English-speaking Roman Catholics who haven't been paying close attention to their church bulletins might notice something a little different during services this Sunday.
For decades at the very beginning of Mass, the priest has greeted the congregation by saying "The Lord be with you" and congregants responded: "And also with you." Starting this Saturday and Sunday in the English-speaking world, the response will be: "And with your spirit."
And that's not all: Familiar prayers, both spoken and chanted, have changed and new words like "consubstantial" and "incarnate" now appear. In the Nicene Creed, the affirmation "We believe" has been replaced with "I believe."
The changes are the result of a years-long process to produce an English translation that is closer to the original Latin of the Roman Missal, which the text of prayers and instructions for celebrating Mass. It's the most significant change to the regular worship for Anglophone believers since the upheavals that followed the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s.
"It's human nature that we're resistant to change," said Monsignor Michael Clay, pastor of St. Ann Catholic Church in Clayton, about 40 miles southeast of Raleigh. "I'm old enough to remember when we went from Latin to English, and that was just a huge change."
Clay likes the new translation, finding it closer to the Latin text that is still the church's official language. But some priests and parishioners have been less enthusiastic, criticizing the new version as too ponderous or distant, and in some cases circulating petitions asking for a delay in introducing the new missal.
The roots of the new translation go back to that epochal council held at the Vatican in the 1960s, which allowed Mass in languages other than Latin. An English-language missal was produced by 1973, but that was intended to be temporary while improvements were made.
In 2001, the Vatican office that oversees worship issued a directive requiring translation of the English missal that would be closer to the Latin rather than to more familiar vernacular speech. Numerous revisions and bishops' meetings eventually produced agreement on the translation being used Sunday.
Parishes and dioceses around the country have spent months trying to prepare Catholics for the change. Descriptions of the new translation have been printed in weekly bulletins, seminars have been held and since Labor Day, many parishes have been gradually introducing the new translation piece by piece, starting with the parts of the liturgy that are sung.
Most of those activities are for the benefit of the average Catholic, but it's priests who have more new material to master.
"I've had a new missal in my hands for about three weeks now, and I've been literally practicing the prayers," Clay said. "I've been doing this now for 31 years, and a lot of these prayers I actually know by memory. I have to make sure my brain isn't getting ahead of my mouth."