Bishop's SEAC Articles

Our Participation in the Sacred Mysteries

The Southeast Alaska Catholic
November 2011
by Most Reverend Edward J. Burns

It was in second grade that the Sisters of St. Joseph started to prepare a group of us to be altar boys at Holy Rosary Parish in Pittsburgh. I can still remember looking at all the sheets of paper with Latin text outlining the various prayers at the foot of the altar and throughout the Mass. Memorizing the words along with the various actions took some practice. One of the most important things I recall was that I was in preparation to be a part of something sacred. Unfortunately, my family moved from Holy Rosary Parish before I completed my preparation to serve Mass in Latin and I never served Mass until the liturgical changes of Vatican II were well in place. Nevertheless, I never lost sight of the fact that what we celebrated at the altar was something sacred. For us, the celebration of the Mass has always been the complete sharing in the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist – the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ – our participation in the sacred mysteries.

Beginning on Sunday, November 27, 2011, the First Sunday of Advent, our participation in the sacred celebration of the Mass will have some changes. While some of you have been following the changes that will take place in the liturgy on that day, I suspect that there are some who will learn of the changes on that day when they arrive for Mass.

In my conversations with parishioners, some ask: “Why are they changing the Mass?” “Is it really necessary to go through this?” “This is what we have done for decades and it is what we know – do they understand that this will be a bit unsettling?” In response, I assure them that this new edition of the Roman Missal (Missale Romanum) will be the same sacred exchange we have experienced in past ages, but now we will be linked to the wider Church through a more accurate translation. It is another wonderful way in which we celebrate the bond of the universality of the Roman Catholic Church through the source and summit of our faith – the Eucharist. It is another example that we are connected to others outside of our parish community, especially with those throughout the English speaking world.

For a little bit of background, Pope John Paul II announced a revised version of the Missale Romanum during the Jubilee Year 2000. Within this new revised edition of the Missale Romanum are prayers for the observances of recently canonized saints, additional prefaces for the Eucharistic Prayers, additional Votive Masses and Masses and Prayers for Various Needs and Occasions. In particular, the English version was studied because of the number of different translations that came from the original Latin soon after Vatican II, depending on which English speaking country you were in to celebrate Mass.

In order to have the entire English speaking world praying the Mass with the same voice, the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) was given the task of preparing English translations of liturgical texts on behalf of the conferences of bishops of English–speaking countries.  The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the other member Conferences of Bishops received draft translations of each text from ICEL and had the opportunity to offer comments and suggestions.

The long-term goal of the new translation is to foster a deeper awareness and appreciation of the mysteries being celebrated in the Liturgy.  The axiom lex orandi, lex credendi—“what we pray is what we believe”—suggests that there is a direct relationship between the content of our prayers and the substance of our faith.

It is my hope that the faithful of the Diocese will come to appreciate the changes in the Liturgy. In addition to these changes, I have also sought counsel from our full time ministers in the Diocese about some changes that will help our local Church. In light of this, beginning on the same 1st Sunday of Advent, we will increase the level of consistency in the celebration of the Mass throughout the Diocese. These liturgical norms will be presented through this Diocesan paper, on our website and through our parishes. For example, we will now kneel after praying the Lamb of God and return to our pews after communion to either kneel or sit. Since this is the practice in Catholic parishes in the Lower 48, this will help us with a natural flow of posture in the Mass (especially when we have many visitors in the summer months) and eliminate the uncertainty of when it is proper to sit down after the Communion Rite.

I am grateful for your patience and understanding during this time of change within our Mass. I also want to express my appreciation for the hard work in our local parishes/missions in preparation for these changes, in particular, to Deacon Charles Rohrbacher on the Diocesan level for his efforts in organizing everything.

While we will be looking at our missalettes and following sheets of liturgical guides to help us, please know that a little patience and practice will help us feel comfortable once again. Never lose sight of the fact that what we celebrate at the altar is something sacred. For us, the celebration of the Mass has always been the complete sharing in the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist – the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ – our participation in the sacred mysteries.

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