Sunday, September 18, 2011

Mass Changes: A Great Opportunity

I was wasting time looking at religious "light bulb jokes" on the internet when I should have been working on my homily. You know the ones I mean: "How many Protestants does it take to change a light bulb? Twenty. One to screw in the bulb and nineteen people to form the light bulb committee." Or "How many Amish does it take to change a light bulb? Light bulb? What's a light bulb?"

The usual joke about Catholics is "How many Catholics does it take to change a light bulb? None—we use candles." Another answer was simply "nun."

But the one I liked best was "How many Catholics does it take to change a light bulb? Change? "

True enough—our Church is more resistant to change than most. Catholic doctrine evolves, but only slowly and always in a way that develops rather than alters our belief. And parts of our liturgy go back to the time of Christ, while others are many hundreds of years old.

Everyone knows, however, that some things do change in the Church. When I was a young boy, Mass was entirely in Latin—that's the best example from modern times. Some people loved that change, while others lamented it.

As most of you have heard, we are preparing for another change in the liturgy. We will begin using a new English translation of the Mass in two months, on the first Sunday of Advent.

Why change the translation we have used for more than forty years? Basically, to improve our liturgy on the basis of the insights and experiences gained during those years. The new translation tries to observe the Latin sentence structure wherever possible, and to be more literal—in other words, it pays more careful attention to each word in the text. It uses a more formal and less everyday kind of English, and makes clearer the references to Scripture texts in our liturgical prayers.

There will also be some changes in when we kneel and when we stand, aimed at bringing unity to our participation at Mass.

Will these changes make a difference? That depends much more on us than on the translators. We can change the words we pray with little thought, and it will matter little. Or we can see the new translation as a wonderful opportunity to ask whether we've been getting as much from Mass as we should.

For my part, I see the new wording as an invitation to enter more deeply into the spirit of the liturgy. I want to reflect more on liturgical theology and tradition, and to celebrate Mass more reverently as a result.

Father Xavier and I would like to help everyone in the parish to grab this opportunity for spiritual growth, so for the next six weeks our homilies will be devoted to the Mass. For six weeks there will be a handout from the Archdiocese to help us pray and think about what we do on Sunday. Together, we're going to ask ourselves: is Mass the most important thing we do all week? Is it the very center of our Christian life?

And that's not all. We will have two short courses, five or six weeks each, for those who want to take a good look at what the Mass is, and to learn about the deeper significance of the outward changes. Starting on Thursday, we'll take "A Biblical Walk Through the Mass" with Dr. Edward Sri. This course, presented both Thursday morning and evening so all can attend, can help you see, perhaps for the first time, why we say what we say, and do what we do every Sunday at Mass. The words and gestures will be seen in a new light, giving new life to our experience of the liturgy. It uses excellent video lectures and attractive course materials, and allows for questions and discussions.

When the "Biblical Walk" is over, we'll be offering another short course called "Mystical Body, Mystical Voice: Encountering Christ in the Words of the Mass". It's every bit as good as it sounds. The presenters on the DVD are Father Douglas Martis and Mr. Christopher Carstens, who were a big hit when they spoke in Vancouver at the beginning of the month.

You'll hear much more about the changes in the weeks to come. Today's big question is: will you invest some time this week and this Fall so that the changes aren't just words and gestures? One or both of our lively and interesting courses can lead to a richer and better understanding of what, why, and how we celebrate the Mass each Sunday.

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