"A question of what our gods are"

Home | Join/Donate

Adoremus, Society for the Renewal of the Sacred Liturgy

Online Edition Vol. III, No. 5: July-August 1997

The Bishops' Debate Over Liturgy Revisions:
Puzzling Procedures Reach Confusing Conclusion

LITURGY ITEMS ON THE BISHOPS' AGENDA were, once again, a primary focus at their Spring meeting in Kansas City June 19-21. Both parts of the major revision of the Roman Missal -- the Sacramentary (prayers for Mass), and the Lectionary (Scripture readings) -- were presented for the bishops' final vote before the books are submitted to the Vatican for required approval.

This session concluded a years-long process of discussion of the proposed revisions. But at the end of the meeting, votes on both the Sacramentary and the Lectionary were "inconclusive"; that is, neither had secured the 2/3 majority vote of all eligible bishops necessary for approval. A mail-in vote polling absent bishops was required, and the results are expected sometime in August. Both must be approved by the Vatican before liturgical use is permitted.

Those who expected a neat conclusion to the lengthy, complicated and sometimes confusing process of approving the massive revision of the Roman Missal may have been disappointed. But a certain untidiness at the end should not be surprising, considering the unique importance and the complexity of this project. Certainly this is the most weighty liturgical undertaking that has faced the bishops since the first "vernacularization" of the liturgy following the Second Vatican Council. The current English-language Roman Missal has been in use since 1974.

Separate Jurisdictions -- Dual Procedures

Separate processes were involved in revising, amending and approving both parts of the Roman Missal. (The Missal is in two parts because following the Second Vatican Council, the three-year cycle of Lectionary readings made it impossible to include both the Sacramentary and Lectionary in one volume.) This dual system made the procedures for revision especially cumbersome and confusing.

The Lectionary is developed by each national conference, whereas the Sacramentary involves ICEL, a "mixed commission" of eleven English-speaking national conferences (plus fifteen other countries who are associate members). Briefly, the Lectionary is the responsibility of the NCCB, while the Sacramentary texts are, according to the present system, controlled by ICEL.

The separate jurisdictions accounts for the separate procedures required for handling both. Different translating teams and even different principles of translation were involved in the revisions.

The Lectionary and the Sacramentary are at different stages, too, in their status regarding Vatican approval, where they are also considered separately. Complicating matters even further, two Vatican dicasteries are involved in the process of developing liturgical texts. The Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments must approve the liturgical texts, in consultation with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.


The Lectionary was revised by biblical scholars and translators selected by the US bishops, and the entire project was handled by Conference committees, principally the Ad Hoc Committee for the Review of Scripture Translations for Liturgical Use and the Bishops' Committee on Liturgy. In the US, the Lectionary generally used is based on the New American Bible, a translation "owned" by the NCCB.

Two other English bible translations are currently approved for liturgical use, the Revised Standard Version -- Catholic Edition, and the Jerusalem Bible. All three approved. lectionaries have been out of print for several years, evidently in anticipation of the proposed revision. The process of revising the Lectionary - began more than seven years ago.

In 1990, two years before the proposed Lectionary revision was introduced, the bishops had adopted Criteria for the Use of Inclusive Language in Scripture Texts Proposed for Liturgical Use, the translation principles employed in the Lectionary revision. The Criteria advocated use of "inclusive language". The following year the Revised NAB Psalms appeared.

In 1992 the bishops approved a proposed Lectionary based on the RNAB New Testament and Psalms and the NAB Old Testament (1970). The text was submitted to Rome for required approval (recognitio). But it was not approved.

Meetings with the American translating team and Vatican officials and scholars ensued, but the translation problems were not resolved. The approval process was stalled principally because of the insistence by the American translating team that the new Lectionary must fully incorporate "inclusive language". Similar problems surfaced with the English translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church in 1994. That same year the Vatican reviewed and rejected two recent Scripture translations proposed for liturgical use: the RNAB Psalms and the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).

Vatican Issues Norms for Scripture Translation

In 1995, after unsuccessful consultations between the American translating team and Vatican officials, the Vatican produced Norms for Translation of Scriptural Texts Used for the Liturgy for the use of the translating team. (The Norms were not shown to other bishops.) Still the American team was unable to produce a satisfactory text. So last December, at the request of the NCCB Administrative Committee, seven US cardinals met with Vatican authorities to "expedite the process".

