For All or For Many

There has been much discussion in Catholic circles about the new English-language translation of the Mass texts, not to mention the process that led to the recent approval by the Vatican of the final version. The changes are to be implemented during Advent 2011.

Reaction among Catholics has been mixed. Some are in favor of what they view to be a more faithful word-for-word translation of the Latin text. Some were happy with what was in place and see no reason for a change. Others cringe at particular changes. Still others focus on the process by which the changes were adopted, with many priests as well as lay people arguing that the changes should have been delayed.

As I look at the changes I have several reactions. Some strike me as overly formalistic, such as changing “and also with you” to “and with your spirit” or changing “one in being with the Father” to “consubstantial with the Father.” Some seem to me designed to separate the priest from the people, such as changing “our sacrifice” to “my sacrifice and yours.” Some do little more than change word order, such as changing “Lord, you are holy indeed” to “You are indeed, holy, O Lord.” Unlike some people, it doesn’t seem to me that these changes will make the Mass more beautiful or more sacred or in any other way enhance my worship. But equally, most of the changes don’t effect any change in meaning that disturbs me.

There is one change, however, that I do find striking, and that is the change in the Eucharistic prayer of “for all” to “for many.” In the current formulation, Christ tells his disciples that his blood will be shed “for you and for all, so that sins may be forgiven. In the changed version, the priest will say that Christ’s blood was shed “for you and for many…”

Catholic doctrine is that Christ died for all of us (indeed, for each of us), not just for some of us. The change in the language of the Mass does not intend to effect any change in that doctrine; Cardinal Arinze in a 2006 letter to the President of the Conference of Bishops wrote that the expression “for many” remains open remains open to the inclusion of every human person and merely reflects that individuals must willingly participate in their redemption.

My concern is with how people will hear “for many” rather than “for all.” There is, among far too many people, a tendency toward exclusivity and toward making judgments about who is in and who is out. Absent proper catechesis – and adult catechesis has not been something the Church does very well in my view – there is risk of this changed language feeding into those kinds of tendencies. One can only pray and hope that the Church does something to counter any possible misinterpretation of the changed language.


The Gospel Truth

I’ve just finished reading The Gospel Truth: A Lectionary-Based Catechism for Adults, by Kenneth Ogorek, sent to me by The Catholic Company. For each of the Sunday liturgies in all three cycles, the book includes the Gospel reading, a short discussion linked to relevent sections of the Catechism, three questions for reflection (one intended for children) and some suggestions for further reading from both scripture and the Catechism.

The author’s goal was to create a resource especially (although not excluvisely) intended for homilists to help them to tie the Sunday Mass readings to Catholic teaching as elucidated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It is clearly also the author’s hope that the book might serve as a resource for faith sharing and prayer groups outside of the Mass setting as well.

When I first came back to Catholicism after spending more than two decades as a Buddhist, one of the first things I did was to read the Catechism from beginning to end. Having left Catholicism while still in high school, it seemed to me to be a good way to move toward an adult understanding of the Catholic faith. Thus, I applaud the idea of finding a way to expose more Catholics to Church teaching.

The problem with using the Lectionary of Sunday Mass readings as the vehicle for conveying the Catechism is that many of the choices made by the author of which section or sections of the Catechism to tie to a particular Gospel reading seem strained. To give one example, in the discussion provided for St. Matthew’s account of the Transfiguration, one of the two Catechism sections used is paragraph 2051, addressing the infallibality of the Pope. How one gets papal infallibality from the Transfiguration is beyond me; the author attempts to draw a link from Peter’s “babbl[ing] something barely coherent – something about making tents” in the Gospel to his transformation by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. It seems to me that better lessons can be drawn from the Transfiguration.

Apart from the sometimes strained links between the Gospel and Catechism passages, the biggest drawback for me was that the effort to cover all three lectionary cycles in a single volume almost guarantees that the discussion of each will be somewhat superficial. I appreciate that the discussions are intended to be fairly basic, but their brevity means they raise questions they can’t explore. Thus, for example, one entry includes the statement, “The legitimate diversity in our Catholic Church reminds us that while unity is supremely important, it need not always mean complete uniformity,” a statement that begs for some elucidation of how one determines when uniformity is important and when it is not. The questions following the discussion are of mixed quality, some inviting real depth and others seeming to raise yes/no questions that don’t seem destined to facilitate any meaninful reflection.

