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Posted June 16, 2006

Catholic Bishops to Debate Mass Changes

By Gillian Flaccus
The Associated Press
Thursday, June 15, 2006; 7:58 AM

LOS ANGELES -- Roman Catholic bishops are considering the most sweeping changes to the Mass that American parishioners have seen in about four decades.

At the behest of the Vatican, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is planning to vote Thursday on a new translation for the Order of the Mass that adheres more closely to the Latin version.

The changes would be the most significant to the Mass since parishioners first began worshipping in English instead of Latin in the wake of the Second Vatican Council.

The new translation would alter the wording of 12 of the 19 texts spoken by Catholics during worship, including the Nicene Creed, the Gloria, the Penitential Rite, the Sanctus and Communion.

Some bishops, however, worry that the new translation will alienate Catholics at a time when the church can least afford to do so. Mass attendance has been declining, the priest shortage has left a growing number of churches without a resident cleric, bishops and parishioners have been battling over the closure of old churches and schools, and the prelates have been trying to rebuild trust in their leadership after the clergy sex abuse crisis.

"My big concern is people are going to feel like they're being jerked around. They finally got used to the English translation and now they have to get used to another translation," said Rev. Thomas Reese, a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University and a Jesuit priest.

"It's going to cause chaos and real problems and the people who are going to be at the brunt end of it are the poor priests in the parishes who don't need any more problems."

The Vatican recently issued updated guidelines for the translation of the Latin texts with the goal of arriving at a more accurate translation, as well as one that reflects "a deeper language that's more expressive and more poetic," said Monsignor James. P. Moroney, who leads the liturgy office for the bishops' conference.

Minor changes to the wording of many portions of the Mass will be obvious to Catholics. The familiar "Peace be with you" / "And also with you" exchange between a priest and his congregation, for example, becomes "Peace be with you" / "And with your Spirit" in the updated version.

The prayer said before Communion would become "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof," instead of "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you."

Survey results released by the conference's Committee on Liturgy in last November found that U.S. bishops were split over whether the changes were necessary _ or even advisable. Forty-seven percent rated the new translation fair or poor, while 52 percent said it was excellent or good.

In an accompanying comment section, some bishops wrote anonymously that the new wording was "very awkward" with a "heavy, ponderous and often turgid style" that uses "irregular, passive and run-on sentences."

Others, however, said they favored the new translation because it was more poetic and beautiful, more accurate and more faithful to the Latin version.

"For 30 years, the people have committed these (prayers) to memory and to heart. For the sake of greater precision, is it worth changing it?" Moroney said. "That is a question about which reasonable bishops will disagree."

In May, Cardinal Francis Arinze, head of the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, wrote the U.S. bishops about the pending vote.

Arinze wrote that it was "not acceptable to maintain that people have become accustomed to a certain translation for the past 30 or 40 years" as a reason to reject the changes. Some interpreted Arinze's letter as a warning to the U.S. bishops that they should adopt a translation closest to the Latin.

But others said the letter simply restated the Vatican's long-standing position on how liturgy should be translated.

Two-thirds of the U.S. conference's 254 Latin-rite bishops must vote to approve the new Order of the Mass. Roman Catholic bishops in Australia, England and Wales have already approved the new translation, Moroney said.

If the U.S. bishops do not approve it, the translation will likely go back to the bishops' liturgy committee for more revisions before another vote later this year, Moroney said.