Advent marks to beginning of a new year in the Catholic Church. On the first Sunday in Advent, the Catholic Church will roll out something brand new: The Roman Missal, Third Edition. I have grown up with the Mass of Vatican II, a Mass born just a few short years before my own birth. I never thought to see its end. I consider the Roman Missal, Second Edition an old friend. When I have disagreed with the some of the teachings of the Church, from birth control, to the role of women, and so much more, I could at least take comfort in its unchanging nature. The Church was certain of its tenets, beliefs, and practices even if I was not so certain. Certainty is comfortable. Now the Roman Catholic Church has changed it powerful words of thought and prayer into something new. What does this change in the wording of the Mass mean to me?
One day when I was six, I was walking through my backyard. It was filled with beautiful, bright yellow dandelions, and I picked the weeds to make flower chains. As I sat among the glorious field of yellow, I felt the Holy Spirit come over me and whisper in my ear, “Thou art a priest forever.” God had told me, so it must be so. I decided I was meant to be a priest. Peace filled my soul and my whole life had a purpose. I put my flower chain around my neck and went home.
That Sunday, I gently tugged on Father John’s vestments and told him that God wanted me to be a priest. “Father John,” I said, “what is the first thing I need to learn about being a priest?” Father John gently explained that I could not become a priest. No Girls Allowed! According to the teachings of the Church, being female means there is a flaw in my spiritual character that prevents me from receiving the Sacrament of Holy Orders. I was crushed! Why would God make such a flawed creature? Couldn’t the priest see I was a beautiful flower and not a weed? However, as is normal with small children, I was able to accept the restriction and move on with my life. I decided to memorize the mass. Often as I move through the Mass, I have felt myself actually communing with God, as I am imagine many religious people do. The unchanging Mass assists with this meditation.
Although the Church refused to change, I did. I grew up and eventually joined the Navy. The military and the church are the same in many ways. There are strict rules, rigid hierarchies and lots of like-minded, but highly individual, people. Boot Camp, the beginning of any enlisted career, was a stressful time. The military spent a few intense weeks pounding knowledge and fitness into my head at a breakneck pace. That first week of Boot Camp, I looked forward to Sunday with great longing. I would be able to go to church. The familiar words would wash over me and bring me comfort, allowing me to bask in the Mass and return refreshed, relaxed, and whole.
Instead, when I entered the Navy Chapel, I was overwhelmed by a sense of wrongness. Oh, there was a Roman Catholic Mass buried somewhere in that service, but the tone, the tenor, was different. It felt more like a tent revival meeting. The words were different, the responses changed, and don’t even get me started on the music. Who thought Anchors Aweigh was appropriate music for receiving Communion? There was no dignity, no solemnity, no peace, and no presence of God. My Mass was dead, and some abomination had taken its place. I cried through every service in Boot Camp. I took comfort in knowing that in only a few short weeks, I could find a real Catholic Church, one with a Mass that I would recognize. I couldn’t run home to God and true Catholicism fast enough.
A few weeks ago, I found out that my rock, my stability, my often ignored but never forgotten foundation of faith was changing. An earthquake came and shook all the words of the Mass around, and when the moving stopped nothing would ever be the same again “Brothers and Sisters” is now “Brethren,” a much more exclusionary word that makes my soul ache with pain and remembered rejection from my anticipated priesthood. Some changes are even more fundamental and actually reflect a shift in the Catholic belief structure. According to the new Mass, Jesus no longer died for “all” but for “many.” But of course, according to the Church, that doesn’t exclude anyone. The change only clarifies who Jesus died for. But really, “many” does not mean “all,” and I thought God loved all of his children, even the bad ones. Maybe this is why I couldn’t be a priest. Jesus didn’t love me enough to die for my sins, and if he didn’t die for me than I must not be good enough to be a priest.
For the next few weeks, I will mourn the death of the Roman Missal, Second Edition. Attending Mass now feels like watching an old, beloved family member slowly die before my eyes. I will enjoy every remaining moment of my time with the familiar litany, knowing the end is near. I will continue to cry as I countdown to the end. Someday soon I will look back on the old Mass with fond memories, knowing that nothing can truly replace it. In Ron Wiggins “The First Book of Last Times,” Wiggins reminds me that “… hearts go out to last times precisely because they sneak by us.” My last old Mass will be like the last time my father carried me, still sleeping, inside from the car. It’s time to grow up. The Mass is dead. Go in Peace to Love and Serve the Lord.