Having said that, I agree with the author’s assessment that this book is “a good step in a good direction.” It represents a worthwhile effort to help facilitate reflection on the Sunday Gospels and to create at least some familiarity with the Catechism.

The Weekly Mass Collection

Each Sunday at Mass, there is a collection during which we make our weekly offering. Many parishes have moved to greater transparency and so the weekly church bulletin often contains a simple financial statement showing parish administrative and other expenses on one side of the ledger and income from weekly offerings and other sources on the other.

At one level the transparency is a good thing; it provides an accountability that benefits everyone. But it also creates a danger of our thinking that the collection at Mass is just about meeting our parish’s financial needs.

More importantly, our offering at Mass each week symbolizes something about our relationship to God and to the goods of this earth. Father Lawrence Mick writes,

It is not just a matter of giving God one or two percent of our income or even of tithing ten percent to God. In biblical times, the Jews made an offering of the first fruit of the harvest. It was a sign of gratitude for the harvest but also a symbol that the whole harvest really belonged to God. What we give in the collection should be a symbol of all that we have. It is a reminder that everything we own is a gift from God. Our gift in the collection is both a sign of our gratitude and a symbol that we will use all of God’s gifts as God wills.

So the practical aspect of keeping our parish running is important. But we should not lose sight of the symbolic element of our offering. As we prepare ourselves to receive the Eucharist, we give back to God some of what God has given us as an expression of our willingness to give ourselves to God.

Sending Forth

When I was a young teen, my friends and I attended the Saturday evening Mass. Somehow we had it in our heads that Mass “counted” so long as we were in Church by the time the Gospel began and stayed at least through reciept of the Eucharist. So we hung out outside of the church until we estimated it should be time for the Gospel and left as soon as we returned from the altar rail. This allowed us to go home and dutifully report to our parents that we had been to Mass.

I sigh now at that behavior, even as I observe many people leaving the Church each Sunday immediately after they receive the Eucharist, missing an incredibly important part of the Mass.

The closing rite of the Mass includes a sending forth. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal lists as one of the elements of the closing rite “the dismissal of the people by the deacon or priest so that each may go out to do good works, praising and blessing God.” Having just listened to the Word of God, having received the Body and Blood, we are commissioned to act on what we have just experienced. I think the language recited by the priest or deacon is meant to call to our minds Jesus’ instruction to his disciples before his Ascension to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations.”

Thus, the closing rite is not just a throwaway. It gives us a reminder we need that our prayer and our lives must be integrated. In the words of one commentator, “if prayer shapes belief, then together they find their true authentication in genuine Christian living. To ignore this inner connection between Eucharist and life is to ignore the bond between the life and mission of the church.”

The Power of the Word

At Mass yesterday, Archbishop Harry Flynn, retired Archbishop of the St. Paul and Minneapolis Archdiocese (who is giving a mission in my parish), spoke about the real presence of Christ not only in the Eucharist, but in the proclamation of the Word during Mass.  I thought about his comment again later in the day when someone explained to me why he does not regularly go to Mass.

We know that God is constantly revealing Godself to us in many varied ways.  Among those ways, God is revealed to us in Scripture, and praying with Scripture is a central prayer practice for many people, including myself.   But I think we miss something if our experience of Scripture is limited to our own individual reading and prayer. 

There is something that happens when the Word is proclaimed at Mass.  I know that when I am a lector at Mass there is something going on that is very different from when I stand in front of a classroom teaching or when I deliver a paper at the conference.  I feel the connection with God – no, more than connection – I feel the power of the Spirit moving through me as I am proclaiming.  And I’ve felt that same presence of God when I’m sitting in the pew and hearing the Word.  I close my eye and “see” and feel as much as hear the words, and I am completely aware of God in the Word.  (Indeed, one of the first steps of my conversion back to Catholicism from Buddhism was my experience in Mass one Sunday hearing the Gospel passage about faith the size of a mustard seed.)  And in a way that I can’t explain , or even understand, in rational or logical terms, I know it has something to do with koinonia  – with the coming together of God’s people to share the Word and the Bread.  God is present in that sharing in an incredibly special way.

So I read the Word and I pray with the Word, but I also know I would be missing something if I didn’t also experience the proclamation of the Word with the community at Mass.