c. 2005 Religion News Service
CHICAGO _ Catholic bishops on Friday (June 17) voted to retain 10 familiar words in the Catholic Mass _ “Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again” _ but the phrase could eventually disappear if Vatican officials have their way.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops defeated an effort to remove the refrain, but church leaders say the Vatican will likely insist it be ditched because it does not speak of the congregation’s participation in the Mass.
At least some worshippers _ and more than a few bishops _ said the dispute seems silly.
“I don’t understand why, when there are so many other compelling issues facing the church, they’re concerned about that,” parishioner Susan Hickman said after an afternoon Mass at Chicago’s Holy Name Cathedral.
If the refrain is eventually dropped, it would be a small but potentially jarring change to the familiar words of the Mass heard day in and day out by the nation’s 67 million Catholics.
The line comes near the climax of the Mass, after the priest consecrates the bread and wine used in Communion and tells worshippers, “Let us proclaim the mystery of faith.” Catholics respond by either speaking or singing the refrain.
The line, which can be found throughout Christian history, was added to the English-language Mass in the late 1960s. It is also used in Lutheran, Episcopal and Methodist worship.
The bishops’ doctrine committee wanted the refrain dropped from use in U.S. churches because it is “theologically insufficient.” The committee said the phrase is not in line with a new translation of the Mass issued by the Vatican.
Bishop Donald Trautman of Erie, Pa., chairman of the liturgy committee, said a better alternative would be, “Dying you destroyed our death, Rising you restored our life, Lord Jesus come in glory.”
Trautman said that and other versions speak more directly of the congregation by using words like “our” and “we.” Though a grammatical nuance, it’s an important one, Trautman said.
“We know the text has served us well, that it’s a popular musical composition … but we feel we have to reject it,” Trautman told the bishops.
Other bishops balked, however, saying the change would not be understood or accepted by rank-and-file Catholics. Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb of Mobile, Ala., said it “escapes the common sense of the people at prayer.”
Cardinal Edward Egan of New York called for pastoral discretion.
“We’ve had so much change that there’s a sense of instability, that we have no connection to the past,” he said. “It’s time to let our people settle into a familiar prayer that doesn’t give the impression that everything is up for grabs.”
After the bishops voted to retain the language, Trautman warned of an impending standoff with the Vatican, which did not include the “Christ has died” refrain in new documents on the Mass.
Concerned this could happen, the bishops voted to hold off on any changes to the Mass until a commission releases liturgy guidelines for English-speaking churches, perhaps later this year or in 2006.
Still, worshippers outside Holy Name Cathedral seemed puzzled by the argument that familiar prayers centered on Christ should be abandoned for language that would put the focus on people in the pews.
“It’s kind of weird,” said Natalia Data, 13, visiting the Windy City with her family from Roanoke, Va. “I don’t see any reason why we should be talking about ourselves.”
MO/RB END ECKSTROM