One year from today every Catholic parish in the United States will begin using the new English translation of the Roman Missal, the official book which contains all the prayers and responses for the Mass. This will not be a new way of celebrating Mass, but a new and more accurate translation of the official Latin prayers—and thus, much less dramatic than the changes that took place after the Second Vatican Council. Even though I was only nine years old at the time, I clearly remember the first time I attended Mass in English—even the exact date: November 29, 1964, the First Sunday of Advent. It was new and exciting, but also strange and confusing, and took some getting used to. The changes beginning next year will be minor by comparison. For instance, when the priest says “The Lord be with you,” your response will be “And with your spirit.” The Confiteor will be more traditional, saying “I have greatly sinned . . . through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault,” and the Gloria and the Creed will be slightly longer. There will also be minor changes in wording to a few other prayers, such as the memorial acclamations and the prayer before Communion, in which we’ll say “Lord, I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” The four Eucharistic Prayers, however, will be noticeably different; the language will be much more lofty, using words not commonly heard in everyday conversation; the goal is not only to translate the official Latin text more accurately, but to help us enter into a more prayerful and exalted spirit.
In a sense, all these changes will be easier for you than for me. Like many priests, over the years I’ve memorized some of the Mass prayers, but because they’ll be different beginning a year from now, I’ll have to follow the Sacramentary—the official prayer book—much more closely. After 28 years of saying Mass one way, I’ll be relearning much of it. Some priests are looking forward to this prospect; others are dreading it. I’m sort of in the middle; change is often difficult, but sometimes necessary and even beneficial—especially when it’s intended to help us celebrate Mass more faithfully and prayerfully. As you might imagine, a lot of preparation has already occurred, and will be continuing over the next year. Workshops for priests and musicians have been, and will be, offered (I’ve already attended one of these). Articles about the new Roman Missal have been and will be distributed. Composers are revising musical settings to fit the wording of the new translations, and missalette companies are preparing the new versions that will be needed. The Church’s liturgical year always begins on the First Sunday of Advent, and that’s why the changes to the Mass will be implemented at this time one year from now. That’s actually very appropriate, because the theme of the First Sunday of Advent is always one of preparation during a time of waiting—a time sometimes marked by uncertainty and confusion. Whether it’s the introduction of the new Roman Missal, or the end of the world and the Second Coming of Christ, Jesus wants us to look forward to the future with hope—for He promises to bless and reward all those who genuinely seek to serve Him.
We know, of course, when the changes to the Mass will be implemented, but we don’t know the date of the events Jesus describes in the Gospel of Matthew (24:37-44). That’s why He tells us we must be prepared and remain spiritually awake—and if we are, there is no reason for fear. The prophet Isaiah (2:1-5) foretells a glorious age of history in which the Lord brings about perfect justice; all peoples are united in universal peace and in their desire to worship the one true God. In order to share in this joyful experience, however, we must make ourselves ready—and St. Paul (Romans 13:11-14) tells us what this involves as he says, we must “throw off the works of darkness . . . conduct ourselves properly . . . and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.” In other words, instead of living foolishly and going along with the false, hedonistic values of this world, we must seek to do God’s will in all things. If we identify us with Jesus in this way, He will recognize us as His own and preserve us from all harm.
A high school literature teacher wrote a simple sentence on the board, and asked his students what they thought of it; it read, “Wait for the light.” They all thought it was very profound, and served as a good spiritual maxim for life. One of them asked “Where is that from?,” and the teacher replied, “I saw it on the pedestrian crosswalk sign down at an intersection” (Fuller, Stories for All Seasons, p. 6). That story is actually a good reminder that we’re supposed to combine deep spiritual insights with everyday situations; life is meant to be filled not only with routine duties and experiences, but also with insight and wonder. So it must be with our preparations for death, or for the end of the world. When we’re preparing a meal for ourselves and others, or doing laundry, or driving to work, or cleaning up the back yard, or working on any of our routine chores, these things can be drudgery or a necessary evil, or a prayer and a sacrifice for God’s glory—and if we choose to let them be a way of praising and thanking the Lord, they also become an occasion of grace. Consciously choosing to make the routine events of daily life an offering to God builds our characters, shapes our destinies, and helps prepare us for whatever challenges await us in the future. Just as an athlete planning on entering a marathon begins exercising and training far in advance, so we should be preparing for our encounter with Christ right now: here in church, at home, on the freeway, at school, in the shopping mall, and around our neighborhood and community. We must “wait for the light” in a spirit of humble and confident anticipation, actively opening our hearts to divine grace and trusting that the Lord will certainly keep His promises.
Advent is a time of prayerful waiting and anticipation, and of actively preparing our hearts for the Lord; as such, it’s also the Church’s way of reminding us that Jesus will come again, and that it’s our solemn duty and joyful privilege to be ready for Him. The Church’s preparation to begin using the new Roman Missal one year from now, with all the inevitable ups and downs involved in this process, can serve as a symbol of our own spiritual journey. Life can be confusing and challenging, but for those who have a living faith in Jesus, a glorious and joyful reunion with the Lord is absolutely assured.