Many Missals, One Mass

Pray Tell reader Paul Schlachter sends in the piece he wrote for his parish bulletin regarding the upcoming English missal. Pray Tell offers it as a good example of catechesis  intended to help the transition go more smoothly.  – Ed.

For as long as I can remember, back when our Mass was celebrated in Latin, my family brought little missals to church and used them in following the rite.  I’m sure that you did, too.  Our church has always insisted that the Mass is the supreme public prayer.  We were not just to “attend” or “hear” it but to become “one body, one spirit in Christ.”  The little missals helped us to do that.

In the process, we learned another lesson that was affirmed by the Second Vatican Council.  Many books are written to explain the Mass to laypersons.  One had color photos of Bishop Fulton Sheen posing at different moments.  The photos gave me the impression that the “priest celebrant” was the only one who counted.  But in reality we are all celebrants.  In the words of the traditional Roman Canon: “We your holy people offer you the pure, holy and sinless victim.”  And the Council fathers desired that everyone present “take part fully aware of what they are doing, actively engaged in the rite and enriched by it.”

If we were not familiar with Latin, we had to rely on the translation in the little missal.  And so our eyes would move back and forth from the printed words to the actions before us.  It was not a perfect solution, but it was all we had at the time.

Even after our bishops gave their approval for the Mass to be celebrated in our native or adopted languages, little missals did not disappear.  Although we understood the prayers at last, we still felt a need to see them in print as a way to understand their meaning.  Our parish provides copies of paperback missals to help us in this.  Even though the words have not changed in nearly forty years, we want to know that we are praying the same words as the universal church is praying.  On occasion, we reach for our paperback copy if we have difficulty understanding a lector, deacon or priest.

In a year there will be some changes in the language of the Mass for English-speaking countries.  These changes signal a closer adherence to the phrases that defined the Latin Mass over the centuries.  When Advent 2011 comes, paperback missals will remind us of these changes.  But let us avoid using them as a crutch.  Let us promise each other that we will become familiar with the Mass responses as soon as possible.  Let us be fully engaged participants, not like spectators at an opera who need a libretto to follow the plot.  Let us be fully present to the Lord as he is fully present to us.

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Muchos Misales, Una Sola Misa

En los días de mi juventud se celebraba la santa misa en latín.  Mi familia llevaba misalitos a la iglesia, usándolos para seguir de cerca el rito.  A lo mejor su familia los usaba también.  Nosotros los católicos siempre insistimos que la misa es la oración comunal de suma importancia.  Así que no habíamos solamente que “asistir” u “oírla” sino formar “en Cristo un solo cuerpo y un solo espíritu.”  Los misalitos nos ayudaban en este esfuerzo.

En el proceso aprendimos otra lección que llegó a ser afirmada por el Concilio Vaticano Segundo.  Muchos libros han sido escritos con el fin de explicar la misa a los laicos.  Yo había visto uno que contenía fotos a colores del monseñor Fulton Sheen en varias etapas de una celebración.  Esas fotos me daban la impresión de que el “sacerdote celebrante” era la única persona que importaba.  Sin embargo, en la realidad todos somos celebrantes.  En las palabras del Canón romano tradicional: “Nosotros, todo tu pueblo santo, te ofrecemos el sacrificio puro, inmaculado y santo.”  Los padres conciliares deseaban que todos presentes “participen con plena conciencia de lo que están haciendo, comprometidos activamente en el rito y enriquecidos del mismo.”

Los que no entendíamos latín teníamos que depender de la traducción en nuestro misalito.  Y así fue que pasamos los ojos entre las palabras impresas y las acciones litúrgicas frente a nosotros.  No fue ésa una solución ideal, pero no disponíamos de mejor remedio en el momento.

Luego de que nuestros obispos dieron su aprobación al uso de idiomas del pueblo (idiomas tanto nativos como adoptados), los misalitos no desaparecieron de uso.  Aunque entendíamos las palabras, sentíamos la necesidad de verlas impresas como modo de produndizarnos en ellas.  Nuestra parroquia suministra copias de misalitos con este fin.  Hace casi cuarenta años que usamos las mismas palabras, y aun así queremos estar seguros de que oramos lo mismo que la iglesia universal va orando.  Y de vez en cuando recurrimos al misalito si tenemos dificultad en entender a un lector, un diácono o un sacerdote.

