David Bowie’s song “Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes” is an interesting take on life. The stuttering approach to the word changes gives a musical impression of how we avoid change. The word is almost forced out, because we don’t like change. “Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes” is a song that examines how we like to live in a comfort zone and how facing change can be profoundly disturbing and profoundly exhilarating. We are facing some changes in how we celebrate Mass and many people are profoundly disturbed, but it is also a chance to become revitalized.
Our comfort zone has lasted 40 years or so (most or all of lives). Prayers and responses we learned while going through our Catholic formation have become comfortable, easy, safe. “And also with you” has become a formula that is as automatic as saying “how are you?” when beginning a conversation. And now we are expected to jar loose that automatic response and replace it with “and with your spirit.”
Why? There are a couple of reasons. After Vatican II, American Catholics were pressed to translate the Mass into the vernacular. It happened in good will and it happened quickly. This translation served us for forty years. Generations of American Catholics have grown up with this translation, burned into our subconscious by 40 years of repetition. But it could have been done better. Now with scholarship and prayer, we have the new edition of the Roman Missal. It is a more exact translation of the words we use at prayer when we gather for the Mass. (Actually it is comprised of small changes, but sometimes the small changes can get under your skin more than even wholesale changes.)
Thus the change, and thus the challenge. When we face changes in our external lives – family, health, jobs, friendships and so forth – we either go with the flow or face breakdown or collapse. The comfort zone of our internal lives – our spiritual lives – is now under a seeming assault by the changes in how we celebrate Mass.
We need to rise to this challenge, this change. There is a Latin maxim that addresses the centrality of prayer in the life, identity and mission of the Catholic Church –”Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi.” The phrase in Latin literally means the law of prayer (“the way we worship”) is the law of belief (“what we believe”). It is sometimes expanded to “lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi” – how we worship reflects what we believe and determines how we will live.
How we pray is how we believe. How we celebrate Mass, our highest form of prayer, expresses how we believe. And how we pray is how we live. In the words we proclaim together, the music, the vestments, the environment, in participating in the Mass, we offer to God the best we can because He gives us His best. We have been given an opportunity to “shake up” our spiritual lives, an opportunity to invigorate our relationship to God and our lives.
It may seem a little awkward at first. But it won’t be long before these changes will be comfortable and familiar for everyone. But for now, facing the “ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes” can be rejected, or we can allow it to work its way in our lives.
(Note: In the following weeks I will outline some of the changes in how we pray at St. Anne’s, and I hope you take the opportunity to respond in questions and comments.)