The following response to the implementation of the new Roman Missal tomorrow is by my son Michael Conway, 19, a college sophomore.
The last month has been sobering for me as the reality of the new Missal has penetrated my core. Although I have been aware of these changes for nearly three years, distance permitted me to temporarily ignore them. When I returned to Loyola University Chicago in August, I encountered the new translation for the first time as the Loyola chapel — Madonna Della Strada — had received permission to begin the new version of the Gloria, Sanctus, and Memorial Acclamation. Yet, I still did not begin to grapple with an emotional response to the Missal until a month ago.
I came back from 9 PM Mass one evening, suddenly appreciating the nearness of the changes and realizing that these changes would extend beyond Sundays to special liturgies too. I consider the Easter Vigil and the Triduum as a whole to be the foundation of my faith. I first went to the Triduum when I was eight, attending the service on Holy Thursday and the Vigil a few weeks before I made my First Communion. The following spring in Cincinnati was marked by race riots, leading to a city-wide curfew that cancelled the Vigil leaving me free to attend only Good Friday — quite possibly the bleakest Good Friday I have ever experienced. Since the riot-marred Triduum, I have been attending and eagerly looking forward to the entire Triduum. Each year, I gain an appreciation for nuances that I notice for the first time. In particular, the call to serve each other on Good Thursday and the invitation to embrace the cross with Jesus on Good Friday regularly resonate with me. But without fail, the highlight is always the Vigil. On my first trip, I was not prepared for the degree of passion in the first “Alleluia!” to break the Lenten abstention. I had never experienced such force in the congregation, marveling at the triumphant tone and remarking to my father that it was the greatest “Alleluia” I had ever proclaimed.
With the arrival of the Missal, I find myself worrying that it will defile the Vigil, changing the liturgical language of a sacred experience at the whims of Vatican bureaucrats more concerned with “formal equivalence” than the worshipping experience of the faithful. Indeed, I worry that this Missal will undermine the collective voice of a congregation, so beautifully displayed in the Vigil’s “Alleluia,” and introduce disconnect through garbled responses. Before the Mass the last two weeks at Madonna Della Strada, we have practiced a few of the new responses. In general, the congregation now sounds like it is choking, discordantly reciting clumsy phrases with various inflections. The shift from the “We” in the Creed to “I” further suggests a distancing from the collective voice of the congregation.
With this realization, I have become more fully resolved to oppose this change. Some pundits have suggested that this feeling of anger and defiance is stemming only from grief at the loss of an “old friend.” However, I vehemently disagree with this view. The 1973 translation did not die from a terminal illness. Neither did the 1998 translation. The translation process was hijacked by the Vatican which changed the focus of the translation from “dynamic equivalence” to “formal equivalence.” I see the Missal as a not so clandestine attempt by the Vatican to understate and minimize the changes brought by Vatican II. As a Catholic who identifies strongly with Vatican II—the council that revived the Easter Vigil from its ancient roots—I cannot accept this Missal without violating my conscience. To go along with the Missal is to perpetuate an injustice.
The “grief narrative” also discounts the influence of the faithful and the potential for change. The Missal will be as entrenched as the faithful allow it. If the faithful were to arise in one voice—like the Vigil “Alleluia”—the Church would have no choice but to adjust. Imagine the Church’s difficulty if entire congregations made a decision not to change their responses? The Missal can only take as well as the faithful take it. The advocates of the “grief narrative” tend to overlook the power of the faithful in correcting injustices.
I am writing for Catholics who, already wary of the Church’s leadership, are disaffected by the introduction of the new Missal. I implore you not to leave the Church. Leaving the Church only skews the ideology of the Church towards the very hierarchy that implemented this injustice. I am a faithful member of the Catholic Church and will not allow a wrong perpetrated by the hierarchy to drive me out. Rather, I plan to oppose the Missal out of love. As active members of the faith, the laity has a duty to protest such abuses of authority.
This Sunday, I will be saying the same responses that I have given my entire life. I encourage you to join me. It is not grief that I feel as the Missal approaches but desolation. The Missal is an opportunity for the strength of sensus fidelium to be realized. If you feel more than loss but a sense of wrong in the implementation of the Missal, I implore you to stay in the Church and correct it. Decisions are made by those who show up. The Missal can only be defeated by those who show up and say “no.”
A central part of the Vigil is the Rite of Christian Initiation (RCIA), a rite also renewed by Vatican II. Some of the participants come to Catholicism from another Christian faith, but others do not, necessitating a baptism. Though all sacraments draw from the Paschal Mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection, I have always been struck by this presence in baptism. A person descends into the font—some priests will literally invite the person to “enter Christ’s tomb”—to die to an old life. As the waters pour over the body and oil is anointed to the forehead, the person joins Jesus’ resurrection and finds new life within the Church. The wonder of the Paschal Mystery is quite profound at the Vigil with the Gospel’s account of the resurrection and the baptism so closely juxtaposed.
I believe this Missal harkens the Paschal Mystery occurring in our midst. The inert, passive laity is dying with the full emergence of the sense of the faithful rising in its place. The task of defeating the Missal will not be easy. It will grow easier, however, as more people put their consciences into action. As I am reminded every Good Friday, a central part of the Paschal Mystery is the death. The Missal is upon us. Our only option now is to pick up the cross, and trust in the resurrection to come.