Mass Confusion

Creatures of habit and ritual do not generally react well to change. Oh, you should be with me when I cantor Sunday mass these days.

For those of you who aren’t Catholic (or are, but haven’t been to church in a length of time not to be judged or even discussed herein): there is a very set ritual of prayers we say during mass. Recently, the Church changed the words to some of those prayers. The whole Church. Every Catholic who goes to mass now has to say different words, no matter what country they’re in (presumably). It’s because Pope John Paul II years ago ordered a re-translation from the original language into all the languages of the world, because things strayed a bit too far from home and now not everyone was really saying the same thing. He spoke seven languages, so I guess he would know. And we’re all supposed to be saying the exact same thing. It’s about unity. One Church.

So anyway. The answer to a priest’s “The Lord be with you” used to be “And also with you.” Now it’s “And with your spirit.” We’ve been saying “And also with you” since 1963 when the Church ixnayed Atin-Lay, but now, holy hell, the words are different. We say “And with your spirit” no fewer than five times during a mass. For the first several weeks of the new translation, we took special care to remind people of this before mass started. It got to a point when sometimes we were practically yelling it.

~”The Lord be with you.”
~”AND WITH YOUR SPIRIT! I got it that time!”

I was incensed (haha, Catholic joke – get it? Incense?) when the most pious of our priests decided to sing a high mass a couple of weeks ago. No, high mass does not refer to too much incense. It’s when a bunch of the prayers are chanted. I actually gave him a dirty look when he started in. People weren’t comfortable with those chants before we changed all the words. Now, there’s absolutely no musical precedent for them. I don’t know what to sing. The people are all, “Uh, hey cantor, what do we do?” and I’m all, “Uhhh, just… wiggle your voice around a little.” I hope you’re happy, Father.

My music director wisely changed some of the prayers we sing to the new translation weeks ahead of time. The idea was that people would be comfortable with them by the time we got to the mandatory switch-over, and they’d sing them confidently.


We’ve been doing the new music for three months now, and I still see all these people with their faces buried in the prayer cheat sheets. Where the music, which they know, is not written.

I don’t know why, but for a Church based entirely on believing what cannot be seen, these people have some serious trust issues.

I’m not even going to start on the Nicene Creed or how everyone panics every week because “maybe they changed the Lord’s Prayer, too.” (They didn’t.)

Catholics are accustomed not only to ritual but also to a certain rhythm. We have a way we say things, you know? A cadence. When they changed the words, the cadence got all screwed up and now nothing is said together. Which is ironic, given the purpose of changing the words. Now everything’s scattered all to hell, and it comes out sounding like, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive my roof under you, but only say the word and I shall heal my own soul or …something. *Cough.* And with your spirit?”

That bit gets said at the most important moment of the mass: the consecration. It’s the moment when the bread and wine is turned into the body and blood of Christ. This is a very holy moment. Which makes it an excellent time for Patrick, the deeply baritone and hard-of-hearing usher/sacristan, to hock up a crapload of phlegm on the other side of the altar wall, very loudly, out of sight, like the Voice of God has been stricken by post-nasal drip. He does it at the exact same time every week.

Priest: “It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, holy Father,–“

Patrick (off): “Aaachhhuugggllll!”

Priest: “–almighty and eternal God, through Christ our Lord. For he assumed at his first coming the lowliness of human flesh, and so fulfilled the design you formed long ago, and opened for us the way to eternal salvation–“

Patrick (off): “AAAYYYYAACHHHHUUUGGGGLLLLL. Uh-gull-accchhhh.”

Priest: “–that, when he comes again in glory and majesty and all is at last made manifest, we who watch for that day may inherit the great promise in which now we dare to hope.”

(I don’t have that memorized. I looked it up. I had the old prayer there memorized. But that’s gone the way of the backward-facing celebrant.)

