The experience of many Catholics at Mass reminds me of my Italian cousin Stefano’s first time to an NFL football game. Coming from Italy, Stefano knew football very well—but his football was soccer!
So when he first visited the USA and our family took him to a Chicago Bears football game, he did not grasp all that was happening on the field. When the Bears sacked the opposing team’s quarterback, my family stood up and cheered. And Stefano did the same. But when we sat back down, he asked me, “Why is everyone happy? Did the Bears score?”
When the referee made a bad call on the field, we stood up again, but this time we booed, raising our hands in frustration. Stafano stood up with us. He yelled and raised his hands, too, but he wasn’t sure why. “What just happened?” he asked. “Did the other team get a point?”
Then, after the Bears blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown, the stadium erupted in a roar of cheers. Everyone leapt out of their seats, screaming, “Yeahhhhh!” Bears fans jumped up and down, hugged each other and gave each other high fives. In the midst of this frenzy, the stranger in front of us turned around to slap Stefano’s hand. My Italian cousin pretended to be very excited and gave the man a good high five. I looked over at him to see if he needed an explanation of the play on the field. But this time, Stefano didn’t bother asking for clarification. He just smiled at me and continued clapping, as if to say, “I’m really not sure what is going on, but it must be good for the Bears.”
Sometimes we Catholics experience the Mass like my cousin Stefano experienced his first Bears game. We go through the motions, but we’re not quite sure of all that is happening. We stand up. We sit down. We kneel. We say, “Lord have mercy…Holy, Holy, Holy…Thanks be to God.” Many of us have heard these words since childhood. We know them by heart, simply out of routine. So ingrained in us are these prayers that if someone in the middle of the night were to whisper to us, “The Lord be with you,” we probably would roll over in our sleep and instinctively respond, “And also with you.”
But do we really understand the meaning of all that we are saying and doing in the liturgy.
The revised English translation of the Mass offers a unique occasion for Catholics to reflect on the meaning of the Mass. Many of those familiar words for the Mass parts are changing. We now need to get used to new responses and new musical settings. It is my hope that this period of transition will not be merely mechanical—simply about training people to say new responses—but catechetical and spiritual. As we are taken out of our routine, we have a wonderful opportunity to ponder anew what we say and do in the liturgy and rediscover the splendor of the liturgy, so that we might grow deeper in our communion with Jesus every time we go to Mass.