This spring, three archbishops representing the NCCB (Archbishops Justin Rigali, St. Louis; Jerome Hanus, OSB, Dubuque; and William Levada, San Francisco) worked with Vatican scholars and officials to resolve the difficulties with the proposed Lectionary.

The result of these efforts produced the "revised revised" version of Volume I of the two-volume Lectionary, amended in accordance with Vatican Norms. The result was presented for the bishops' vote at the June meeting.

Two weeks before the meeting the Vatican Norms were sent to all the bishops. This unquestionably affected their discussion. Although the Norms never use the term "inclusive language", they do demand fidelity to the original texts, and do not permit altering the text for the purpose of avoiding words such as "man", "be, "his".

The bishops who had been most involved in producing the problem version of 1992 were adamant in rejecting both the Vatican Norms, and even the "moderate inclusivism" that the recent revision seemed to permit (i.e., "brothers" is usually "brothers and sisters"; "he who...", unless it means a particular man, becomes "whoever".)

What the Bishops Said

Archbishop Hanus, chairman of the Liturgy Committee, introduced the Lectionary:

It has not been easy to arrive at this point of having ready a manuscript Lectionary which is acceptable to the authorities of the Universal Church. Despite the difficulties and delays, as bishops of the particular Church which is located in the United States and as a bishops' conference we believe the Lectionary for Mass which we are currently using presents significant problems on a pastoral level. The need remains obvious. As we three archbishops studied the situation when we were given our assignment, we identified as the most helpful suggestion was the one made during a meeting of the cardinals with the officials of the Holy See last December. Namely, that the base text of the 1986 translation of the New Testament serve as the basis for a solution. ...

The wider ecclesial community in our country has shown varying levels of interest in the project. Some might hope that no changes at all would be made, others hoped that the solution would be more radical. The Lectionary, as other Church texts, at times becomes the source of strong feelings and divisions in the Church and in local communities. The pastoral problem of individuals and groups making changes in the Word of God and in liturgical books independently and, at times, without sufficient competence to know what is at stake, has been felt by many of us bishops and by others in the Church. It is urgent that we have a text which meets the legitimate desires and hopes of the people without sacrificing fidelity and to the inspired text.

Some may wonder why we could not have developed a text fully on our own. The answer to this should be stated clearly: We are not independent congregations dissociated from the Universal Church and from the unity of our Roman Catholic communion. It is part of the Petrine function to exercise a special role in preserving unity among the churches and exercising vigilance over the faith. ...

This relationship between the particular Church in the United States and other churches throughout the world becomes especially sensitive when we realize the impact that our approved liturgical books have in other countries where English is used. We are not isolated islands. What we do has an impact on many others in the Universal Church.

To close, let me return to what is crucial in this whole issue. Everything we are and do is enriched by the faith we have in God, the faith which comes from hearing the Word of God in all its challenging reality. We grow in faith only if we hear the word of God and allow it to change us and our world and our communities. As Church leaders we are entrusted by Christ with the office of handing on and teaching what has been revealed to us by God in the Sacred Scriptures.

The Second Vatican Council in its decree on Divine Revelation reminds us bishops that we must exercise our teaching authority only in the name of Jesus Christ. The Magisterium of anyone in the Church must never claim to be superior to the Word of God. It must always be servant of the Word of God. It is sub verba -- never above the Word in such a manner as to judge what the Divine Word should be.

Cardinal William Keeler of Baltimore thanked the committee for their work, and observed that this was not the first time the bishops had chosen a Scripture translation. He mentioned the decision by US bishops to use a revision of Bishop Richard Challoner's version of the Douay-Rheims translation from the Vulgate. "My second observation is pastoral," he said.

What is before us now offers us an opportunity to adopt a text which, in addition to the inclusive language issue that you referred to, will give our people readings which will bring even greater dignity, accuracy and clarity to the proclamation of the Word of God.