Dentro de un año vamos a experimentar algunos cambios en las palabras de la misa celebrada en inglés.  Los cambios significan un acercamiento más fiel a las frases de la misa en latín que forma su base.  Cuando llega el Adviento de 2011, los misalitos volverán a indicarnos los cambios.  Pero necesitamos dejar de depender de ellos como si nos fueran muletas.  Prometamos unos a otros que nos familiaricemos con las nuevas frases en seguida.  Seamos partícipes plenamente comprometidos, no como espectadores de una ópera que tienen que leer el libreto para seguir el argumento.  Estemos completamente presentes al Señor, como Él nos está presente en su Palabra, y en su Cuerpo y Sangre.


  1. In my previous parish we had only the Worship hymnal which we purchased in 1991 (these are still there). This hymnal had the readings and responsorial psalms for Sunday. We never wasted money on missalettes or paperback hymnals that would be thrown out yearly (hopefully recycled by those who still have them) but rather asked that people pay attention to what was going on at Mass without burying their face in a book. Of course some people who are hard of hearing or because of the acoustics of the church building need these additional worship aids and we recommended they purchase their own hard back missal of the revised Mass. (I still have my pre-Vatican II St. Joseph Missal I got in the second grade). I hope those who are revising their hardback hymnals for the new English translation of the Mass will have the option of the three year lectionary at the back of the hymnal or provide a hardback, thin book of worship with the readings in them. The section of readings in the Worship hymnal with all three cycles for Sunday was about 1/3 inches thick. Saves money and paper. In addition I think it is very irreverent to throw the official prayers and Scripture readings of the Church, not to mention our sacred music, into the trash, yearly or quarterly depending on the type of missalette used. What does that say about our attitude toward the Church’s most sacred texts?

  2. Duh! The Mass has been in English for forty years. Are we going to have to give instructions to all Catholics as to how to use a missal now to follow the new English translation and the correct pronunciation of “spirit?”

    1. No, but I find my hand missal quite useful in reading the propers as the priest proclaims them. And, based on all the angst about the convoluted sentences in the new translation, I would think I’ll be buying a new missal as soon as they are available..

  3. We’ve heard quite a lot of rubbish spouted about use or non-use of missalettes and the like, prescriptive “do this” or “do that” directions.

    As a college professor, I learned early on that some students learned mostly from what I said aloud in lecture, and others mostly from what I wrote on the blackboard, that neither alone sufficed for everyone.

    But especially with the new English translations of the propers (whether 2008 or 2010) I suspect that few will initially be able to understand them fully without following them in their missalette while hearing them proclaimed.

    As a typical visual rather than audial person, I myself find it best to follow each Sunday’s orations and readings with my eyes in order to help me follow with my ears, even though after many years of pre-Mass preparation I’m pretty familiar with them in both Latin and English.

    As an experienced teacher, I know that there are lots of folks in the pews just like me, for whom the prescription “Put down your missal and join in” just does not work. People for whom “Pick up your missal and join in” is the better advice. These may be the people you see around you at the typical Sunday Mass with nothing in their hands, nothing coming out of their mouths, and 30-yard stares in their eyes.

  4. Only comments with a full name will be approved.

    Ray Marshall :

    Duh! The Mass has been in English for forty years. Are we going to have to give instructions to all Catholics as to how to use a missal now to follow the new English translation and the correct pronunciation of “spirit?”

    I think perhaps you missed Paul’s point. I personally thought his parish bulletin insert was well-written, and would appeal to a wide variety of folks in the pews – not only those who remember the pre-Vatican II days of Latin-English missals, but those who use missals today to follow readings, even if that’s the only thing they currently use missals for.

    For myself, I plan to have congregation cards in the pews with the responses printed in an easy-to-follow format.

  5. Ray,

    Unfortunately, I think we will have to give instructions to Catholics how to engage in the Mass. I don’t know about your parish, but in the parishes I have been in, I look out and see a huge sea of disengaged people who are not participating in what they experiencing in the liturgy and from the looks on their faces, they would rather be any where else, but show up anyway because of whatever compelling force brought them there.

    1. +JMJ+

      Tomorrow evening, at a local parish, I will be attempting to do just that: give instruction to Catholics as to how to engage (i.e. participate) in the Mass. It’s not so much about the new translation, but about the opportunity for catechesis that a change in translation provides. (Insert snarky comment about the quality of the 2010 text here.)

      So I’ll be talking to them about how the Mass is the “Divine Liturgy”, how it re-presents the Paschal Mystery, ways that they should prepare themselves before Mass (prayer, Scripture, fasting, confession, and silence/stillness), and then highlighting certain parts of the Order of Mass to help them understand these things as prayers.

      It’s being recorded, so hopefully I can have a sound-bite or a video clip to share.

