Forming adults for changes in the liturgy

Use adult learning principles to gain parishioners’ acceptance

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By Sylvia Devillers

The way we pray the liturgy is about to change, and with these changes will undoubtedly come questions, comments, complaints, and approvals from the people in the pews.

Many parishes have spent a lot of time and energy preparing for these changes. Dioceses have planned workshops for those involved in lay liturgical ministry to explain the “what” and “why” concerning the changes in the liturgical texts. Priest-presiders have been practicing the newly worded prayers and have perfected their chanting skills. Musicians have adapted some settings to the new language patterns.

Teachable moments
But after a few Sundays, worshipers will still be surprised. When you ask them to respond with “And with your spirit,” they will no doubt mumble or repeat “And also with you” by habit. They will probably stumble over the phrase “And peace to people of good will.” Periods of extended silence may seem awkward to them. And many will wonder what “consubstantial with the Father” means, exactly!

Think of these as teachable moments. Once the changes are in place, parish adult faith formation committees can capitalize on parishioners’ mild confusion by offering opportunities for reflection and questions. Gather parishioners after Mass to discuss and discover new meaning in the words and practices of the “new” translations of the Mass. Once they have experienced the changes and have struggled a bit to remember the responses, they may be more receptive to gather for the purpose of re-learning and reflection.

Adults learn when the results are concrete
One of the major principles of adult formation maintains that many adults learn best when they can see an immediate application for what they have discovered. Preparing parishioners for the changes in the Roman Missal ahead of time is necessary and good. But reflecting on the experience is much more effective in lifelong learning.

The time for that reflection to happen is after your parishioners have experienced a few celebrations with the new missal. Many of them will be more inclined to examine the texts more carefully for meaning, significance, and importance in the liturgical life of the parish.

Start to plan now for some gatherings during the Advent/Christmas season after the Roman Missal changes are implemented. When parishioners have been using the new liturgical language for a while and have become accustomed to the differences in form (silence, gesture, chant), they will be responsive to opportunities to share their reactions. And once again, learning will occur as these adults come to new understandings about the ways in which we thank and praise our loving God through the ever-evolving experience of Eucharistic Liturgy and prayer.

Questions to ask parishioners
When adults experience something new and different, they are likely to remember it if a connection is made between the familiar and the unfamiliar. As you plan some reflection sessions focused on the changes in the Roman Missal, consider the following questions for discussion:

1. What have you been told, or what do you remember, about the way Mass was celebrated before Vatican II?

2. Would you want to return to that form of liturgy? Why or why not?

3. What changes in the Eucharistic Liturgy have you experienced in the past ten years?

4. In considering the 2011 revised Roman Missal, what changes in wording or form (silence, chant, gesture) do you like? Why?

5. What changes in wording or form do you dislike? Why?

6. What questions do you have about some of the specific words that are now being used?

7. Do the changes in wording and form affect your way of praying at Mass? How?

Sylvia Devillers

Sylvia DeVillers, MA, serves on the Los Angeles Archdiocesan Liturgical Commission and is a member of Padre Serra Parish in Camarillo, California.