I think a good illustration are the Beatitudes in the Gospel of Matthew. The 1970 reads: "How blessed are the poor in spirit; the reign of God is theirs." The new version has: "Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." There's greater clarity. "Reign" here and in other places can cause confusion. For many, "rain" is what falls mainly on the plain in Spain. Further on, the text has "Blessed are the single-hearted" in 1970 -- "Blessed are the single-hearted for they shall see God." The new translation stresses more clearly the virtue of which the original Greek speaks. "Blessed are the clean of heart for they shall see God." ...

Cardinal Keeler mentioned the work on the NAB Old Testament revision and asked if this could be incorporated into a later edition. He also asked about the possibility of translating certain Greek phrases as "the Jewish authorities."

Erie Bishop Donald Trautman, who had participated in the consultations in Rome in 1995, was the first to object. He complained that the proposed Lectionary "has been substantially and radically altered, rendering it no longer an inclusive language text."

The text now before you is not pastorally helpful. Cardinal Keeler gave some examples that were positive, I will cite three examples that are negative.

Page 405, Part II, Matthew 5: 23b: "If you bring your gift to the altar and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar. Go first to be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift." That translation does not convey the meaning of the Greek. That translation leaves out one half of the assembly.

Another example: page 470, part II, Matthew 10:37. "Whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." The New Living translation, a work by scholars from the [?] Theological Seminary, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Southeastern College of the Assemblies of God, Denver Conservative Baptist Seminary and others, that translation says: "If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me you're not worthy of being mine; If you cling to your life you will lose it, but if you give it up for me you will find it."

This translation coming from fundamentalists, conveys in contemporary language what the inspired [text] says. If other translations by recognized bodies of scholars, even of the fundamentalist tradition, employ inclusive language in the texts and our Lectionary does not, what does this say about our biblical scholarship?

A third example, coming from Matthew 10:41: "Whoever receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man's reward." 

That's not even moderate inclusive language. The proposed translation does not express the sense of the original Greek. The New Living translation, the NRSV, another translation, God's Word by the American Bible Society, * and other contemporary translations all render this sentence inclusively. Why doesn't our Lectionary?

I could multiply the examples, but the conclusion is obvious. We are not dealing with an inclusive language translation as understood in Biblical circles. The text before us has been substantially altered, including a completely different Psalter that was not part of the original vote of this conference when the texts were sent to Rome.

We are being asked now to approve a Psalter that dates back to the year 1950, and was copyrighted in 1955. This is not up to date biblical scholarship. It does not reflect Qumran.** It was one of the first volumes of the old CCD*** translation. It was translation with no sense of recitation or singing. This is the Psalter that the Administrative Board in prior years rejected for use in the Liturgy of the Hours because it was not sufficiently singable, in favor of the Grail Psalter. **** It dealt, unsatisfactorily with poetry, and ignored serious technical problems. These inadequacies were a major reason that the Psalter was the first revised book in the Old Testament. 

I have a statement here from two respected biblical scholars: Donald Senior and Eugene Laverdiere. I quote: "The second urgent concern has to do with reports of the unrevised New American Psalter, to be substituted for the revised NAB Psalter. Since the old Psalter dates substantially to 1950, it does not have the advantage of the great advance in scholarship that make the revised Psalter far more accurate and better from every point of view. We fear that reverting to the old Psalter could be a great step backwards for the collective efforts of responsible biblical scholarship."

I know that the bishops are tired of these translation issues. The bishops have shown great patience during the past three years. But if we vote approval of this text, we are doing a disservice to all the collegial efforts of the past, and we are not resolving the pastoral problem of inclusivity. We are only making the problem worse. If this translation comes out in our Lectionary, it solves nothing. It only makes the righteous man look more unrighteous and, I would add, unbiblical.

Bishop Trautman's three-year term as chairman of the Liturgy Committee ended last November. On June 19, he received the "Michael Mathis Award" from the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy for his contribution to advancing "inclusive language".

* The God's Word version, subtitled "Today's Bible translation that says what it means", was published in 1995 by "God's Word to the Nations Bible Society".

The bishop neglected to mention the most widely used Protestant translation, the New International Version. The publishers of the NIV recently scrapped plans for substituting an "inclusive language" version, after strong protest and threat of boycott by the Southern Baptist Convention.

