New Roman Catholic prayer book makes its debut

The Rev. Innocent Subiza, left, and Deacon Clark Goecker perform a blessing over the new missals during Mass last weekend at the Newman Catholic Community in Davis. The new texts will be introduced Sunday.
The Rev. Innocent Subiza, left, and Deacon Clark Goecker perform a blessing over the new missals during Mass last weekend at the Newman Catholic Community in Davis. The new texts will be introduced Sunday. Lezlie Sterling / Sacramento Bee

SACRAMENTO — Soon after Sandi Holland began teaching workshops on the new English Roman Missal, she began hearing from Sacramento-area parishioners that the language was too formal. But the first time the Rev. Innocent Subiza read the new text, he thought it was perfect.

Sunday, worshipers will be able to decide for themselves as Catholics throughout the English-speaking world begin using the third edition of the Roman Missal. The new text, a book of prayers and instruction used to celebrate Catholic Mass, is the most significant change to the liturgy in more than 40 years.

For some Catholics, the changes are a welcome step toward more authentic language. For others, the new text is awkward and old-fashioned. The missal, in the works for a decade, replaces a looser translation with a more faithful translation from the Latin. The changes are meant to unify Catholics worldwide with words as close to the Latin translation as possible.

Though the missals will be introduced Sunday – the first day of Advent – parishes throughout the diocese have had workshops and seminars about the missal over the past several months.

One of the changes getting the most reaction from parishioners is in the Nicene Creed, said Holland, who is director of worship for the Catholic Diocese of Sacramento and has been in charge of the implementation of the missal.

The Nicene Creed is the statement of faith that many Catholics know by heart and recite during every Mass. For decades, Catholics have said that Jesus is "one in being with the Father," but on Sunday, that changes. Parishioners will say that Jesus is "consubstantial with the Father."

"It's not a word that rolls off the tongue," said Holland. "It definitely is a sacred style of English."

Another change that may take awhile for some parishioners to remember is the congregational response when the priest says, "The Lord be with you." The current response is, "And also with you." Starting Sunday, congregants will respond, "And with your spirit."

"This is silly. We are supposed to be in our own vernacular, this is not our vernacular," said Christine Shackel, who serves on the liturgy committee at the Newman Catholic Community in Davis. "They could have spent a lot of time and effort on other things."

Not only are the words changing. In the parts of the Mass that are sung, familiar melodies have been changed to fit the new words, according to Holland. The hymns have not changed.

Last Sunday morning, the Rev. Subiza, chaplain for the Newman Catholic Community, blessed the new missals and prayed that they be used "always for authentic worship praising you with contrite spirits and humble hearts."

"I like the change, it is more meaningful for me," said Subiza after the Mass. The priest speaks French, and for him and others who speak Romance languages, the changes will be easier because other languages are more faithful to the Latin, said Holland. "English doesn't translate as well, so the changes are more noticeable."

Forty years ago, the Rev. Daniel Looney, pastor at Holy Spirit Parish in Sacramento, was a new priest when the Vatican II changes went into effect. He remembers how many of the older priests reacted negatively.

Now he understands why. "I don't want to be one of those people who are resistant now," Looney said.

His older brother in Ireland, also a priest, recently started using the new translation and doesn't like it at all, he said.

"I'm going to embrace it as best I can," Looney said. "Though some of the language sounds like high English."

For several weeks, parishioners at his church and others have used so-called "pew cue cards" – laminated cards with the new text – to practice.

The text the priests used has changed more. They now have longer prayers to learn and some of the language, Looney said, "is choppy."

"I've asked parishioners to please be patient," he said.

Catholics throughout the diocese are taking a wait-and-see approach.

"If it helps bring greater participation in the Mass, that's great," said John Troidl of Davis.

Alysha McCarry, 20, a student at the University of California, Davis, said she was excited when she first heard about the changes but admits it's going to take getting used to. "This is the first time in my life there have been changes," she said.

When Vatican II was introduced, said Deacon Clark Goecker, the changes were announced in a single paragraph. He said parishioners now are better prepared. "But for people such as myself who have lived with the missal for 40 years, it will take a little longer."

Holland said she knows there will be some "pushback and resistance" at first. But she believes that will change once worshippers adjust.

"I think it will grow on us and take some of us off automatic pilot," she said. "We have the opportunity to look at the Mass in a new way."