And also with you and your spirit

My wife and I just couldn't get out of bed on Sunday, and missed Mass at our usual community. So, we ended up in a small seaside town up the coast -- at the "mission" church of a larger beach community.

It was a bit of a blast from the past. The ushers were all senior men -- dressed almost identically in shirts and ties and blue blazers. The Eucharistic ministers were mostly women. It was a separation of duties that my parents would have recognized.

But most striking -- at least from the standpoint of our little progressive group -- were the responses. This church tried valiantly to use the new liturgical responses -- "And with your spirit," "It is right and just" and the rest. The new Gloria, with its verbal trip lines and pitfalls, was read from laminated cards placed in the pews.

It was all depressing to me. But not because the new language lacked poetry or because of the sheeplike way the worshipers accepted the changes.

Our own community has struggled with whether to adopt the new language. We have also bought "the cards" and have scheduled debates on the board and with the whole community after Mass. Bottom line: we can't make up our minds about what to do. More accurately, we can't come to a consensus about which way to move forward. Even more to the point, a significant minority doesn't want the changes. And that's enough to keep the group as a whole from moving in any direction. Any direction that to stay right where we are. Where it's safe.

That's partly what affected my mood -- the inability of a couple of hundred good-faith Catholics to get out of their own way. When democracy fails so badly, no wonder some yearn for autocrats.

But I was also saddened by the fight. This language change has been a huge distraction, and raised all sorts of ugly emotions from Catholics. Some are proud to do whatever Rome wants, simply because Rome wants it. Some are blissfully indifferent. Some are irritated that the Vatican's biggest priority -- in an age of shrinking numbers, scandalous behavior and conflicts over basic teaching -- is to tinker with the words of the liturgy. The Mass, once a refuge and a unifying experience, has itself become a battleground. Every time the priest intones "The Lord be with you," worshipers engage in a non-prayerful mental effort to either make sure they recall the new words, "And with your spirit," or to resist them. In which case, they can choose between saying the new words anyway, remaining silent, or defiantly saying "And also with you."

I am tired of the fighting. And of the misplaced priorities, and of the "faith police," tempted to monitor the fidelity of their neighbors. This side of heaven, there may be no getting away from it. But I wish we would stop finding new ways to divide an already divided people.