More than donuts

By Matthew Hennessey

“We don’t come to church for the donuts.”

That was Father William Carey’s message to the 10 a.m. mass at St. Aloysius in New Canaan one recent Sunday. I nodded my head in vigorous assent. It’s a message I’ve been trying to communicate to my kids for years.

Look, everybody loves coffee and donuts, just as everyone loves good music or a great sermon. But these are not the things that should get us into the pew on Sunday morning. We go to Mass to memorialize Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and to recreate the sacred banquet of the Last Supper.

In other words, not donuts. But try explaining that to a five year old. I’d love it if my kids were motivated to sit still and keep quiet in church by an intense connection with their faith in Jesus Christ. But I’m realistic enough to know that they do it—when they do it—because of the donuts.

Nevertheless, I am grateful to Father Carey for reminding me that the Mass is not about donuts. Despite what I tell my kids, my own thoughts have occasionally wandered to coffee and crullers during the concluding rite. So I needed that.

But what I really needed was the larger point about the new Mass translation that will be introduced on the first Sunday of Advent. It has been noted that some are worried and confused about this. I get it. I confess to occasional minor anxiety myself. “Am I going to have to learn something new? Are they going to change all my favorite parts?”

Luckily, Father Carey knows how to handle guys like me. “Remember, it’s not a new Mass,” he urged us. “It’s merely a new translation. The Mass itself—the Latin Mass—has not changed and won’t change.”

And he’s right, of course. It’s easy to forget that the Mass we hear and participate in each week is a translation. If you’re, say, 50 or younger, you’ve probably never heard Mass said in Latin. I sure haven’t.

Here’s the rub, though: Part of the joy that comes from regular Mass-going is the routine of it. You can count on it. There is strange comfort in knowing that you are worshiping in essentially the same way that Catholics have for two thousand years. Now it will seem different, even if it is technically the same.

And we have a weirdly inconsistent attitude toward change. We instinctively understand the merit of a new translation of Don Quixote, yet we freak out when Facebook tweaks its homepage. We want to read books and newspapers on our phones, yet we don’t want actual books and newspapers to disappear.

What I’ve found is that, when presented with change, my acceptance of it usually boils down to the question: “How important is this thing in my life?” If the answer is, “Not very much,” then I’m likely to be more tolerant of a new twist. But if the answer is, “It means everything to me,” then I tend to get a little prickly.

Most of us have a personal relationship to the Mass. Each of us experiences it in ways that are private and deeply meaningful. The thought of changing it, therefore, naturally makes us a little uneasy.

In fact, we shouldn’t be uneasy at all. We’re getting a more accurate rendition that corrects some of the mistakes of the original translators. We’re getting a translation that is more in line with the two thousand year history of the Mass than the one we grew up with. And ninety-five percent of the “burden” will fall on the celebrant.

According to Father Carey, the congregation will only find about 5 percent of the responses, prayers, and affirmations new or altered.That’s a division of labor I can live with.

So long as there will still be donuts.

From the November 2011 issue of Fairfield County Catholic, the monthly newspaper of the Diocese of Bridgeport.



  1. kevinfcorrigan says:

    I love this piece.

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