There has been a lot of talk in recent weeks about the language that is being used in political discourse. Words have been tagged as “vitriolic,” as “harsh rhetoric,” as “uncivil.” There have been calls for a more genteel language, more civil language, language that expresses and conveys attitudes of respect and compromise and supports our loftier ideals.

Language is important. Sometimes situations and circumstances demand a different tone, different qualities of language. If we were to sit with President Barack Obama at a picnic table, we would be perfectly comfortable with colloquialisms, contractions and informal speech. But as we listened to the president’s State of the Union message in January, we expected more formal, elevated language words that were uplifting, perhaps at times even poetic.

On the First Sunday of Advent of this year (Nov. 27), we will welcome and implement the use of the new English translation of the Third Edition of the Roman Missal, the book that contains all of the prayers of the Mass.

Here are three basic questions:

Why do we have

a “third edition”?

In the time since the First Edition of the Roman Missal was first used in 1970, initiating fully the liturgical reforms mandated by the bishops of the Second Vatican Council, a number of supplements have been published: the two Eucharistic Prayers for Reconciliation, the four Eucharistic Prayers for Various Needs and Occasions, the collection of Marian Masses, the Rite for the Dedication of Church, for instance. Also, there have been a number of new saints added to the church’s universal calendar, and there are many new prayers for use as we celebrate those memorials. The Third Edition combines all of this into one book.

What’s different about this edition?

The most important difference is that the Roman Congregation for Divine Worship changed the rules that guided the translation of this edition of the Missal. In the last go-round, translators were allowed more freedom with the Latin texts, using a “sense equivalency” in translating from Latin to English. This time, translators had to remain more faithful to a literal translation of the Latin words and to the Latin construction of the prayers.

We also must remember that a few years ago, we began the implementation of the “General Instruction” on this edition of the Missal, and these two parts of this one book go together in intent.

The General Instruction or the guidelines for the preparation for and celebration of Mass called attention to some significant challenges. One was that the Mass was to be given a more dignified, “sacred” celebration, with respect for the “ordered” roles fulfilled in the course of the celebration by clergy, lay minister, and assembly. When you add to this a more formal use of language, there is an obvious intent here to “elevate” the quality and tone of our celebration of what we call “the sacred mystery” in the Mass: words and gestures filled with dignity, beauty and Spirit-filled grace.

What does this have

to do with me?

Most immediately, this will obviously mean getting adjusted to using some different wording in the prayers you say as part of the assembly. Of course, church parishes that already use a hymnal or missalette will find these changes in the books that will replace the ones they use now. It will also mean learning new or at least revised musical settings for the parts of the Mass we sing that have new words in them: the Glory to God, the Preface Acclamation (Holy, Holy . . .) and the Memorial Acclamation. Many settings we currently use have been modified by their composers for the new wording, but many musicians are saying it might be better for us to learn new settings to go along with the new words.

But I believe this new edition of the Missal will challenge us in two other significant ways.

First, there will be a challenge for us to listen to these prayers so that they really do become our prayers. Sentence construction in Latin is very different from sentence construction in conversational English. The prayers the priest says (the Opening Prayer, Prayer over the Gifts, Communion Prayer and especially the Eucharistic Prayers) will sound different to us at first. We will have to listen carefully in order that, over time, these prayers will be able to enter our hearts as well as our ears so that we are praying with the priest, who is speaking these prayers for us.

Second, this is an occasion for us to review our own attitude toward our public, communal worship, especially the Mass, to review and perhaps even improve our understanding of, appreciation for and, in turn, our love for the Mass. This is an occasion for us to ask ourselves if we hold the Mass in the high regard that it deserves: by our attentiveness to and participation in it, by how we prepare for it, how we dress to attend it, how much we open our hearts to pray it.

Will everyone like what has been done with this edition of the Roman Missal? No. Probably each of us will like some parts and dislike others. But let’s not focus on that. Instead, let each of us take this as an occasion to be open to the Holy Spirit to inform and inspire our openness to change and development, to deeper prayer, to greater respect for our communal worship. Let us be open to the Holy Spirit, who is ready to guide our minds to deeper reflection on the words and gestures of our prayers, the reflection that can enable us to give of ourselves that we might truly become “one body, one spirit in Christ.”

Monsignor Hedrick is also pastor of St. Angela Merici Church in Metairie.