 ** Qumran refers to the "Dead Sea Scrolls ". After World War II, Hebrew and Aramaic manuscripts dating approximately from the time of Christ were discovered at Qumran, including fragments of the Psalter which have been used by scholars for minor editorial adjustments to the Hebrew text of the Bible, such as variants in the Hebrew spelling of words. [See Peter Flint, The Dead Sea Psalms Scrolls and the Book of Psalms. Leiden; New York: Brill, 1997]

 *** Confraternity of Christian Doctrine. Translators of the 1970 NAB included members of the Catholic Biblical Association and biblical scholars of other faiths.

 **** The 1963 version of the "Grail Psalter", a translation by the Ladies of the Grail in England is used in the Liturgy of the Hours (Divine Office). Two "inclusive language" versions of the Grail Psalter have been rejected for liturgical use by vote of the NCCB, the first in 1984, and the second in 1993.

Bishop Richard Sklba, auxiliary of Milwaukee and member of the both the Ad Hoc Committee on Scripture Translation and the Bishops' Committee on Doctrine, agreed with Bishop Trautman. He sharply criticized the Vatican Norms, "neo-literalism", the Neo-Vulgate and the NAB 1970 text:

The fact that these confidential Norms were developed by the Holy See in dialogue with our representatives, but not really with our approval, after the work is complete, and then, at least as it seems, imposed upon us that they were then used to judge serious efforts undertaken in compliance with different norms, is a serious human relations problem of no small proportion, and a [problem] for our Catholic scholarly community.

I know the existence of that sentiment, because I was appointed a few years ago by the president of the conference as liaison to the NAB Board of Control. The purpose of that appointment was to maintain good communications with those in charge of the Old Testament revision initiated four years ago. For several years groups of translators met at last one weekend a month to study and review the proposed translation verse by verse. They began with the Criteria approved by this body-and suddenly the rules have changed.

Norms which remain confidential will raise the suspicion that they are indefensible or that individuals who would use them are not trustworthy. Their existence is truly a problem. In any case, it is not an easy moment to be a translator...

Secondly, the neo-literalism [in] the implementation of these Norms. The service to God's Word includes both fidelity to the text and the intention of the communication of that text. The implementation of these Norms seems to revert to a kind of literalism which has not always been part of the Catholic tradition, especially in those parts of the liturgy used for congregational responses when the Psalms are used. I know that I speak for any number of translators who find it impossible to fulfill their responsibilities to the meaning of the text by literal equivalence alone. Sometimes because of sensitivit... or because the words themselves don't communicate the mind of the sacred author.

To say that "David had it in his heart" means "he decided". That's the type of conceptual or dynamic equivalence which has given 'the NAB the freshness it possesses. You'll recall Monsignor Ronald Knox practiced this type of faithful but fresh translation to the admiration of all. *

After careful, even meticulous study! Archbishop John Whealon** endorsed this procedure and worked diligently to improve several popular translations before his untimely death. It is a mistake, I think, to settle unquestionably [on] norms which now appear to rule out any such effort. 

The negative assessment of recent translations presumes that only literal translations are acceptable. There is a firm commitment among so many involved in the process that conceptual fidelity is also acceptable.

Thirdly, the Neo-Vulgate. The [Norms'] requirement that the Neo-Vulgate be in some way the criterion has surprised many of us. We know that it appears in the introduction to the volume which promulgated the Neo-Vulgate. But particularly the stipulation that it is the reason for introducing more texts, more words, more other readings from Ben Sirach. ...a Catholic biblical expert at Catholic University has called [this] "critically unconscionable and a giant step backward". ***

Finally, the 1970 New American Bible. Although the NAB translation chosen bears the final date of 1970, the copyright for the Wisdom volume is 1955 as suggested before. Therefore the Psalms themselves in the 1970 version do not benefit from the influence of the Qumran scrolls and the contribution to our understanding of the Hebrew text.

To select the 1986 New Testament was a fine choice, and I recall that Archbishop Whealon himself, immediately after it approval, began to discuss how it might b used in the Lectionary. In fact, in 1987 he insisted that adelphoi in the Lectionary be translated as "brothers and sisters", But to accept the 1970 version does not seem wise to me.

