Saturday, August 6, 2011

New Roman Missal: "People of Good Will" - What Does That Mean?

Yesterday, a friend of mine currently revising a musical setting of the Gloria using the text of the new Roman Missal sent me an advance sample. I commented to him that the two longer notes on “good will” in the refrain force the singer, in effect, to accent “good” instead of “will” as one might expect, and that was interesting. His response was that he did that intentionally to help focus people on the meaning of the phrase. 

That, however, got me thinking. What does it actually mean to be “people of good will”?  What will people in the pews in Catholic parishes, asked to sing this “new” phrase think that it means?

Miriam Webster online gives several definitions that seem to apply to some degree: 
1 a : a kindly feeling of approval and support : benevolent interest or concern…
2 a : cheerful consent b : willing effort

Urban is more realistic, perhaps: 
“A factor of humanity that is lacking in most people. Good will is the basic component of "good people," that is, those who are nonmalignant, those with clean motives, and those who possess a lack of cruelty and viciousness.

So, to be people of good will in the worldly definition means merely to have a kindly feeling of approval and support, to give a cheerful consent or make a willing effort and/or to have clean motives and a lack of cruelty and viciousness? Is this our proper response to God and to God’s sending of his Son? Seems a little bit inadequate, does it not?

The translation of the song of the angels in Luke 2:14 in the New American Bible is actually “…peace on earth to those on whom his favor rests”- instead of the Mass text translation of “et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis”  from the Novus Vulgate, the Latin translation of the Bible  from which the Third Edition of the Roman Missal is derived.

If God’s favor rests on his people, if we are those privileged to be the objects of God’s love, I would hope we would have more than the dictionary-definition response!  Based on the teaching of Jesus and the Church, I would define the attitude that makes up Christian “good will” as follows:  joyful, open and willing reception of the Good News, evidenced in a life of loving charity and eager service to others.

What do you think? How will you help adults, youth and children understand this?


  1. I look at the change as thus; what did we have before and what are we giving up moving to the new phrase. In the phrase "peace to His people", "His people" are those given the grace by God to make it to paradise, God willing. Now we move to a new phrase "peace to people of good will", well that includes Bhuddists, Muslims, Jews, Secularist, Agnostics and many others. And should we not give peace to those that are His people that are not of good will in hopes that they may make it to eternal life. Yes, confusing to say the least.

  2. This is kind of a tangent but the "bonae voluntatis" in the Latin text of the Gloria is much, much older than the New Vulgate (published 1979).

    In fact it's probably even older than the "old" Vulgate -- I wouldn't be hugely surprised to learn that St. Jerome had the text of the liturgy in mind when he translated Luke's gospel.

  3. I myself am right now struggling for my doctoral defense with the exact definition of "people of good will". Yet, I am convinced in spirit that these are People of God", not just Christians. Lumen Gentium mentios them in Nostra Aetate, 4, as those portrayed in Eph 2, 14-16. These are people of all religions, who sincerely seek God! Such people, according to St. John Paul II, "sometimes without faith in Christ, suffer and give their lives for truth and what is right" (Salvifici doloris, 22).

    1. Yes, that is a possible reading of the phrase. It doesn't say "believers in Christ" - though some might argue from the context that is implied. I think it's a bit like Pope Francis' assertion that salvation is offered to all - even atheists.

  4. I like to think that our faith inspires and challenges us to be people of goodwill. Yes there are also people of goodwill out there without faith but faith hopefully just pushes us further along the goodwill scale. I believe that goodwill is critical to the well-being of communities and nations. I also believe that we should also be encouraging others to exercise goodwill which is what I am striving to do with the initiative.

  5. I know this blog was written a while ago, but as I read it I couldn't help but connect the words "people of good will" to "people of GOD'S will." That theology and scripture tell us that all GOOD things come from God. God by supernatural law is all loving and all good. So to receive God's peace which is always unceasing and abundant we must be always open to God's (good) will.