Making sense of the missal

By Joe Paprocki and Todd Williamson | Contributors
Sunday, November 6, 2011

The following material comes from articles written for Loyola Press about the third edition of the Roman Missal in English. This article presents an overview of the Mass and highlights some parts that will most noticeably be different when parishes in the United States begin using the new translation on the First Sunday of Advent, Nov. 27. (The articles can be found in their original format at www.loyolapress. com.)


The Mass begins with a greeting that is no ordinary, “Hi! How ya doin?” greeting, but is rather a ritual greeting and response — “The Lord be with you / And with your spirit.”

This is not so much a way to say “hello” but more of a way to enter into the liturgical rite by extending a solemn wish to someone undertaking a profound task. In fact, this ritual exchange takes place at several other critical moments in the Mass: as we are about the hear the Gospel proclaimed; as we enter into the Eucharistic Prayer; as we are about to be dismissed.

The priest’s greeting represents his prayer that the Lord be with us as we are about to undertake these profound tasks. Our response, “and with your spirit,” is much more than a “back at ya.” It is our prayer that the Lord be with the priest in his unique role as the ordained celebrant of the liturgy and as the head of the gathered body, the liturgical assembly.

It is also important to remember that this liturgical greeting is scriptural. Remember that from the earliest years of the church, we have the tradition of taking quotes and allusions from Scripture, and putting them in the texts of our liturgical prayers.

“The Lord be with you” is a greeting that can be found in Ruth 2:4. The response, “and with your spirit” is based on Paul’s greetings to the communities to whom he was writing (Gal 6:18, 2 Tm 4:22).

Finally, the words, “and with your spirit” more closely correspond to the Latin and are more consistent with the response as it appears in other languages.

Penitential Act

Next, we move into the Penitential Act. Note that referring to this as an act rather than a rite more strongly conveys the reality that admitting guilt and asking for forgiveness are efficacious actions. In other words, the very uttering of these words achieves the desired effect of true contrition.

One of the options for the Penitential Act is the prayer we call the Confiteor (“I confess to almighty God …”). In the revised translation, we will admit that we have greatly sinned, echoing a scriptural allusion found in the Latin text: David’s humble admission of his own failings (1 Chr 21:8).

The translation then includes the phrase, “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault,” a more direct translation of the words that appear in the Latin. This phrase follows the literary element of repetition found in other parts of the ritual texts such as the Holy, Holy, Holy of the Sanctus; the three invocations of Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy; the three invocations of the Lamb of God. These additions will call us to a humble disposition as we prepare to celebrate the liturgy.


We next break into the great song of praise, the Gloria. It is the first part of the Gloria that will now sound slightly different: “Glory to God in the Highest and on earth peace to people of good will.” This is almost a direct quote from Luke’s Gospel (2:14), a good example of the new translation’s emphasis on biblical allusions found in the Latin text.

The hymn then follows with words that resemble a litany of praise: “We praise you, we bless you, we adore you, we glorify you, we give you thanks for your great glory …”

This is another literary tool of the Latin text which works to build, almost into a crescendo, our praise and thanks to God.

We next move into the Liturgy of the Word. Except for the Gospel dialogues — “The Lord be with you. And with your spirit” and “A reading from the Holy Gospel according to –N–. Glory to you, O Lord”— nothing will be changing in regard to the Scripture readings, Responsorial Psalm, and Gospel Acclamation.

The Profession of Faith, however? Now, that’s another story. Perhaps some of the most significant changes will be noticed in the Nicene Creed.


The first change that we encounter in the Nicene Creed is the change of We to I — from the plural to the singular. This is not to diminish our sense of community but is simply a more accurate translation of the word Credo: “ I believe.”

The reciting of the Creed is a communal act, however, each individual in the assembly is called upon to profess his or her own faith just as he or she did in baptism. Our individual profession is then joined together with the profession of the whole assembly.

“Seen and Unseen”

Next, the words “of all that is seen and unseen” will become “of all things visible and invisible.” There is a difference between something that is unseen and something that is invisible. Something may be unseen for a number of reasons, including an obstacle in our line of vision. Something invisible, however, is clearly unable to be seen with the naked eye, for example, the saints and angels who occupy a place in our worship. They are not just unseen but invisible.

The second part of the Creed, which deals with our beliefs in Jesus Christ, has a number of changes in the new Roman Missal:

“The Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages”: The words “Only Begotten” also appear in the Gloria and express our belief that Jesus did not simply materialize as the Son of God but was intentionally begotten by the Father as part of his divine plan. The words “born of the Father before all ages” emphasize that Jesus dwelled with the Father before time began.

“Consubstantial with the Father”: This replaces the phrase “one in being” in describing the relationship between the Father and the Son. The early church labored intensely to find the correct words to define Jesus’ relationship with the Father. Consubstantial, while an unusual word in English, means literally “having the same substance,” which is more technically accurate than “one in being.”

To be sure, it’s an unusual word, but then again it is describing someone and something unusual and unique: Jesus Christ and his relationship with the Father.

“And by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary”: Here, the word incarnate replaces born. To be born describes the moment of birth, before which, none of us existed. To be incarnate acknowledges that the second Person of the Trinity existed before taking flesh and that, at a particular moment in time became incarnate — became flesh — in Mary’s womb.

“He suffered death and was buried, and rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures”: While the Latin word for suffered implies death, the same is not true in English. As a result, we’ve been using two verbs: suffered and died. Now, we will use only one verb — suffered — while adding the word death to make it clear in English that Jesus indeed died. In accordance with the Scriptures is, itself, a scriptural quote — it comes from St. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians.