In conclusion, I regret deeply the fact that in my judgment some basic decisions in this project seem unwise and sure to confine us to another generation of pencil-marked texts. The Lectionary presumably will be in our pulpits for at least twenty years. Like many others in this room, I also invested a great deal of time and energy in preparing faithful and beautiful texts.

This effort doesn't seem sufficiently mature at this time. Thank you very much.

* The Knox version was a free translation of the old Vulgate done in the 1940's, at a time when new English translations from the original Hebrew and Greek texts were appearing. It was controversial from the time it was first published, and was never widely accepted.

** Archbishop Whealon, archbishop of Hartford 1969-91, was chairman of the Liturgy Committee and initially introduced the liturgical revision process in the NCCB.

** The Vatican Norms said only that for "very uncertain" or "very much disputed" texts the Neo-Vulgate should be given "due regard" (#3.b).

The Neo- Vulgate (Nova Vulgata Bibliorum sacrorum editio) is a Latin translation from the original Greek and Hebrew languages, and reflects recent scholarship (including the Qumran text of Ben Sirach).

The revised Latin translation was promulgated by Apostolic Constitution in 1979, which said that it "can serve as the editio typica on which to base vernacular versions intended for liturgical and pastoral use."

Paul VI said in 1977, "We may be permitted to think that the edition will serve as a sound basis for biblical studies... especially in places where it is difficult to have access to specialized libraries or to scholarly studies."

In 1984, Pope John Paul Il established the Pontifical Commission for the Revision and Emendation of the Vulgate.

Bishop Matthew Clark of Rochester, opposed both the revised text and the "process":

First about the text, the material first sent to Rome for confirmation some years ago seemed to be a thoughtful, consistent, pastorally effective translation ...I do not have the same sense with the new material. It seems to me in many places to be inconsistent, sometimes arbitrary, out of touch with legitimate cultural trends in our nation, not responsive to. .. realities of the Church in the United States.

Secondly, about the process. It seems a strange and even undesirable turn of events that material that received an overwhelming approbation from this body after long and serious consideration should be sent in such a new and unexpected direction by the Roman authorities without an open, thorough and public discussion of the reasons behind the decision. It raises many questions for me, among them the ... relative weight given by the Holy See to individuals who profess to be systematically lobbying...  It also raises questions about our commitment to inclusiveness.

Bishop Clark is former chairman of the Committee on Women and a member of the Administrative Committee.

Archbishop Rembert Weakland of Milwaukee objected to the Lectionary for slightly different reasons. "The reason why we're in this bind is that the norms we have are norms for translation of Scripture, but they are not the norms for liturgical use." The archbishop said he is the only member of the Liturgy Committee who voted against the revised text.

In particular, he objected to use of the original NAB Psalter. When the 1970 translation appeared, he said, "I can assure you the musicians were furious with it. Nobody thought it was singable. ...you have ugly texts on your back, which will have some musicians on your back."

But he views the problem as theological as well as musical: "we have never really gotten an analysis of what texts are Christological. There is a creeping Christologicism going on among us", he said.

The archbishop seemed unaware of the shocking flippancy of his remark. He was referring to the historic Christian understanding that many Psalms foreshadow Christ, so if "man" is eliminated the traditional Christological dimension of the Psalms is effectively prohibited. (One of many examples is "Blessed is the man..." in Psalm 1).

Archbishop Weakland suggested a compromise which would accept the text provisionally, for a period of five years. "My fear is that if we move in there and don't put a provision on it, we'll be stuck for 25 years with more cut-and-paste -- everybody writing in their own translation," he warned.

"Five Year Review" Amendment

After consideration of Archbishop Weakland's proposal and a revision of it by Archbishop Justin Rigali of St. Louis, a member of the Committee on the Liturgy and of the team that worked with Vatican officials on the revision, the bishops voted to add the following phrase to the original motion to submit the Lectionary for Vatican recognitio: "and authorize after five years a full review of the Lectionary with a view to its possible updating."

Discussion of the amended motion to approve the Lectionary for the Vatican's recognitio continued.

Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk of Cincinnati said he shared concern for penciled in emendations, but "there is no text that will foreclose every possibility of such emendation." Regarding non-singability:

In 1969, when approving the Sacramentary, the appendix of GIRM [General Instruction of the Roman Missal] said that as a further response to singing of Psalms, other translations might be approved as supplements, provided they are in accordance with the Simple Gradual. Our predecessors wanted flexibility precisely so Psalms could be sung.

Archbishop Pilarczyk is chairman of the Bishops' Committee on Doctrine, and was president of the NCCB from 1989-1992. From 1986-1997 he was the US bishops' representative to the Episcopal Board of ICEL, and was president of that board for the past five years.

Support for the Revised Text

In defense of the revised version of the Lectionary, some bishops stressed the "inclusiveness" of the text -- perhaps even exaggerated it, hoping to overcome resistance. Nevertheless, there was vigorous opposition to Bishop Trautman and Bishop SkIba's view that all responsible biblical scholars agree with them.

For example, Archbishop Elden Curtiss of Omaha, said that the alternative to approving is to have no Lectionary, and to have no Lectionary is to be in a worse situation. He observed that the revised text made an attempt to incorporate "inclusive language". He said he recognizes the problems of scholars who think it does not go far enough; but to have the new translation will be an improvement. "At least it gives us a chance to make the effort to improve the text", he said.

Archbishop William Levada of San Francisco, a member of the Committee on Doctrine and of the Vatican revision team, challenged the assertion that responsible scripture scholars agree on translation:

I'm going to speak as a member of the working group, but not on behalf of the working group; and I want to address some of the very substantial and serious issues raised by Bishops Trautman and Sklba this morning. And I have here a packet of things that may be a little scattered, but I ask your indulgence. And I also ask your indulgence with that timer, because they are substantive issues. Bishop Clark spoke to the substantive discussion we have had in the past; we all have our own view about how substantive our discussions are around these issues. ...

I'm going to address two issues: the question of horizontal language in the '86 New Testament translation, and the question of the Psalter.

Archbishop Quinn suggested that he heard from this morning's reports from Bishops Trautman and Sklba that this version that is being submitted is not in accord with current biblical scholarship. If that is the impression, and it may be the opinion of those bishops -- I think it is, probably -- I think it should be challenged.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     There There is no single criterion for what biblical scholarship accepts in the question of translation. And if you consult one scholar you will hear one thing, and then another you will hear another.

The problem, as I see it, is not between the 1986 New Testament translation with its inclusive language criteria -- and I refer you to your documentation page 116, Attachment 9, where you have presented in just over a page the criteria as articulated in the Preface of the 1986 [NAB] translation about inclusive language.

I think the editorial board of that New Testament translation, and some even today would say we think that that is a good application of inclusive language norms to the work of scriptural translation and respects the primary principle of fidelity to the text. ...

However, I think it's also important to recognize that the 1991 NAB Psalter used different criteria in arriving at a translation, an inclusive language translation of the Word of God-criteria which refer back to the 1990 guidelines adopted by our conference for translations and an application of those. And it's in the applications that the problems occur, and the differences of opinion occur.

Bishop Trautman cited three examples from the New Testament, I think to illustrate that what we have before us is not an inclusive language text. But I think that is not the case, and I would like to address those three examples.

One is Matthew 5:23 on Page 405 of the Lectionary. (I understand, speaking of our substantive discussions, that only ten requests were made by the body of bishops for these two full texts. In fact, I think we do base a lot on the report and the expertise of those who study. Its very difficult to go through two volumes like this.)

But let me just address Matthew 5:23. It's a Gospel, and Jesus is saying to his disciples, "Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar. Go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift."

Now, that translation is in fact what the Greek New Testament says. It says that Jesus is using an example in which he uses the language of "brother". He has other examples in which he talks about mother or father, son or daughter. But here he is saying "brother", I do not read that as an application to the entire community, but an instance of Jesus' own preaching. If you see that your brother has something against you -- he could have said "sister" -- but, "if your brother has something against you, then go and be reconciled with your brother". That's, I think, the reason why the editors of the '86 New Testament kept that a singular translation of adelphous.

