Lets Do It Right This Time
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
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 Lords 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
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
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
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. Were 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 ABCs of liturgy and worship and documents of Vatican II. Dioceses can offer
seminars and study days.
Were 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.