In the last part of the Nicene Creed, as we profess our faith in the Holy Spirit, we will say “with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified,” which is a more precise translation of the Latin than the words “worshipped and glorified.” A little later, instead of saying “we acknowledge one baptism,” we will now say “I confess one baptism.”

To confess, which means “to express belief in,” is a more forceful expression than to acknowledge because it implies involving both the heart and the head.

And last but not least, we will say the words “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead” instead of “we look for …” This expresses eagerness as well as confidence that the resurrection of the dead is indeed going to happen.

“And with your spirit”

The preface dialogue begins with the liturgical exchange we’ve already noted: “The Lord be with you/And with your spirit.” Then, after we have been invited to “give thanks to the Lord, our God,” the people will respond, “It is right and just.”

This is a more concise translation of the Latin, and it creates an almost seamless transition into the rest of the Eucharistic Prayer, most of which follow with words such as “It is truly right and just, our duty and salvation …” (Eucharistic Prayer II)


There are two noticeable changes in the words of consecration in the new Roman Missal. Introducing the words of Christ, said over the wine, the priest will say, “… when supper was ended, he took the chalice …” Choosing the word chalice instead of cup emphasizes that this vessel is no ordinary cup. Indeed, it highlights the sacrificial character of this vessel which holds the Precious Blood of Jesus Christ, shed for us out of love.

The next difference is in the words of Christ at the consecration of the wine as the priest says, “Take this all of you and drink from it, for this is the chalice of my blood … which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.” The change of “for all” to “for many” maintains the words of Christ as recorded in the Gospels of Matthew (26:28) and Mark (14:24), thus making the scriptural allusion more obvious.

At the same time, it does not change our Catholic understanding that Christ is the Savior of the whole world and that his sacrifice was made for all people (see Jn 6:51 and Catechism 606-623).

Mystery of Faith

One significant change in the new Roman Missal is that the familiar acclamation “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again” will no longer be used as an acclamation to the Mystery of Faith. The reason for this is that the three options given for the acclamation are all addressed to the Lord (e.g., “We proclaim your Death, O Lord …”). They all note our relationship to Christ’s Paschal Mystery (“When we eat this Bread and drink this Cup, we proclaim your death, O Lord…”).

The acclamation “Christ has died …” does not follow this form; thus it was not included in the options. Likewise, instead of directing us to give the acclamation (“Let us proclaim …”), the priest will simply announce, “The Mystery of Faith,” acknowledging the reality that our acclamation is something that wells up, unsolicited.

Notice, too, the similarity with two other equally profound pronouncements in the Liturgy: “The Word/Gospel of the Lord,” and “The Body/Blood of Christ.”

“Enter under my roof”

The last noticeable change in the Liturgy of the Eucharist will be the invitation and response to Holy Communion. The priest will say, “Behold the Lamb of God. Behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.” There are two key allusions to Scripture here: John the Baptist identifying Jesus as the Lamb (Jn 1:29) and the angel’s declaration in Revelation (19:9) regarding those “called to the wedding feast of the Lamb.”

Our response, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed,” echoes the words of the Centurion, who asked Jesus to heal his servant (Lk 7:6-7, Mt 8:5-13). As we are presented with the very Body and Blood of Christ, we are called to the same, deep level of faith as the Centurion.

End of Mass

Endings are very important. When we watch a movie or see a play or attend a concert, we hope to leave with a sense of closure, inspired by what we have seen or heard. The ending of the Catholic Mass is no less important. In fact, the ending of the liturgy is so important that it has given us the word we use to describe the entire celebration.

The word Mass comes from the Latin word missa (meaning sent or dismissed), a word that is spoken by the deacon or priest as the assembly is dismissed: “Ite! Missa est!” (“Go! You are dismissed!”) It is to this ending of the Mass that we now turn our attention as we explore some seemingly small but significant changes in the words that are used to send us forth.

The importance of this final act of the Mass cannot be overlooked. In a real sense, the new Roman Missal changes the tone of the concluding rite. There is an urgency in the words. It is less “you may go now” and more “you must go now ... to proclaim what God has done for us here!”

More colloquially, it might be “Go! Scram! What are you still standing here for? Go and take what God has given us here (i.e., the Eucharist), and take it out to your workplaces, to your neighborhoods, to your families!”

Picture the Ascension of Christ as recorded in Acts. Christ assures the apostles, “You are to be my witnesses in Jerusalem ... yes, even to the ends of the earth.” Then, after he is taken up to heaven, the Apostles stand there, almost gawking, until two angels appear and stir them: “Why do you stand here, looking up at the skies?” (cf. Acts 1:8, 10). Similarly, the new Roman Missal changes the dismissal at Mass to stir us — to send us out as Christ’s witnesses.

This will be very obvious in the new translation of the Missal. There will be four options for the deacon or priest to use. One is the simple “Go in peace” that is familiar to us. There is also “Go forth, the Mass is ended.” Hear how the “Go forth” conveys much of that sense of being sent.

This sense is also obvious in the two remaining options, included at the behest of Pope Benedict XVI. The first of these is “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.” Do you hear it? It cannot be more explicit. We are sent out on mission — to announce the Gospel, to be Christ’s witnesses, to work for the coming kingdom.

The remaining option for the dismissal is just as beautiful: “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.” Through what God has just done for us, and through what God has done to us in this Eucharist, go, and by our lives — by how we live and act and treat others and make decisions — by all of that, give glory to the Lord.