Sadly, another fairly regular ritual at my church is the Fainting of the Faithful. The vast majority of attendees are seniors. And, God love them, sometimes they don’t have breakfast, or they forget to take a pill, or whatever, and boom. Down goes Mrs. Frazier. It’s happened so frequently that the parish has had to mark off a little connecting road between two parking lots with orange cones so that nobody (read: me) parks along the side of it because, if they do, the ambulance can’t get through.

I almost parked there yesterday, in defiance, because I was late and I really hate having to drive to the lower lot and hoof it up the hill to get to the church, out of breath just in time to sing the entrance hymn. Good thing I didn’t park there, though, because all of a sudden, right at the very beginning of the Liturgy of the Eucharist (the part leading up to that all-important moment of the consecration)… down went poor old Mr. McKinley.

I made that up, I don’t know his name.

Father saw it happen, and, when he finished the prayer he was on, he discreetly asked for any medical professionals present to attend to this parishioner. Apparently I worship at a very medical church. About six people rushed over. Had the choir been there, three more would have joined them. My church is, for reasons both spiritually and practically obvious, a pretty good place to lose consciousness.

This is always a very awkward thing for the celebrant. He has to continue with the mass. But he kind of doesn’t want to. He feels like he’s plainly ignoring the fact that one of his parishioners may or may not be dying about 20 feet away. Yesterday, because Mr. McKinley’s episode went on for so long, he calmly told the server girls as they prepared the altar for the consecration to go and get the other priest over in the rectory.

I remained prone, remembering I’m supposed to be an example up here in my lay ministry, kneeling as Saint Peter or whomever told us to do, but wondering what was taking the ambulance so long. They’re right across the street. Naturally, half the church was basically staring at the spot where Mr. McKinley had keeled over instead of paying much attention to that most holy of liturgical ceremonies, and I have to say that, as I watched the priest, he was a little distracted, too. It’s good, though, kind of, because it distracted everyone from Patrick’s lung evacuations.  And then, of course, the medics arrived exactly when the bread and wine were elevated for the big moment. (Former Catholics: think “ringing bells.”) You cannot pick a worse time to be disruptive.

(left): “Sir, are you having trouble breathing?”
(from altar): “Through Him, with Him, in Him…”
(off): “Ayyyucchhhhgggllll!”
(left): “Any chest pain?”
(from altar): “In the unity of the Holy Spirit…”
(off): “Bllluuugrrrghhuhgglll…”

Adding to all of this? The words to the hymn we sang at closing. “Let All Things Now Living.” Really? Oh, this is awkward. “Let all things now living (I hope) a song of thanksgiving to God our creator triumphantly raise! Whose passion has made us, protected and stayed us by guiding us on to the end of our days! (Which is hopefully not today)… Til shadows have vanished and darkness is banished as onward we travel from light into light!” (Go toward the light!)

I don’t know what happened to Mr. McKinley. The medics carted him off just before it was time to line up for Communion, with Father Pious High Mass tagging along.

I wonder if the prayers for the Anointing of the Sick changed, too.


20 thoughts on “Mass Confusion

  1. I had to laugh out loud at this post. It was so funny! I know you are talking about Mass, but I know you know the whole story was written with humor in mind. I am a Protestant/now Agnostic who hasn’t been to church since my mother-in-law died in 1998. However, I would have known to respond, “and with your spirit” at the right time. What I miss most about the church is the hymns. I have hymns on my computer that I can turn on and sing along when the spirit is with me.

    • I have no problem with laughing about church. Sometimes it IS funny… and yes, it was supposed to be. To me, music is the part that sets one church apart from another – since everything else is exactly the same, the music is what holds value in how I determine which parish I attend. I’ve been at mine for more than ten years now. It just keeps getting funnier some days.

  2. HILARIOUS! I might go to church more often if it had a 50/50 chance of producing a fainting spell. Separately, my ex was Catholic and always made fun of me for saying the Protestant version of the Lord’s Prayer. Interestingly, I can’t even remember WHAT that difference is any more? Debts vs. Trespasses vs. Sins? Not sure. I’m just glad to know I wouldn’t be the only person flubbing the words at a Catholic service these days!

