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No one could have delivered the phrase better than Marlon Brando did: "an offer you can't refuse." When it comes to implementing the Roman Missal, that tagline may seem to be an apt description. After all, come Nov. 27, 2011, the language we use at Mass will change in every parish. As St. Augustine put it, "Rome has spoken; the matter is settled."
But while none of us has a choice about whether to implement the new translation of the Roman Missal, every pastor, parish staff, liturgy planning team, and music director will be making choices about how to implement it. Many of them, even those who are receptive to the changes we'll all be making, will be tempted to approach the transition as a problem to be solved. I'd suggest, however, that there is a better way to go about the work that lies ahead of us, and a better place from which to begin.
It seems to me that the first thing to understand is that even in a single diocese, parish cultures can be radically different from one another. Over the years I've served in several parishes, and been connected for all kinds of reasons to numerous others. Leadership styles, demographics, tastes, traditions: all of these factors help to determine what shape things take in a particular parish. How we experience the introduction of the new language we will use at Mass will be no exception to this. Different parishes will make the transition differently.
Second, it will help to acknowledge that the one constant in every congregation seems to be the dynamic tension between familiarity and boredom. People, especially young people, often say that they wish that Mass wasn't so repetitive. But try teaching a new hymn, or changing the traffic pattern for Communion, and well, no one welcomes the change. As someone who has been responsible for music at Masses in several different parishes, I've come to the conclusion that contrary to the proverb, when it comes to the liturgy, it is unfamiliarity that breeds contempt.
But the most important thing to recognize is that the parish diversity we can so easily identify flows from and expresses the deeper, more hidden unity of the Church as a whole. The Universal Church is not formed by parishes that have joined to form some kind of bond. Rather, each parish is an expression of the Universal Church.
It is that same Church, the mystical Body of Christ, that has asked English-speaking Catholics to receive not only the new words, but also the new official chants of the Roman Missal as a gift. Yes, the changes will be challenging. Yes, congregations may struggle for a little while as they learn how to chant Mass responses. Yes, preparations and strategies for a smooth implementation will be needed. But before any of us surrenders to that inner voice of apprehension, let's look at what the new words and music of the Mass offer us: a unique opportunity for worldwide communion for the entire English speaking Church, and an equally unique catechetical moment. We are unlikely to have this chance again, the prospect to take forward some of what we have set aside for a time, some of what lies at the heart of Catholic culture and sacred Tradition.
For me, and I hope for every pastor, parish staff, and parishioner, that is an offer we can't refuse. Think about it. Isn't unity like that worth the work, planning, even the potential aggravation it may require? Shouldn't we be able to find a way to step up and take full advantage of all our liturgy can mean for us? Isn't the short term discomfort we'll probably experience a reasonable cost to develop a common culture of prayer for every Catholic who worships God in English? Why not fully embrace what the Church has prepared to give us? Once we have chosen the destination, we can plan the best way for our parishes to make the journey there.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an inspirational author, speaker, musician and serves as an Associate Children's Editor at Pauline Books and Media.