Early last month I attended my Uncle Joe’s funeral Mass at the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary—the same Morristown, N.J., Catholic church in which he had been baptized 89 years earlier. In an ancient tradition meant to recall baptism, his casket was covered with a white linen pall, blessed with holy water by a priest, and positioned in the sanctuary before the Paschal candle. Decorated with the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, Alpha and Omega, the candle denotes our fundamental belief in the resurrection of the body made possible by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.
The mourners that day were few. Uncle Joe had simply outlived a lot of people. Of the 50 or so friends and family assembled to pray for the repose of his soul, only a handful seemed familiar with the liturgy. A regular Sunday Mass-goer couldn’t help but notice: Almost no one knew what to say and when to say it, or what to do and when to do it.
This wasn’t entirely their fault. In 2011 the Catholic Church issued a new English translation of the Roman Missal, the texts and rubrics of the Mass that have been in use since 1969. But most of the baptized Catholics standing mute in their pews at Uncle Joe’s funeral hadn’t been regular churchgoers since well before the new translation came out.
It’s a deep problem. Only 22% of American Catholics attend weekly Mass, according to Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate.
Read it all (emphasis mine).