    • We usually have ways of warning the Protestants about the Lord’s Prayer. Apart from the debt/trespasses thing, what he probably mocked you for was the fact that you just barreled right on through to the end, while WE prefer to stop and let the priest do a Thing before continuing on with the “for the kingdom and the power and the glory are yours, now and forever.” That’s the part when I make a point to squeeze the hand of the Protestant next to me, should there be one. We did it in chain form at Joey’s brother’s funeral. I had to start it early enough that it would get to the end of the five-Protestant chain by the right time.

      I think my most treasured Protestant-at-Mass moment was one day when my friend Jay came to church to hear me sing, and I forgot to tell him not to come up for communion. While I sang, I watched him approach the eucharistic minister, and when she offered him the host and said, “The body of Christ,” I saw him say “Thank you.” Like it was a canape.

  3. In the past ten years, the Reform Jewish liturgy has de-gendered God. God is no longer HIm. God’s also not our Father or Our KIng, One of the best known prayers for Rosh Hashanah is the Aeinu Maleinu … Our Father, Our King … now translated Our Creator, Our Sovereign (or Ruler). Adonai (Lord) becomes the Eternal One. Since most Jews have their own prayer books, some have new and some have old, so it makes responsive readings chaotic. It also bothers me that the words are unchanged in the Hebrew chants and prayers … and I know Aveinu is Father,, Malkeinu is King and Adonai is Lord.

    • Yeah, it’s a hard thing to get around. We make an attempt at a more inclusive verbage, but I don’t mind calling God “Him/He,” if only because, in grammar, the male is the neuter of the unknown. Sometimes we avoid it by just using the word God over and over instead of a pronoun. We get off easy in one respect, though: Jesus was definitely a guy. 🙂

  4. Excellent post – I practically laughed out loud (which would have been awkward in the open plan office!) As a Methodist we’ve had out own amusing moments including those when you can’t help giggle at the Communion rail when someone can’t find the hole to put the individual wine glasses in (we use tiny individual shot glasses instead of one large goblet). Sometimes with the teenagers it is very, very hard not to give the game away.

    Changing liturgy can be really helpful at getting you thinking about the words again rather than just reciting without any thought, but perhaps not when everything goes wrong all around you!

    • I completely agree about the pros to changing the words around. But yes, as you say, when there’s so much distraction or when the congregation just feels like giving it up, it’s rather less effective! I wish I could tell you how many times I’ve nearly laughed – or rolled my eyes – in front of the whole place. I didn’t even tell you about the priest I used to call Father William Shatner. “This. Is. My. Body. It… willbegivenup… for you.” Oy.

  5. Oh my goodness. This is frigging hilarious. The visuals. I am not catholic and I had no idea you guys were all having to change your responses. I can only imagine the scene where the priest is ignoring the guy who might be dying….goodness. Ha!

  6. This is great! A post from a Catholic about the church! I’m very intrigued by Catholicism and have some dear friends who are Catholics. I like your perspective too, amusing, but reverential. Good stuff!

    • Thanks. Yeah, I’m honest but I can teach you things. There are all kinds of observations I haven’t quite wrestled into another post… but I wrote one back on Easter Monday called Half-Assed Holy Days if you want to check that one out. Thanks for the comment – hope you come back!

  7. Thank you for letting me know I have to say something else when I got to mass with my mother-in-law, a devout Catholic. I just got ‘and also with you’ down. I doubt I will EVER manage the other. I cannot even remember it now, and you sprinkled it throughout this post. 🙂

    • You’re welcome. I warned my sisters, too, before Christmas. Just in case we all went to church together. I think the new “and with your spirit” would be easier if the priest said “The Lord be with your spirit” instead of “The Lord be with you.” Alas, my recommendations were not solicited.

  8. I also attend a church where we have had fainting problems. It is very tricky for the Protestant minister or assistant minister. Fortunately, the minister’s wife is a chaplain, at a local hospital. She saved the day, last time, by yelling out, “let’s sing!” It worked!

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