted by the external beauty of a papal Mass every day, but even when the externals are sub-par, the reality remains exactly the same.

Room to Grow?

If our devotion to Christ in the Mass, therefore, is easily disturbed by a sloppy or irreverent priest, then we know that our faith has room to grow. Are we truly seeking to please God, or are we seeking the sweetness of consolation for ourselves? If we seek to worship God, then sometimes the less glorious liturgies are even better than the glorious ones. Not because Christ doesn’t always deserve our very best – he does. And the liturgy of the Church should shine with reverence and beauty and respect and mystery (this is one of the reasons we have a new translation coming).  But if true worship is about our trusting in God in spite of everything, just as Jesus trusted in his Father on the Cross, then we can actually exercise our trust even more when the externals of a particular celebration of Mass are rather mundane. To pray devotedly in that situation requires a more mature faith, a stronger faith. We have to truly believe that God is working through his Church, through his priest, even when the appearance of things seems to say something else.

I am not encouraging priests to be sloppy – every priest will have to answer to God for how he cares for the sacraments. And believe me, that is a harrowing thought. But as long as the priest isn’t making up his own Mass or otherwise being sacrilegious – as long as he is celebrating the Church’s Mass, then Christ is truly, objectively there. And that should be enough for us.

The Mass is not primarily about me.  The Mass is the prayer of the Church, the prayer of Christ. So if I don’t like my priest’s style, that’s a secondary thing. The primary thing remains.

Getting Personal

In my personal journey into the Catholic faith, this realization played an important role.  Before being Catholic, when moving into a new area I would shop around to find a church I liked. When I began to be drawn into the Catholic faith, I realized that Catholics don’t do that – they don’t need to do that. They just go to their parish. I still remember moving into a new apartment about a year before officially becoming Catholic. I was so excited to find out what was to be my parish. I called up the diocesan office, told them my address, and they told me which parish I was in. And I went to Mass there. No shopping required! What a relief! The externals, including the notably eccentric style of the priest, were quite different from the beautiful Masses I had attended in Italy during the first stage of my conversion. And yet, the structure and the substance was the same. And I knew that by attending that Mass I was plugging into something much bigger than me, much bigger than that particular priest, much bigger than my own preferences and comfort zone.

Preparing Our Hearts

The advent of the new translation of the missal gives us all a chance to renew our deep faith in that which is “much bigger” than all of us. And this, I think, is the best way to prepare our hearts to receive the new translation: activating anew our faith in God’s action through his Church, through his sacraments, through his very human and very imperfect instruments. The Mass transcends styles and preferences. The Mass gives us something we desperately need in today’s world, which is so focused on personal feelings and subjective fulfillment. It gives us a chance to enter into something not of our own making, and to unite ourselves to an objective act of worship that is Christ’s own prayer, his own sacrifice, his own act of worship, really made present for us – whether or not we happen to feel any spiritual warm-fuzzies, and whether or not we happen to like the way our priest celebrates.

Getting Practical

On a practical note, though, I want to assure you that you don’t need to stay stuck at a dead end.  If the style of celebrating Mass at your parish consistently makes it impossible for you to pray during Mass and to appreciate what is really going on, you are not required to stay there. The Church only requires that we attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days, preferably in our own parish. But we are free to go to other parishes if there is a good reason, or to a nearby monastery or convent. Likewise, if real and serious liturgical abuses have crept into your parish, you have the right (and the duty) to inform your bishop.  It’s his job to care for the sacraments as celebrated in his diocese, and to assure that the faithful have access to the liturgical life as the Church intends it.

One more thing. Your question reminds me of a startling quotation from the patron saint of parish priests, St. John Vianney, and I would like to close with it: “There are no bad parish priests; there are only parish priests whose parishioners don’t pray enough for them.” Please keep praying for us priests!!!

PS: I am sure our readers could also provide some suggestions on how they deal with these challenges in a positive and constructive way…

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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college, he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller, "Inside the Passion"--the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". His most recent books are "Spring Meditations", "Seeking First the Kingdom: 30 Meditations on How to Love God with All Your Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength", and "Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions". Fr. John currently splits his time between Michigan (where he continues his writing apostolate and serves as a confessor and spiritual director at the Queen of the Family Retreat Center) and Rome, where he teaches theology at Regina Apostolorum. His online, do-it-yourself retreats are available at RCSpirituality.org, and he answers questions about the spiritual life at SpiritualDirection.com.

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  • Claire

    We aren’t called to be the liturgy police. The people in the pews can use a 1-page cheat sheet but the priests will have many more changes to implement. We should be supportive of them and realize how difficult it may be for some of them. On a positive note, perhaps the effort involved in adjusting to the changed wording and new prayers will cause the questioner’s parish priest to be more attentive to what he is doing.

  • jack g.

