It’s the second week of Advent, and like many Catholics, I’m waiting. That’s what Advent is all about, preparing and waiting for the coming of Christ. Yet this year, with the new translation of the Roman Missal, there is a new twist to the wait. And quite frankly, I don’t know what I’m waiting for anymore.
Surely, the season of Advent speaks to my heart in so many ways. On a personal level, I am waiting for my heart to mend and understand as I reflect on a year full of both joy and heartbreak. I am also waiting for moments of clarity as I move steps closer in my vocation as a layperson. Meanwhile, my heart is being prepared for something new and life-giving, while my spirit is being carefully supported for the journey. But sometimes in this process, I find it so very hard to focus on what matters. Instead my heart is hijacked, momentarily, by realities that feel so contradictory to the real meaning within the coming of Christ. And despite my best efforts to go with the flow, my very humanity is vulnerable to change.
You see, as much as I know that the new Roman Missal is bullshit, my heart has not fully accepted the change, nor has my attitude adapted. Actually, today was my first experience with the new words and it didn’t go so smoothly. In fact, it was a much more painful process than I anticipated.
The mass began as expected and knowing that there would be some changes, I braced myself for the awkward transitions. Even the priest stumbled a few times and there was a sense of solidarity in the church, as we glanced at the mass cards, missed our mark, and recited new words to the old prayers. But despite the solidarity, my sense of authenticity began to slowly fade away. I didn’t know if I wanted to continue trying to say the new words, or call upon the phrases already imbedded in my heart. I didn’t know if I wanted to hold the card, or leave it in the shelf, ‘just in case’. And at times, I didn’t know if I wanted to stay for the whole celebration, or walk out and talk to God instead. It was a mess, and I almost held it together.
Actually, I held it together until the final personal prayer before we receive the Eucharist.
The new mass card said, “Lord, I am not worth that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”
But what my heart wanted to say, the prayer always at the tip of my lips is, “Lord, I am not worth to receive you but only say the word and I shall be healed.”
For me, these are the most intimate words I’ve ever spoken to God. I say this prayer in a low, personal voice, so as not to simply say the words, but to really mean them. At this moment in the mass, I am preparing my heart with God. I am preparing to receive God. And even though these are just a few little changes, the fact is, these words have carried meaning for the last 31 years of my life. In fact, as I say these words, I remember my grandmother, standing next to me, whispering this humble prayer before she received the Eucharist. I thought of her as I stumbled over the new words, just like I think of her when I say this prayer. But today, as I stumbled, my memory could not reconcile this change and the tears began to fall.
I stood there in the pew completely surprised and overcome with grief. I will never hear that familiar prayer again, as my grandmother once spoke it.
I stood there in that reality, sobbing, as it all began to sink in.
I would like to say that receiving the Eucharist shortly after my meltdown had a more profound impact on me. I was hoping for that. But instead, I returned to my seat, offered my prayers to God, and cried some more.
I cursed some more too, but not at God. I cursed at the hierarchy, at men, who I do not know personally. And in the next breath I asked for forgiveness. I cursed them again and then asked for forgiveness. Because, in reality, it’s hard to know who to blame.
Who do I blame for this sadness and grief? Men with funny hats in Rome who make decisions? My parish priest and fellow laypeople who implement the change? Or do I blame myself, a glutton for punishment, who walks in the door of the church, hoping for renewal, but finds the same system with new words?
I am having such a hard time with these changes. I am having such a hard time with this church. And I ask God, what exactly am I waiting for during this Advent season? Am I waiting for the church to change or for the church to change me?
Is this moment of piercing vulnerability and pain my signal to take heart and go deeper into a faith community that is complicated and yet so very much a part of my idenity? Or is this the moment, when I leave the church, and the new words behind, to join a community that nourishes my soul and honors my voice?
At this point in the day, I just don’t know. And quite frankly, I am not sure I will know the answer next Sunday either. But I do know that this feeling of pain is much bigger than some “growing pains” due to an adjustment of change, as some would like to believe. And I also know that my relationship with God is much deeper than the pain I feel. And so I wait this Advent, like always, for my heart to be prepared for Christ.