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Let’s Do It Right This Time


  Change Can Divide

 Plan and Explain

If you read your diocesan newspaper you may know that we can expect more liturgical changes in the not-too-distant future. Following a plea for action by the seven active U.S. cardinals and a recent meeting between representatives of the U.S. bishops and Vatican curia we were told we could expect approval soon of a new Lectionary based on the revised New American Bible. The Lectionary is the book that contains the readings and responses for Sunday, feastday and weekday Masses.

The Lectionary will employ inclusive language on the horizontal level. At the risk of oversimplification, that means where appropriate, references to groups of people and the human race will include both men and women. Language referring to God (the vertical level) will not be changed.

All this will not take place next week. When permission for the new Lectionary is granted, it will take some time for publishers to get the text into print. And the bishops will have to set a date for the introduction of the text. Besides Lectionary changes, a new and revised Sacramentary is in the making. Some sections of a revision have already been agreed upon by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB). And we anticipate action on the last section of the revision at the June meeting of the bishops’ conference.

The revision of the Sacramentary, besides updating the language, may allow substituting the Apostles’ Creed for the Nicene Creed, a simplification of the introductory rites, new options for the placement of the sign of peace and postures and actions during the penitential rite and the Lord’s Prayer. The Sacramentary is the book containing the ordinary and special prayers as well as the rubrics or directives for the celebration of all Masses. There will also probably be new greetings and invitations to join in the acclamations after the consecration.

Just as in the case of the Lectionary, after approval by the United States bishops the revised Sacramentary must be sent to Rome for approval by the Congregation for Divine Worship. Knowing the speed with which the curial offices work we can expect approval to take some time.

Change Can Divide

But the point is that more change lies ahead. And anyone who has been around since the end of Vatican II knows that changes of any kind can provoke strong reactions and occasion emotional upsets. Change can divide churches and congregations. Parties can develop. Insults and recriminations are exchanged. Much of that occurs because change is introduced without adequate explanation or preparation.

In the context of discussing change in the past and quarrels over whether to stand or kneel during the eucharistic prayer, one liturgist wrote that the bishops voted for what they realistically thought was the best solution at the time: “They believed that it was desirable to avoid burdening the people with too many liturgical reforms all at once. Their reason is one that should always be considered in adapting the liturgy. The Christian people should not have liturgical changes suddenly and arbitrarily foisted upon them without catechesis at the whim of the pastor or director of the liturgy.”

He goes on to say acceptance of change can be achieved only through catechesis, taking all the time necessary to explain change and building consensus for it.

We are not saying that change is bad. We have certainly learned a good many things in the last 25 or 30 years. But to accept change, people have to understand the why of it. They have to be shown the reasonableness and pastoral sensibleness and what we expect to accomplish by change. If change is to take place, people want to know why and how the purpose of worship will be better fulfilled. They want to feel emotionally comfortable with change, and that the change respects their own instincts and sense of what is fitting for worship and prayer.

I think most pastors and liturgists will agree that after Vatican II we often moved too fast with change. We ought to have learned from that experience and the discord that lingers even now. We’re sure that whatever changes take place, there will be some who object and want to struggle against them. But at this point we can look ahead and plan for the implementation of change when it is to take place.

Plan and Explain

After the bishops have approved the revised Sacramentary we hope they will take time to plan how the Lectionary and Sacramentary are to be introduced, and how to inform everybody in the parishes why and what change is coming. People need to be helped to understand what inclusive language really is, when it best conveys the sense of the original languages and the pastoral importance of using inclusive language when it is appropriate. People need to understand the meaning and significance of different liturgical gestures and postures and why and when a sign or rite may be better placed at one point rather than another.

Expected changes should be explained in the diocesan newspaper and the parish bulletin. Publishers should prepare materials explaining the changes to come. Pastors need to explain change from the pulpit well in advance, the how and why, as well as the process that has led up to it. Pastors and religious-education directors can form groups to study and discuss not only the changes to come but also to review the ABC’s of liturgy and worship and documents of Vatican II. Dioceses can offer seminars and study days.

We’re not so naive as to think future change will be joyfully received by everyone and that it will meet no criticism and resistance. But we ought not let it be more difficult and traumatic than necessary because people have not been adequately informed and prepared. — N.P.


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