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Online Edition - June 2005

Vol. XI, No. 4

Tenth Anniversary Edition

New Lectionary Review Process Reveals "Inclusivizing" Influence -- Again

“We must not let forces outside of the Bishops’ Conference divide us”, bishop says

by Helen Hull Hitchcock

“Most of us recall the strident debates and divisions of the past on liturgical matters. We need honest, candid dialogue and unity through consensus. We must not let forces outside of the Bishops’ Conference divide us. I speak of certain news media and special interest groups”, said Bishop Donald Trautman in his address to the March meeting of the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy (BCL), the first meeting since he became chairman in November 2004.

Bishop Trautman continued, “We want to be faithful to the norms and principles from the Holy See, but as pastors of the Church we must apply them with prudence and insight, given pastoral realities in our midst. Going from liturgical principle to pastoral practice calls again for balance and sensitivity”, he said.

“There will never be a perfect, absolute translation. There will never be a perfect, absolute liturgical rite”, said the bishop. “Translations and liturgical rites are conditioned by culture, pastoral experience, theological insight, and ecclesiastical realities”. The address appeared in the March-April 2005 BCL Newsletter.

Bishop Trautman did not give examples of “forces outside the Bishops’ Conference [that] divide us”, nor of “special interest groups” that are divisive forces. However, the bishop is a member of the Catholic Biblical Association, and a board member of “WeBelieve!” — both are groups that have objected strongly and publicly to Liturgiam authenticam, and neither is connected with the bishops’ conference.

Among the topics discussed at the March BCL meeting was the proposal to revise — again — the Lectionary for Mass for the United States.

The Lectionary — the collection of Scripture texts used at Mass — was revised in the 1990s and became mandatory for use only in 2002.

The process of revising the Lectionary paralleled that of revising the Missal, though the two projects were on separate tracks, involved separate procedures, and separate agencies outside the bishops’ conference supplied the revised and/or retranslated texts. Both the Lectionary re-translation and the revision of the Mass texts however, had in common that they were the subject of considerable controversy within the bishops’ conference — the “strident debates” recalled by Bishop Trautman, who was chairman of the BCL from 1993-96 when debates over proposed liturgical revisions were intense. It was chiefly these debates over principles of translation that led to the Holy See’s Instruction on translation, Liturgiam authenticam, in 2001.

The revised Lectionary was originally submitted to the Vatican for the required approval in 1992, but the text required emendations (by a Vatican committee that included three US bishops) before it could be accepted by the Holy See.

In 1997, the US bishops’ conference accepted the Vatican-revised and amended Lectionary, not as a “perfect, absolute” translation, but with the provision that it would be reviewed within a few years. Many hoped this review would produce improved translations.

The process of review is now advancing. According to the BCL Newsletter, “a second phase of the review process for the Lectionary was re-visited. At an earlier meeting, the Committee reviewed the Sunday Advent readings; at the March 2005 meeting, the Committee reviewed the weekday Advent readings”.

The report continued: “The readings had been annotated with observations taken from a major evaluation of the Lectionary completed by the bishops in 2003. These were then reviewed by speech experts, liturgists and pastoral ministers. Finally, the suggested changes were re-examined by a biblical expert and then submitted to the Bishops’ Committee for review”. The BCL will “continue more closely its work on the Advent readings at the June 2005 meeting”, the report said.

The Committee also decided to “extended the review process to the balance of the Lectionary for Mass” and it expanded membership of the review committee by adding two more bishops and another scripture scholar (unnamed).

All changes in the Lectionary would require approval of the conference and recognitio of the Holy See.

The objective is to publish a revised edition of the Lectionary based on a revised edition of the New American Bible, first published in 1970 and used for the US Lectionary. By 1978, the re-translation project had begun, and the New Testament of the Revised New American Bible (RNAB) appeared in 1986, and the Psalms in 1991. The RNAB Old Testament is now completed.

Outside forces?

The Lectionary revision originally submitted included texts from the 1991 RNAB Psalter, an “inclusive language” version that was rejected by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for use in the Lectionary in 1994. Yet in April 2002, Benedictine Father Joseph Jensen, executive secretary of the Catholic Biblical Association (CBA) and one of the principal translators of the rejected RNAB Psalter, announced the plan to revive the RNAB translations, and posted a rationale and re-revised Psalter on the CBA web site. (cf., “US Scholars Resuscitate Rejected Psalms”, AB May 2002)

Although the “inclusive language” problem with the RNAB Psalter made it unusable even as a base text for the current Lectionary, the 1986 RNAB New Testament was used, with corrections as required by the Holy See.

Despite the rejection of the RNAB Psalter, and notwithstanding the 2001 Instruction on liturgical translation, Liturgiam authenticam, which does not permit gender-neutering biblical texts, the RNAB translators are convinced that an “inclusive” version of the Scripture is pastorally necessary.

An article by Father Richard Clifford, SJ, in the May 2005 Worship magazine extols the virtues of the 1991 Psalter and its “moderate” inclusivism.

Father Clifford was on the board of editors of the 1991 RNAB Psalter (Father Joseph Jensen was chairman), and the principal author of the critique of Liturgiam authenticam issued by the CBA that called it an “administrative fiat that would doom Catholics to the use of a Bible that fails to live up to the normal requirements of modern biblical scholarship”.

Three US bishops collaborated in the 1991 RNAB Psalter project: Bishops Donald Trautman, Richard Sklba (aux. Milwaukee), and Emil Wcela (aux. Rockville Centre). All three were members of the Ad Hoc Committee for the Review of Scripture Translations, the committee that advises the bishops’ conference on biblical texts. Bishop Sklba was chairman of the Ad Hoc committee from 1990-2000, and remains a member.

All three bishops, who were classmates at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, are also members of the CBA. Both Bishops Sklba and Wcela were past presidents of the CBA and both have been chairmen of the board of trustees (Bp. Wcela, 1993-2000; Bp. Sklba, 2000-present).

The results of this phase of the Lectionary review process are slated to be presented at the November 2005 meeting of the US bishops.

SEE: Comments on Liturgical authenticam

SEE: News and Views -- BCL Proposes Missal Modifications and ICEL Sends New Missal Draft to Bishops-on CD

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