Peace To People of Good Will?

Sometimes I guess I am a bit slow on the uptake. The Catholic Church been using the new translation of the Mass since Advent of 2011 and there is one change I didn’t really notice until Mass yesterday morning. (Maybe everyone else talked about this at the time, and I just missed it.)

In the setting of the Gloria we sang at my daughter’s Church in Appleton, the refrain went:

Glory to God, glory to God, glory to God in the highest.
And on earth, peace on earth, peace to people of good will.

It took until the second time through for me to realize the line was bothering me. It was the last phrase that twisted my gut: peace to people of good will.

When we got home later in the day, I checked and found that the song words are consistent with the new translation of the Mass, which reads “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will.” In the old translation we prayed, “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth.”

Apparently I’ve been praying the new words for over two years without hearing the difference. But the sung version of it highlighted the difference in a way I could not ignore.

Why in the world would be only pray for peace to people of good will? Don’t people lacking in good will need our prayer for peace as much as – or even more so – than those of good will? Jesus, after all, said “those who are health do not need a physician, but the sick do…that he came to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

It is hard to imagine a good justification for limiting those for whom we pray in this prayer. I understand the line is meant to call to mind Luke’s account of the proclamation of the angels at the birth of Jesus. But that seems scant justification. In various translations of the Bible, that line reads “peace, good will toward men,” “peace to those oh whom his favor rests.” Neither of those is quite so limiting and, even if it were, Luke’s birth story is not intended as a historically accurate account.

If Jesus came to call not the righteous, but the sinners, it seems to me we give greater glory to God by praying for peace for all people, not just those of good will.