AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - Catholics across the United States celebrated a new translation of Mass on Sunday that church leaders said would provide a deeper understanding of the faith, but which critics complained was unnecessary and confusing.
A third edition of the Roman Missal, which priests use to celebrate Mass, was born out of a directive in 2000 by Pope John Paul II to revise the text, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Its launch in the nation's 17,000 parishes coincided with the First Sunday of Advent, or the fourth Sunday before Christmas.
"Now is the time to seize the opportunity given to us for all Catholics in the United States to deepen, nurture, and celebrate our faith through the renewal of our worship and the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy," a statement on the conference website read.
The launch marks an overall shift closer to the original Latin text of the modern Roman Missal, ordered by Pope Paul VI in 1970 to bring consistency to the centuries-old celebration of Mass. It was revised in a second edition in 1975.
The new Mass has drawn criticism by some who call it an unnecessary nod to conservatives in the church and a slap at what some describe as the more progressive nature of many English-speaking parishes.
But Catholic leaders and some parishioners said the move would push parishioners and priests to become present to the meaning of a faith they've been practicing - and may know by rote - through two generations of the same wording.
"When things change, it makes you think," said Sister Ann Walsh, director of media relations for the Washington, D.C.-based conference. "So the prayers that had become very rote are suddenly changed, and it makes you get beyond the rote meaning or response. It makes you think about what you're saying."
The Missal includes prayers for recently canonized saints, an updated celebration of the Eucharist, and changes to some long-celebrated and oft-memorized prayers, responses and acclamations.
The most recognizable change to parishioners will likely be in the responsive preface to the Eucharist, in which a priest tells a congregation: "The Lord be with you." The previous response, "And also with you," has been changed to "And with your spirit."
Otherwise, the majority of changes were in the text read by the priest, not the congregation, Walsh said.
"It's not a big change for the congregation," she said. "It's a bigger change for the clergy."
She said clergy across the United States have been participating for months in workshops and training sessions to get ready for Sunday's launch of the new service.
Walsh said one member of the clergy had told her that he had been celebrating the old translation for decades, had it memorized, and was now "keeping his eyes on the text" to make sure he didn't stumble.
Such training, or maybe practice, might have helped some of the parishioners who grew up memorizing their parts and prayers, and found themselves lurching through words they once knew by heart.
Several who attended church on Sunday said the new response, "and with your spirit," tripped up nearly everyone and made for a unique experience.
"It was kind of fun to hear a full church stumble on those once standard prayers," said Jennifer Huckaba of Marietta, Georgia, who took Baptist family members to church with her and enjoyed the fact that, for once, the visitors weren't the only ones who didn't know the words. "It was odd."
Huckaba said that while she did not have a strong opinion about the changes, they were surprising given that the words were drilled into parishioners through classes and heavy emphasis on tradition throughout their lives.
"This is the way it is, and it's set in stone, and then to up and change it?" she said. "You're a little taken aback."
The switch to the new response referencing "spirit" was one of parishioner Mica Joiner's favorite changes during her service at Our Mother of Mercy Catholic Church in Anguilla, Mississippi.
Joiner said she found the response to be beautiful and "much more appealing."
"I think it is good to recognize the spirit more so than the flesh ... The flesh is only around a short while anyway," Joiner said. "I am very pleased that the Catholic church is getting back to its more traditional roots."
Editing by Cynthia Johnston