It might not seem that speaking from prepared text could be a daunting task. Yet when the words have been crafted to lead people toward deeper relationships with God, it’s crucial they be uttered with clarity and conviction rather than monotones and hesitations.
That’s the ideal held by Father Robert Kennedy as he urges fellow diocesan priests to familiarize themselves with the new English translation of the Roman Missal.
“How can I pray this with some kind of meaning?” is the question posed by Father Kennedy, pastor of Rochester’s Blessed Sacrament and St. Boniface parishes. As chair of the Diocesan Liturgical Commission, he — along with the diocesan offices of Parish Support Ministries and Evangelization and Catechesis — is leading efforts to get priests, staff and parishioners on board with liturgical changes due for implementation this Advent.
Father Thomas Mull, for one, agreed that priests’ responsibilities will go beyond simply reciting words while leading their congregations in prayer.
“My concern when we do this all new is (that) we’re going to sort of be glued to the page. But what we do at liturgy is more than just reading liturgy,” said Father Mull, pastor of St. Mary in Canandaigua and St. Bridget/St. Joseph in East Bloomfield.
Priests, meanwhile, have considerably more new material to digest than do the folks in the pews, Father Kennedy pointed out. For instance, all four versions of the eucharistic prayer — the longest spoken part of the Mass other than the homily — have been revised and slightly lengthened.
“(The priests) are the ones who are going to be affected the most by this. They are going to have to learn and pray all these prayers,” Father Kennedy said. “We’re going to have to be patient with our priests; the language is not going to flow like it used to. We are going to have to learn to pray together again.”
To aid in the adjustment process, Father Kennedy said he’s referring priests to a special area of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website at www.usccb.org/romanmissal, which includes the updated eucharistic prayers as well as prayers for the Advent and Christmas seasons.
Chanting is another aspect of the Mass that will be new to many in this diocese. Although rarely used at the present, interactive singing between the priest and congregation will take on added significance under the new Roman Missal guidelines.
“We just sent out (in early July) a CD of the priest parts of the chants so they can put it in their car and drive around town humming this,” Father Kennedy said. “One of the emphases is on singing the Mass rather than singing at Mass.”
Many parts of liturgy are expected to be chanted; however, Father Mull said that “there’s at least, in my mind, a step-by-step process” toward the integration of chanting.
“We’ll sort of do a gradual thing, help people get comfortable with spoken responses before they get comfortable with chant responses,” said the Canandaigua pastor, who served from 1982-94 as director of and later consultant for the diocesan Office of Liturgy.
Despite the many adjustments in store, Father Mull said he feels his challenge isn’t as steep as the one priests confronted immediately following the Second Vatican Council: “Those changes were much more difficult,” he remarked, noting that it was much harder to adapt “if you faced the wall for 25 years and now you were facing the congregation, if you said the Mass in Latin and now it was in English.”
Priests’ preparation for the Roman Missal updates began with introductory meetings led by Father Kennedy in November 2010, and continued with a presentation by Father Paul Turner — a facilitator for the International Commission on English in the Liturgy — at the annual priests’ and pastoral administrators’ convocation this spring. Father Kennedy said further meetings with small groups of priests will take place in September and October.
Along with these clergy preparations, diocesan parishioners are gearing up for the impending changes via workshops, homilies, bulletin inserts, guest speakers, videos, audio, books and online resources. Father Mull predicted that adapting together will be an overall positive experience for all involved.
“I think there will be a stronger sense of unity,” he remarked. “Particularly in a world that’s fractured, in a diocese where we’ve had to close churches and merge them, hopefully this will bring some of the unity back for us.”