Changes coming to Catholic Mass. New translation first in 40 years.

Published: Detroit Free Press
Nov. 25, 2011, Page 1a

The Rev. Gary Smetanka begins mass, assisted by Maria Ciaravino, 13, at Our Lady Star of the Sea. The changes start Sunday.Catholic mass to have the biggest change in 40 years

By Niraj Warikoo

Detroit Free Press Staff Writer

The biggest changes to Catholic mass in about 40 years will start Sunday, part of an attempt by the church to return to its roots.

But while church leaders praise the changes in wording, others say they’re a regression that will make mass harder to understand and were implemented top-down without considering what Catholics on the ground think. To critics, it’s a move away from the reforms of Vatican II in the 1960s that allowed mass in local languages instead of Latin. Though the mass still will be said in English and other languages, the words are a more direct translation of Latin and Hebrew words.

In the old mass, God is called the “Lord of power and might.” Now, he’s the “Lord of hosts,” a more direct translation of an ancient term for armies.

“It’s just a giant step backwards,” said Carmen Gudan, 63, of Dearborn. “It will drive people away.”

Church leaders acknowledge that the changes may take some getting used to, but say they will help Catholics draw closer to their faith.

“My hope would be they give it a chance … give it some time to have an effect,” said the Rev. Gary Smetanka, head of the worship commission of the Archdiocese of Detroit and pastor of Our Lady Star of the Sea in Grosse Pointe Woods.


Some Catholics in metro Detroit fear mass confusion over changes to liturgy

For decades, English-speaking Catholics described Jesus during mass as “one in being with the father.”

But starting Sunday, they will say he’s “consubstantial with the father,” using a word that means roughly the same thing, but is awkward and confusing to many.

That substitution is part of the biggest change to the English-language Catholic mass in about 40 years, one that will affect how up to 1.3 million Catholics in the Archdiocese of Detroit recite words during services.

The changes have upset some, illustrating the divide between liberal and conservative Catholics. Critics say the new wording was thrust upon a reluctant public by the Vatican with little input from Americans and others. To them, it reflects the church’s rightward shift and an increased reluctance to listen to its members on a range of issues, from abusive priests to finances. The wording changes make the mass more opaque and unfamiliar, they argue.

“There are a lot of people upset by the changes, and the process by which the changes were made,” said Tom Kyle, 72, a Catholic from Farmington who says the church should be more open. “There is a lot of resistance from the clergy. A lot of the priests don’t like it.”

The word “consubstantial” is one example of what Kyle says represents a backward step for the church.

“Technically, it’s correct, but people don’t know what ‘consubstantial’ means,” Kyle said. “It doesn’t make any sense for many. And it doesn’t have the same flow.”

Higher language

But church leaders in Detroit and across the U.S. say the changes elevate the language in the liturgy. And they’re making people look anew at words they might have said by rote in the past.

“After 40 years of having more of a common language, this might take a little while to get used to, but it’s something that perhaps can take people to a different level,” said Smetanka.

“With change, there is new growth, new possibilities and new discoveries, and maybe it’s something the Holy Spirit is leading us to, to something richer and to a new discovery of our understanding of God, and the saints and the church.”

For the Catholic Church, mass is a key part of the faith, and the words that are recited are considered carefully. They are part of a text called the Roman Missal, whose language was changed after the reforms of the Vatican II Council in the 1960s.

Those reforms allowed mass to be said in local languages instead of the traditional Latin and encouraged more openness and variation. But conservatives say the pendulum shifted too far to the left. The late Pope John Paul II — who could recite the mass in several languages — wanted a more uniform language for the missal.

About a decade ago, he called for updated translations, which were worked on for years. Kyle said that the input from some American Catholic bishops was essentially ignored as the Vatican hierarchy put its foot down about the mass changes.

More singing

In the Archdiocese of Detroit, leaders have worked on introducing the changes over the past two years, Smetanka said. He and other clergy have visited a number of parishes, meeting nearly 3,000 people to explain the new words. They’ve held workshops to make people familiar with them. And in recent weeks, pastors have handed out cards with the new words to help familiarize parishioners.

One goal, he said, is to encourage “more chanting and singing of the mass.”

“Our liturgy is really meant to be sung at every mass.”

The process is making Catholics get back in touch with the meaning of the words, he said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to be renewed in our understanding of the mass.”

But Gudan doesn’t feel that way. The 63-year-old lifelong Catholic says she thinks it’s a big mistake, one that betrays the spirit of the 1960s reforms that opened up the church.

“It’s a direct violation of Vatican II,” she said. “The whole purpose of that is to make things easier, and this makes things more difficult.”

One of the text changes that concerns Gudan centers on sin. In the old mass, Catholics say, “I have sinned through my own fault.”

Starting Sunday, they will say, “I have greatly sinned … through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.”

Gudan said, “We’re wailing about our sinfulness instead of celebrating going out and following the teachings of Jesus Christ.”

The new language also doesn’t flow as well, she and others say.

“It’s stilted,” she said. “I can’t stand it. It’s just repulsive.”

But Smetanka said that “the new language is more of an elevated language. … Sacred language is different than common street language.”

Andrew Brown, 21, of Ann Arbor welcomes the changes.

“It shows the church takes seriously our tradition,” he said.

“It’s very easy to be mechanical with your words and just go through the motions,” he said. “These changes … will be significant enough to make (Catholics) wake up and think about the words again.”

Brown likes how the changes emphasize the universal nature of the church. One of the goals of the Vatican is to make sure that masses said around the world are similar enough to remind Catholics that their church is a worldwide institution. Brown, a student whose minor is Spanish, said:

“It’s cool … having unity along the language front and trying to remain faithful to the original Latin.”

Contact Niraj Warikoo: 313-223-4792 or


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