LOS ANGELES -- The nation's Roman Catholic bishops signed off yesterday on a new English translation for the Mass that would change prayers ingrained in the memories of millions of American parishioners.
The US Conference of Catholic Bishops voted at its biannual meeting for a new translation after a brief but vigorous debate over several small changes in wording. The 173-to-29 vote on the Order of the Mass was aimed at satisfying Vatican calls for a translation that is closer to the Latin version.
Before Mass changes at the parish level, the Americans' version must go to offices in the Holy See for final approval. The bishops' leader on the issue said that process could take years.
``Without a doubt, this is the most significant liturgical action to come before this body for many years," said Bishop Donald Trautman, chairman of the conference's Committee on Liturgy.
``It will take some adapting, but it is not earth-shattering when you think of the changes we went through 40 years ago," he said, referring to the Second Vatican Council, where the Latin Mass was replaced by the vernacular languages in each country.
The new translation alters the wording of key texts spoken by Catholics during worship, including the Nicene Creed, the Gloria, the Penitential Rite, the Sanctus, and Communion.
Some have worried about changing a fundamental rite of worship that is so much a part of Catholic identity . Prior to the meeting, the Rev. Thomas Reese, a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University and a Jesuit priest, said the new Mass would ``cause chaos and real problems and the people who are going to be at the brunt end of it are the poor priests in the parishes."
Trautman acknowledged the adjustment could be difficult. ``I think we all recognize that our priests are overburdened now and stretched thin," he said. ``We do believe, however, that this is important for the worship life of the Church. These texts are presenting a new richness that we haven't seen in the past so that will have to be the driving force."
Minor changes to the wording of many portions of the Mass will be obvious to Catholics. The repeated exchanges ``The Lord be with you" / ``And also with you" between a priest and his congregation, for example, become ``The Lord be with you" / ``And with your spirit" in the updated version.
The prayer said before Communion would become ``Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof," instead of ``Lord, I am not worthy to receive you."
Some bishops said the changes would deepen lay people's understanding of Catholicism and Scripture. They said priests could use the changes to spark a discussion of the liturgical reasoning behind them, including citing biblical stories and the Latin version.
Bishops debated for about 20 minutes on a variety of wording changes . A proposal to change the words of the Nicene Creed from ``one in being" to ``consubstantial," which is closer to the Latin, failed.
Roman Catholic bishops in Australia, England, Scotland, and Wales have already approved translations with only slight differences, said Monsignor James P. Moroney, who leads the liturgy office for the bishops' conference.