Monday, March 7, 2016

Occasional Catholics, Lenten Rules, and the New Translation

Greetings on a glorious morning here in the Midwest, where it is currently sunny and in the low 50's. Heard lots of cardinals chirping this morning as I left the gym at 7:00.

I wanted to share the contents of a conversation I had last Friday. After finishing the week at work, I met a friend at a new local bar in my neighborhood and had some "small bites" and drinks to unwind after the week. It's one of those new "hip" places.

A couple in their late 30's sat next to us at the bar and I watched as they carefully ordered food that had no meat, and I commented about them being "good Catholics." They responded, "We don't go to church anymore, but we still observe the no-meat-on-Friday rule." I found out in the conversation that ensued that they were preparing for their wedding and I asked if they would be getting married in a Catholic church, to which they replied, "No, we are getting married at the Girl and the Goat," which is one of the finest restaurants in Chicago and in the United States.

We kept the "Catholic" part of the conversation going; they were quite easy going and the conversation just unfolded casually. She told me that, after having been raised Catholic and going to Catholic schools her entire life, that she had felt a certain "comfort" and "at-home-ness" in the Catholic church when she would occasionally visit for a funeral or wedding, and at Christmas and Easter. "That is, until a few years ago."

She shared that when an aunt died about three years ago, she attended the funeral and that "comfort" and "at-home-ness" was no longer felt. "They had changed the words of the Mass, words that I had grown up with and which I had become so used to. Why on earth would they change the words of the Mass? I just didn't feel at home anymore."

I sat there, marveling at the fact that this kind of conversation happened on a simple Friday afternoon, basically in the shadows of my own parish, Old Saint Patrick's.

Two things came to me. One was how there are folks, like these two, who self-identify as Roman Catholic, who very rarely attend Mass at all, but still keep the Catholic Lenten fast and abstinence rules. Are they holding on to a thread of Catholicism in the hopes, somehow, of attaining the promise of salvation?

The second thing that came to me was, frankly, something I had really never considered. And that was how the new translation of The Roman Missal could elicit a sense of alienation in the very occasional Catholic. Those of us who attend Mass regularly have fallen into the new responses and acclamations over the years since the new translation became mandatory. Our ears, for the most part, have become used to an English that is foreign to our ears everywhere else but at Mass. I find it ironic that someone who was looking for that "sameness" of Catholic ritual and language, a "sameness," at least in her view, that was a sign of the unchanging Catholic Church in which she had been reared and into which she had been formed, would now find a sense of alienation in the "changes." The most ironic thing here, of course, is that those changes were meant precisely to restore a more traditional and exact translation of the Latin. It brought back memories of a parish census I was asked to help out with when I was a seminarian in the early 1980's in suburban Boston. When visiting the homes of people who lived in the parish boundaries, we were given the instruction to ask about their Mass attendance. And, on more than a few occasions, I would hear something like this: "Oh, since they changed the Mass from Latin to English, I just stopped going; I loved the traditional Latin Mass." Was my experience on Friday night in that bar simply more of the same kind of sentiment?

I said a prayer for that couple on Friday night and thought of them when I attended Mass at Old Saint Patrick's yesterday. And I prayed that somehow, those still holding on to a thread of Catholicism might somehow find their way home. I also wondered how much parishes can do to assist those "occasional" Catholics.

What do you think about all of this?

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.


Liam said...

At least in terms of the congregational responses in the Ordo, I would say I see far fewer congregants referring to the laminated cards in the pews for them, even for the Creed (and, no, there's not a marked increase in simply remaining silent). And we now have a slowly growing group of people for whom the experience of the 2011 edition is longer than they experienced of the preceding edition.

I expect any future edition to leave the Ordo mostly in place and focus on repairing the often terrible (in English) syntax of the proper orations.

Lee W. Rutan said...

My parents, now over the age of 85, welcomed the first use of the vernacular, understanding the wisdom of Vatican II. The implementation of the 3rd edition of the Roman Missal was no big deal to them either. The discipline of attending church regularly is the only thing that will foster or rebuild the feeling of being at home for the unfortunate couple. Home is where you live, not a place you visit occasionally.

Anonymous said...

I am one of "those Catholics." I still call myself Catholic and tend to abstain on Lenten Fridays, even though my Mass attendance is sporadic, and it is not because of some idea that not eating meat on Friday will grant me salvation. If I was really worried about salvation, I'd be better about going to Mass. I think the abstaining, for me, is a somewhat painless tradition that keeps me connected by that thread to a faith I once had, sorely miss, and wish I could grasp again, but struggle with because of many reasons, none of which have to do with the words of the Mass. So, I guess it is hopeful abstaining. I liken it to people who may celebrate Thanksgiving even if their past family celebrations were fraught with discord or alienation or pain or loss. Sometimes you hold on to what you can even if, for now or forever, it is something small and not everything. Sometimes you do the best you can, even if to others it is seen as not enough.