When Was the Last Time We Had to Learn the Mass?

I’m in 4th grade and my mom and dad asked the Deacon in our church how old one needed to be to become an altar boy.

“4th grade or 10 years old” Deacon Al replied.

I beamed. I was in.

One of the first things that we had to do was to “borrow” a missalette from the church and to learn all the mass parts. We were expected to respond especially at the “quieter” weekday masses which we were also required to be a server at once or twice a week at either the 6:45 AM, 8:00AM, or in the summer, 9:00AM masses.

I can remember taking the little book home and memorizing the words. I even started to try to memorize the priest’s parts as time went on. (I was apparently an overachiever).

And I think that was a good practice for me. After all, as Deacon Greg Kandra reminds us, the ENTIRE mass is for us. All of us. While the priest says certain words throughout the mass, we are not passive recipients. We are supposed to be praying along with him. One liturgist I know once said to me that this is why it bothered him so much when priests would change the words in the Eucharistic Prayer. “When you do that, you break my prayer. I want to tell the priest that the prayer isn’t his alone, rather it belongs to all the people of God.”

The truth is that it didn’t take long (now I was also a young kid with a mind like a steel trap back then. These days I can’t remember what I had for dinner last night or the name of the woman whose been sitting next to me in meetings for months).

This past Sunday I used my iPhone to follow the words of the Eucharistic Prayer that was used at mass. The so-called Elevated language that is used at times I find silly, but for the most part I didn’t find it all that different from the old prayer–perhaps just a reordering of words or a different word choice. My initial thought is that this wasn’t really worth all the hullaballoo that we’ve made over it.

As an example, not from the Eucharistic Prayer this time, but a colleague told me that a student asked their Bishop what the word “consubstantial” even means. And without blinking an eye the Bishop said “one in being with.”

That’s what we used to say. Really? This is what we spent time doing? Putting $3 words where there once was four words that people understood? I’m not sure that was worth the effort.

In the Eucharistic Prayers, the word chalice was added to replace cup. While the priest is actually holding a chalice, most historians and theologians think otherwise and believe he was holding a common drinking vessel. The inflated language is far from needed here.

The mysteries of faith are another example. I can live without the simple “Christ has died” refrain. But look closely at this one and ask yourself what’s wrong with the new translated refrain:

The old way: Lord, by your cross and resurrection, you have set us free. You are the Savior of the world.

The New Missal: Save us, Savior of the World, for by your cross and resurrection you have set us free.

The latter sounds like a plea—perhaps even as if the one who says it doesn’t by that the resurrection has saved us. If Jesus has already done the saving then why are we asking him to do it again? The old way seemed to get this point on target. The new way seems like it’s bad theology.

Here’s the one that I still don’t get:

To our departed brothers and sisters
and to all who were pleasing to you
at their passing from this life,
give kind admittance to your kingdom.
There we hope to enjoy for ever the fullness of your glory
through Christ our Lord,
through whom you bestow on the world all that is good.

I call that paragraph “The Divine Ticket Taker” –one who gives us kind admittance. I hope it’s a lot deeper than that.

I prefer Eucharistic Prayer II’s words:

Remember also our brothers and sisters
who have fallen asleep in the hope of the resurrection,
and all who have died in your mercy:
welcome them into the light of your face.
Have mercy on us all, we pray,
that with the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God,
with the blessed Apostles,
and all the Saints who have pleased you throughout the ages, we may merit to be coheirs to eternal life,
and may praise and glorify you
He joins his hands.
through your Son, Jesus Christ.

While earlier in the prayer the calling down of the Holy Spirit is invoked and makes reference to the experience being like the “dewfall”–a bit literal for my tastes, but one I can live with. I hope I hear EPII or even EP IV most often.

I’m getting a bit nostalgic for the times when I was a young altar server, when the intricacies of the mass were new to me. I’m not in the same place now. These seems more annoying than anything else–perhaps it will work and perhaps not. Only time will tell.

But for better or for worse, we’d do well to read the entire new translation and figure out what we most resonate with and what other questions they might bring up for us.

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