  6. +JMJ+

    This is not so much a critique of Paul’s great write-up, as it is a clarification which I think is important to make in the work of liturgical catechesis:

    “Although we understood the prayers at last…”

    Just because the prayers are in our vernacular does not mean we “understand” them. (Just look at the 2010 texts for a fine contemporary example…) There’s a lot behind the words themselves — what is “the mystery of this water and wine”? what does the “I confess…” demand of me? what are we thanking God for at the end of Mass?

    Oh, and on a lighter note:

    “Even though the words have not changed in nearly forty years, we want to know that we are praying the same words as the universal church is praying. On occasion, we reach for our paperback copy if we have difficulty understanding a lector, deacon or priest.”

    Perhaps the words have not changed in forty years, but people have been changing the words for forty years. 😉

    1. “Just because the prayers are in our vernacular does not mean we “understand” them.”

      True, but having them in our vernacular is a good first step, is it not? Recognizing a word certainly helps comprehension; when we recognize the individual words and their meanings, we can begin to string them together into more complex thoughts. Certainly the whole may be greater than the sum of the parts, but we need the parts.

      1. Thank you. I’m then all for making the second step putting the vernacular words into sensible order – which in English matters quite a lot – and choosing words that are reasonably contemporary and not far removed from common, if formal, usage.

        Where I have some of my big issues with what we’re about to get is that it doesn’t come close to those last two criteria. What I have read so grates upon my inner ear that I doubt I can endure hearing/speaking it aloud without totally shattering my concentration on the real point of the celebration.

  7. I don’t use a missalette, but I can understand why others may wish to. If one is hard of hearing or it’s a second language for another, it can give a comfort level that is needed. Others may find the written word enhances their being present.
    Nor do I wish to judge the hearts and minds of those who may seem disengaged at any given moment. They made the effort to come to Mass, and that is enough for me.

  8. The photos gave me the impression that the “priest celebrant” was the only one who counted.

    How odd. Someone must not have been reading his Baltimore Catechism.

    364. What is the best method of assisting at Mass?

    The best method of assisting at Mass is to unite with the priest in offering the Holy Sacrifice, and to receive Holy Communion.

    364a. How can we best unite with the priest in offering the Holy Sacrifice?

    We can best unite with the priest in offering the Holy Sacrifice by joining in mind and heart with Christ, the principal Priest and Victim, by following the Mass in a missal, and by reciting or chanting the responses.

  9. RBR – the Baltimore Catechism is out of date and passe; in fact, it reflects nothing of Vatican II’s insights.

    Fr. MacDonald – wholeheartedly agree with your well written comment. Your approach and insight is excellent – my teachers at CTU would have given you an A+.

    To the editor who posted this – not meaning to be disrespectful but my opinion is that this bulletin insert does more harm than good for these reasons:
    – it has the style of a publication such as the Knights of Columbus “Columba” magazine article. Compare that to what you would get at America or Commonweal magazine in terms of comprehensive and thorough theological/liturgical explanation…not a “sacramental” and pietistic rendering
    – grow tired of those who state that we have the most highly educated catholic laity in history and yet they continue to give them little trust in terms of deep theology, nuanced explanations, credence to the fact that most catholics can understand history, development, evolution of thought/expression, etc. Why do we continue to think that people can not or will not accept reasoned explanations? Would suggest that it is the presentor who had doubts, fear, threatened, etc.
    – compare this bulletin insert o Fr. Turner’s recent posted explanation. Yes, it may be meant for presentors, educators, etc. but would again suggest that we need more of that approach than just some sign of loyalty and let’s all get on board approach
    – why is there a fear to show disagreement; the fact that different points of view come into play with translation efforts; with meanings of scripture, eucharistic prayers, etc. this is a reflection of our tradition. Do we doubt that folks in the pew can not handle this type of discussion?
    – if I had to use this new “received text” I would rather have had an open, transparent, and thorough explanation of how we got here before asking folks to join me in this new liturgy.

    1. the Baltimore Catechism is out of date and passe;

      LOL. Words fail me.

      Did you even read the cite from the BC? Do you understand the suggestion that it be considered in relation to Mr. Schlachter’s complaint? Does the cite tend to support or to contradict the claim that the laity have no part in the celebration of the Mass? May one ask which parts of the loathsome cite are at variance with the current Catechism of the Catholic Church — or is that also out of date and passe? I ask only for information.

    2. I found the Baltimore Catechism most helpful when I regained interest in my religion and needed to learn all the stuff that was left out of CCD. I can see why it is still printed and sold in Catholic Bookstores. I supplemented it with other sources, but I needed the simple explanations and easy to comprehend answers found within it to make sense of other books.

      As far as I could tell, the only thing out of date was the “Order of Mass” section since my copy was a reprint from 1968.

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