Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Fear of Change and the Beauty of the New

A friend just wrote look for a copy of Gloria XV, and so I did a quick google and found a post I put up on the New Liturgical Movement back in 2008. I had been writing about how our parish was moving from an English plainchant Gloria to a Latin Gloria, the oldest one known that is now called Gloria XV. This same tune is the one that will appear in the forthcoming new Missal but with English text.

It is strange for me to read the post, which was written days before we implemented the Latin Gloria in our own parish, and I can detect the apprehension in my voice, the sense of worry that this will be rejected in favor of the familiar one that we had been doing. I can't recall the specifics of how the new Latin Gloria turned out on the first week, but I do recall a sense of total elation about one month later, when it had become clear to all of us that the transition had worked and that the people had really taken to the Latin.

It's only two and half years later, and the Gloria in Latin with this setting (we don't use any accompaniment to any singing) is now deeply embedded in the liturgy, a part of the experience of Mass that people look forward to. In fact, I can recall one Sunday when we briefly reverted to English and the sense of annoyance that rose up from the congregation! They had invested themselves in the Latin and wanted to sing it!Why would this music group want to take it away?

Development in liturgical experience is always a process that has to be looked at with a longer range outlook that a single week can provide. Liturgy and ritual take time to become part of our inner expectations and finally part of our longings. It is never really about discreet units of time but rather the cumulative experience of many links in time that come together to become more than the sum of the parts.

This will be good to remember come Advent when the new Missal will be implemented. Many people will want to know immediately: how did it go? Did the people like it? Did the celebrant like it? Did it work as well as what it is replacing?

There will be no stopping these questions but they really are the wrong questions. We should be asking questions such as: how will this new translation come to be part of our lives in the future? In what way will our increasing familiarity with its language aid in our lives of prayer? What other aspects of the liturgy need to be developed in order to provide continuity among all the sounds we hear and all the things we see at Mass? What will it be like to revisit this experience one year from now and what will be the result in how we think of this sacred time and space?

There is a praiseworthy sense in which Catholics are temperamentally resistant to change. And change for the sake of change alone is pointless and unnecessarily disruptive. But change that gets us closer to an ideal, change that leads to a more perfect expression of prayer, is something that we must embrace for the long-term good of our faith and our souls.

As I look back to my 2008 post, I have to slightly laugh at my worries, all of which were for naught. In the same way, I fully expect that we will look back from the year 2013 and wonder what all the anxiety was about in 2011. The new translation will already be part of our lives and part of our ritual expectation every week and every day we go to Mass.