Anyone who has ever faced the cruelty of bullying or gossip knows exactly how true this statement is. Words do matter. And as we are hearing more and more in the news, we can use our words as weapons of hatred which not only destroy individual lives but also rip apart entire communities. But we can also use our words to create and build up, to transform what is seemingly ordinary and everyday, so that it takes on new meaning, new consequence, new life.
If this is true in the course of everyday existence, in which the words of music and poetry can transform our lives to the point that they seem to transform us, as well, how true it is also of the Liturgy, the Mass, our celebration of the Eucharist which brings us together each week that we might share in the good news of salvation and in the body and blood of the Lord.
For many months, I have been dreading the end of this coming November quite simply because I know how important words are and how difficult it can be to change them when they have been memorized or become habitual. I am speaking, of course, of the changes which will occur in the way in which we in the entire English speaking world celebrate Mass when we begin using the Revised Roman Missal. I have been dreading these changes not because I disagree with them but because I know how much work it will require for me to learn the new prayers after eighteen years of celebrating Mass a certain way and after having heard those same prayers for most of my life. Over the last few weeks, we have already made changes in the way we sing two of the most important acclamations at Mass in the Holy, Holy and the Memorial Acclamation. If you take a quick look at the cards located in your pews, you will see the extent of the changes we are talking about and how in a very real way the Liturgy, which is supposed to transform us, is by virtue of the words we pray together, about to be transformed.
And I recognize that while some of the words will seem odd at first, or awkward even for a very long time, they nonetheless convey a richer, more faithful expression of our Catholic faith and our understanding of the Eucharist for which we are gathered, so that no matter where we are in the world, in no matter what language we are speaking, we are praying the same prayers, celebrating the same liturgy. This new translation, which has been in the works for many years, recaptures for us so much of the biblical imagery which was lost in the older translation we received after the Second Vatican Council, so that the words of Scripture can come alive for us in new and exciting ways. And because words matter so much when they express our deepest longings, our hopes and fears, our struggles and our dreams, when they give voice to our prayers, I know that no matter how much work this new translation of the liturgy will require of me and all of us, its value cannot be measured.
And because the words we pray as a people say so much not only about what we believe about God but also, in relation, about who we are as God’s people, this is a wonderful opportunity for each and every one of us to take the time to renew our faith, to renew our devotion to the Eucharist, to renew our relationship with Jesus Christ, whose presence we celebrate every time we gather together in his name. Because words matter, this is a wonderful opportunity for us to allow the meaning of the words we pray when we celebrate the Mass together as God’s people, to renew us, to challenge us, to transform us, so that we can move beyond the commonplace and the every day and enter more fully into the mystery of what it means to be a people created in the image and likeness of God and what it means to be nourished by the body and blood of Christ Jesus. It is a wonderful opportunity for us to allow ourselves to be emptied of our own egos, our own agendas, our own sense of security, just, as our second reading reminds us, Jesus allowed himself to be emptied of everything for the glory of God the Father. It is an opportunity for us to remind ourselves once again why it is that we come together every Sunday to celebrate the Eucharist and the very real and profound changes that Eucharist can have in our lives if we allow it to, so that when we hear those words, the Mass is ended, we can appreciate that our mission as Christ’s disciples is just beginning. Our mission to go out into the world and to transform that world into the Kingdom of God, is only beginning.
Over these next two months, I encourage you to take the time when you come to Church, to look at the cards located in your pews, to study them, to allow the words to become a part of who you are. I encourage you to take the time to study the informational inserts which will be in the bulletins for these next two months, so that the changes we make in the liturgy in late November will not just be superficial but efficacious, so that as we change our words, our hearts are changed, and we ourselves are changed ever more into the Body of Christ, that we ourselves, together as God’s people, may truly confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.