Back on the first Sunday of Advent, Nov. 27, 2011, in conjunction with all the English- speaking Catholic Churches in our country, we implemented the New Roman Missal (NRM). At that time in this column I urged you to withhold judgment on the NRM until you had lived with it and prayed it for six months. The initial judgment of it would be affected by the normal clumsiness and awkwardness of introducing a new set of prayers, the upset of routine responses and the effort to learn new prayers, etc. Well, now six months and then some have passed, the prayers of the NRM are not totally new and alien, and we can give a more balanced assessment of the NRM.
So where are we? First of all, I must compliment our congregation, our choir and ensembles, and the work of Dr. John Hoffman, Kathy Airel, Rudy Davenport, Fr. Steven Bell and the rest of the parish staff for the great job in preparing us and then launching us on the new translation of the Mass. THESE EFFORTS PAID OFF! From what anecdotal evidence I have gathered, the transition to the NRM here at St. Austin went much more smoothly than at many other parishes. Our efforts to sing the majority of the responses and to use just a few of the Eucharistic Prayers at first was the right way to go.
Moreover, the two disastrous results I feared were possible did not at all materialize. I was holding my breath to see if either attendance at Mass would drop with the introduction of the NRM or that our collections would drop. Since the Catholic Faithful are not given any say in how the Mass is structured, the two ways parishioners have to vote on these items which are so central to our lived faith are with their feet and with their dollars. I am very grateful that almost all of you decided to stick it out and hang in there, continuing to show up and participate in the Mass and to contribute to support your parish. THANK YOU!
It may be that some of you really love the new Mass translation, with its more formal cadence, the exalted vocabulary, the greater deference and solemnity given to God. I am happy for you if you do. However, I have yet to have anyone express to me how much they like the new translation.
On the other hand, I have only heard two or three parishioners complain about the complicated wording, the confusion, the overly obsequious emphasis of the language and the arcane vocabulary of the NRM.
This lack of either enthusiasm for the NRM or abhorrence of it makes me wonder what people think of it, or if for most of the congregation it is simply no big deal. My observations from up on the altar platform are somewhat mixed. People by and large sing. They pay attention during the readings. When I preach I see good eye contact and people following along and paying attention. People usually even laugh at my jokes. During the Our Father the congregation really participates, sings along, and so on. But during the Eucharistic Prayer I wonder if the majority of the people are really paying attention to what I am saying, or if they are praying to God on their own about their particular agenda, reflecting on what they heard in the readings and homily, thinking about what they have to do later in the day, watching the people around them, etc. One perceptive observer of the US Catholic scene suggests that what most people in the congregation most of the time hear during the prayers said by the priest is in effect, “pious blah, blah, pious blah, through Christ Our Lord, Amen.”
Sometimes when I look up from the Missal during the Eucharistic Prayers, especially those prayers that go on for a while after the words of institution (Consecration) with complex sentence structure and unusual vocabulary, I glimpse a fair number of eyes that appear to have glazed over. At least that is the impression that I have. And perhaps – if truth be told – that is not all that different than the situation prior to last Advent! After all the catechesis, education, and hoopla, I wonder how much difference the NRM really has made.