A Note From Fr. Timothy
It might be hard to believe, but it has already been a decade since we received the English translation of the new edition of the Roman Missal (the text used for all the prayers at Mass). You probably remember the changes in wording for various prayers of the Mass like the Gloria or the Creed. The pews were stocked with cards that helped remind us to say, “And with your Spirit,” instead of, “And also with you.” On one hand that change seems very recent – being a pretty unusual and impactful change it stands out in our memory. At the same time it seems so long ago that I bet many people would have a difficult time remembering what the prayers used to say.
I personally believe that the change was a positive thing and a much better translation of the Latin text (the official language of the Church, in which its official documents are published). I think we must always be very cautious about making changes to the liturgy. The liturgy is a prayer that connects us to God and encompasses the human condition. In some ways it stands outside of time and is eternal (divine) in its nature. In other ways, it is still people of particular places and cultures who celebrate it and has a very human aspect. The liturgy can be understood to be similar to our understanding of Christ – combining the human and divine into one. Just as the human body of Jesus grew and changed over time without affecting his divine nature, so it is possible for the human expression of the Mass to change over time without changing its heavenly expression.
Yet if we make too many changes to the Mass or make them too often, it can cause us to not recognize the eternal and divine nature of the liturgy. It could easily become just a reflection of culture and society instead of something that stands outside of it. The liturgy should shape our culture, not really be shaped by it. Unfortunately, many parishes and people have experienced priests who have experimented with the liturgy, changing words on their own initiative or adding things never intended to be in the Mass at all. I would imagine those things came from a desire for good – to try to make the Mass “more relevant” or “more interesting.”
Ultimately, however, I think it has only done damage to the Church and its people. It disconnects people from the timeless nature of the Mass and its heavenly expression in favor of a human one. It has fostered great confusion about the Mass, with people believing that the norms of the Church are unimportant and can be discarded or changed. It is far more likely to create parishioners who come to Mass to be entertained rather than to give worship.
It is true our liturgy does occasionally need reform, but we should remember that Tradition is a gift to help safeguard the timeless and it should never be rejected or replaced. God has joined together the human and divine in the wedding feast of the Lamb. May we pray together in such a way as to respect and rejoice in both those aspects. And what God has joined together, let man not separate.
Fr. Timothy Gapinski