New Changes in Catholic Liturgy: Will it Help?

by on September 19th, 2010
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It was a rainy Easter Sunday on April 6, 1958. A Fourth grader, nine years of age going on ten, I received my First Holy Communion that day. The very next day I served my first Mass as an altar boy at 6:15 A.M.
For months before I studied the course of religion that my fellow students had mastered a few years ago so that they could receive communion. I also studied to be an altar boy, the goal of my life at that time. I learned when to place the palms of my hands together, fingers pointing straight up, thumbs interlocked, fingers in line with my chin, as I knelt with my back as straight as a board, never swaying or slouching. On cue I brought the book, wine and water cruets, finger bowl and towel to the celebrant of the Mass. I was a master at lighting quickly and extinguishing gently the altar candles so not to push the wick back down into the candle making it difficult to light the next time around.
Then there was the Latin. That beautiful language of the liturgy that rolled off my tongue like poetry. I learned the translation into English. My responses to the priest were never merely rote. Like a savvy, experienced football coach before playing an opponent, I studied each priest in great detail to be at the ready. Father X was deliberate and precise; Father Y ripped off his Latin and movements in machine gun like staccato ending the Mass, start to finish, in ten minutes; Father Z was at times slightly inebriated – even at 6:15- and you would have to catch up with him wherever he might wander.
Somehow along my high school days and my time in the military, I strayed from the church. Never gave much thought to the whys and wherefores. This was the time of Vatican II and great changes were to take place, presumably to take control of a dwindling Catholic population. I knew nothing of the changes other than minute snippets I read about from time to time.
One Saturday night in 1975 for some unknown reason, a religious thought entered my head. I decided to attend a mass at a near-by Catholic church the next morning. It was there and then that I witnessed the changes brought on by Vatican II. The priest was behind the altar, rather than in front; English was the choice of language, not Latin; no pipe organ, but instead guitars, drums and even a banjo. Visions of Woodstock danced in my head.
This past Sunday, the beginning of Advent and the new liturgical year for Catholics, new changes to the liturgy were implemented. Words were added or deleted to reflect a more literal translation of the old Latin Mass supposedly to enhance the theological enrichment of the Mass. I commend the changes, however, I think it is too little, too late. Once again a change in ritual, while philosophy remains at status quo.
One only has to look across the nation at the dying dioceses to see that the Church is in disarray. Schools have been closed or merged with other parishes. One might argue that this is due to economic failings and high tuition costs, yet parishes are also being closed or merged with others due to dwindling numbers of parishioners. And it is not just an inner city phenomena. Suburban churches have been put on the chopping block.
There are not enough new applicants for the religious vocations to replace those ready to retire.
The Church holds fast in its teachings on contraception, abortion, homosexuality and women in the priesthood. Then it wonders why people are leaving. In another 40 years the mass will again be changed for some reason or another, but will anyone be left to hear what is said?
How I once loved the ritual, but I changed and the Church did not.

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