    O.K> This one is a big one for me, seems all your posts are, nowadays. You guys are great. It is only because being a revert for only 2 years+, I was trying to find a page like this. I feel as if at home and there is a lot I am learning here also from other readers. 
    At first I was outraged at some lack of reverence on many occasions, but slowly Lord made me understand that when this happens I need to pray even more and with love for all priests, but especially for those that bother me. And so I do every day at Mass, especially when the priest receives Body and Blood of our Lord, and on other occasions. I read many of private revelations and in most legit ones I noticed a pattern of a request for prayer for priests. I pray for them every day. Our Lady in Medjugorje asks for just that on many occasions.
    When I am bothered by others behavior, I reverently pray for them and offer my Mass and Communion for them also. All I do is offered to Jesus through Mary every day so I do not worry if I chose the right intentions today. She takes care of that. She is my Queen. Also we know that Mass has an infinite value of Grace, so we do not need to worry that there are too many intentions. 
    I ask my Queen to protect Jesus from my and others being sacrilegious, and believe it or not I notice a difference in behaviors.
    I am dumbfounded when it comes to my parish pastor, because I wrote hi 2 letters on a few issues I had noticed and he ignored me. One is that he allows all faithful to stand during the consecration and my kids have go to school there, believe it or not. It is a cross for me just to attend Mass there, I used to almost hate it to go there. But with many prayers I attend once a month and survive with prayer. Last Sunday I received my first consolation there and that was my first Sunday where I truly prayed with love for this priest.
    With God there is no accidents. 
    I believe that this will eventually change, the priest is advanced in age anyway, maybe he will retire. For now I pray and also for other parishioners. 
    It is all about our heart and ability to receive. The more gratitude we are able to offer during the Mass, the more our hearts will be able to receive. All the parts of the Mass are important and with a profound meaning.
    As far as the new translation, in my opinion, it is being made more than it really is. It is not that complicated and surely it is good it is happening now, when the Church is dosing off around the world, but especially in English speaking countries. No matter what you change , but come to Mass with a hardened or ignorant heart, it will not make a difference. To have others participate with more reverence, just do it yourself works the best. I noticed that, too. I do not worry a lot anymore, and when I do I pray. In a parish where there is adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, miracles happen. Rosary devotion, but please, please I beg you all that attend Rosary, pray slower, do not rush. In that I couldn’t find myself participating, so I pray my daily Rosary by myself.
    Thank you all for patience, with love of Jesus, jack g.

    • Becky Ward

      One thing we need to remember when we see these ‘terrible offenses’ is that …….it is only through God’s grace that we do see them. We have received a gift that our bothers and sisters have not received……yet.

      (I’ve been in your ‘outraged’ shoes…)

      Conversion is a wonderful gift & blessing……I think it also allows us to comprehend, in a more specific manner, of what ‘our cross’ is made.

      It’s good getting to know you Jack.

    • jack g.

      I am not outraged anymore, it was a grace for me to be able to understand and pray with love and care for those who visibly offend God, probably without their knowledge, anyway. It is more of a trial than a cross nowadays, nonthless it makes me sad in a place where I should be joyful and that is my strugle now. Oh yes, conversion is like a rollercoaster, and I hate them, but I love the challenges of conversion. It is a great adventure in God’s lap. Many times I feel like child, not really childish, just like a child of God. I cannot describe the love for God, but I can compare to a woman who cried at His feet. This gift of conversion need to be controlled, because oterwise it is so easy to be judgemental and act in a place of God. I have to remind myself every day and this is a great challenge for me. Pray for me sometimes, too. Thank you Becky, and it is really good to be a part of you all and be able to share my own conversion with people who understand more how I feel. There is nothing like God’s hug.

  • Guest

    Thank you, Fr. John for this concise response to this fearful Faithful. We all need to remember that the Holy Spirit is active in the Catholic Church. He is especially forcefully and uniquely present at every Eucharistic Celebration. It is also advisable to remember that the Celebrant is, in actual fact, only the Instrument of Jesus Christ, Who is offering Himself to His Father. Aware of these few Truths, no matter how uninspiring the Priest may be, we still assist fully in the Sacrifice of the Mass and receive many precious Graces from God. I truly love that quotation from the Patron Saint of the Priests :  “There are no bad parish priests; there are only parish priests whose
    parishioners don’t pray enough for them.” Please keep praying for us
    priests!!!”. Our Heavenly Mother has time and time again exhorted Christ’s Sheep to pray unceasingly for Her Son’s Priests.

  • Excellent for folks I’m trying to help. Thank you.

  • Houincat

    I didn’t hear that this parishioner was trying to be the liturgy police, but that he just wants to do this well and in doing so honor the Lord . I am sure there was no judgment meant here. It is hard when the parishioner has difficulty connecting with the priest that is offering the mass. We all like to have a little emotional connection but it is difficult at times. We definitely need to continue to pray for our priests..and for each other…..they have a very heavy load and it is difficult to carry that so, they really need our support. Along with that, let’s pry that the Holy Spirit fills us all to be more supportive of each other and our priests in all situations.

    • Dear Friend: You are right – I know the person who asked the question.

  • Rector

    Dear Fr. John: Thank you for your comments on the true purpose of the Mass and how it is celebrated. God bless you.

  • AnnieB

    What a great post. I keep thinking that the Mass is not about us but about God, and what he wants. I try to explain this friends who witter on about the fact they don’t get anything out of the Mass and blame the priest but I’m not very good at expressing myself. What a lovely quote from St John Vianney. Definely one I will use. God bless all our priests!

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