For the past five or six months, I have been reading articles and discussions here about the new Missal translation. My interest stems from a deep and long-standing interest in the liturgy –- as a participant, planner, and pastoral researcher -– and from my current responsibility to help implement the change in our parish.
I am struck by the complete lack of discussion about one very important consideration – the allocation of limited resources. I am not speaking here about the cost of purchasing new Missals, music, hymnals, and worship aids; these are periodically required in any parish. Rather, I am referring to the costs associated with the time spent in training, catechizing, learning, etc. Even in this category, some costs are necessary and appropriate – a natural part of ongoing formation and renewal.
However, there is a substantial cost to allocating the extra resources (especially time) necessitated by significant changes in linguistic style, increases in complexity of expression and level of difficulty in proclamation, and the discarding of large portions of musical repertoires. The cost here is what economists describe as “opportunity cost,” the cost of not being able to do something else with the resources being devoted to this endeavor.
Yes, the changes present opportunities for lots of good things –- catechesis, liturgical renewal, etc. –- but doing this means we’re not doing something else. It would be helpful to know what priests will devote less time to in order to practice the new prayers; will it be pastoral ministry, homily preparation, relaxation, evangelization, or something else? In what areas will adults, youth, and children receive less catechesis in order to address the translation changes? What will choir members have to give up to attend extra rehearsals in order to learn new music?
Of course, good things can come out of the implementation of the new translation, but good things could have come out of an alternative investment of time and energy, and this “what might have been” is properly part of a balanced assessment of the new translation.
To the extent that the nature and scale of the changes to the Missal go beyond what is required to produce an inspired and inspiring new translation, the costs imposed by this choice should be honestly acknowledged.
Jeff Rexhausen is former director of the Office of Planning and Research for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. He was also project director and lead author of the 2004 report, A National Study of Recent Diocesan Efforts at Parish Reorganization in the United States: Pathways for the Church of the 21st Century. He currently works at the University of Cincinnati in the field of economic research and is active in liturgical ministry in his parish.