Second, in Matthew 10:37-42, Jesus said to His Apostles, "Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.'" Those are [His words.] "And whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me."

If you look at Attachment 9, that shows you the style that the '86 New Testament used to address the repetition of "he who": ".....he who does not take up his cross..." -- "..... whoever does not take up his cross..." And you'll see in Attachment 9 in pages 116-133 of your green book, a list, a comparison of the 1970 and 1986 New Testament.

I think it's an exhaustive comparison. It's quite impressive if you look to see how our present Lectionary has been updated in regard to inclusive language and yet in respect to the fidelity of the text in the 1986 translation which you have before you and which we are presenting.

The example of "brother" in the text of Jesus is different from the vocative inclusion of adelphoi in Paul's epistles, which we have asked be translated "brothers and sisters" because it clearly is addressing the entire community.

Finally, with respect to the Psalter, the alternatives which we had were either the 1970 Psalter or the Grail Psalter. But we do not own the Grail translation, and the Grail translation that we use in the Liturgy of the Hours is not an inclusive translation. Therefore, because the 1970 Psalter is presently in [our] possession, we believed that it was appropriate to update it at the appropriate places with inclusive language changes and modifications which you have before you, and to continue to use it until the entire Old Testament revised NAB translation is ready for our consideration and adoption.

So I believe if you examine these texts carefully you will see that, in fact, that this is an inclusive language updated text that we are being asked to adopt and present to the Holy See for recognitio, and that we can be secure that, even if some biblical scholars do not think it represents the latest in Qumran, we quite agree with that. We hope that the new translation will do so, but that this is a significant improvement over what we have now and should serve us well in the interim until the Old Testament is ready.

Bishop Edward Egan of Bridgeport said that he believes "right now that we need a stable text".

The words of the Holy Scripture should be really ringing in our memories so that they ring in our hearts.

We listened carefully to Cardinal Keeler this morning. We've had several years of "Happy are the single hearted..." or "single minded", I forget which it was. This is not a happy situation. Very likely this came out of a certain number of intuitions from Scripture scholars and Scripture students. I understand that, I am in no way criticizing it. But we cannot change these texts every time a new group of intuitions or speculations come forward.

What we need right now is a stable text that can begin to ring in the memories of our people. I would hope that instead of talking about five years or seven years or ten years or any years, we would settle on a text right now. And not allow the best to destroy the good -- a best that is really a hoped-for best. I believe that the people, the priests, the faithful are looking to us to give them a stable text to be read in our liturgies. Let's settle on one and allow it to become part and parcel of our tradition and our culture, something that is ringing in our hearts and our ears. If we keep this up, I think we're going to lose the connection of our faith and the Word.

Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua of Philadelphia also spoke in favor of the revised Lectionary and the Rigali amendment:

First of all, I think it is the most realistic way of acting in view of all that has been said.

Secondly, I think the two major concerns that have been expressed are inclusive language and then, secondly, the translation of the Old Testament and scholarly advances in Scripture studies. I don't know what some of the speakers meant when they said there'd be widespread cutting. I recognize that. I've seen penciling in myself; but I don't know how widespread it is. Again, it's a matter of experience; but it's not my experience among the laity. I do not find that it's a matter of great urgency for them.

But I do believe that as far as the Scriptural updating and advancement and translation, that that is included in the resolution, because we use the words "possibly updating," which to me seems that we'll take into consideration translation of the Old Testament and also any new scholarly scriptural advancements.

And, finally, I hope that if this resolution is passed and is sent to the Holy See, that it might be beneficial to include a summary of the reasons and the concerns that have been expressed here in this discussion. I think it would be enlightening for the Holy See.

Bishop Allen H. Vigneron, auxiliary bishop of Detroit, said he favors the proposed text, but he stressed its scholarly superiority:

I speak in favor of giving the recognitio precisely because of what I judge to be the scholarly superiority of the translation that we've been given. I think the prior translations have much greater reliance on translation theories like "dynamic equivalency" and conceptual fidelity; and I think from a scholarly point of view there are many deficiencies in those understandings -- deficiencies about the nature of discourse; the kinds of deficiencies that philological study uncovered.

I think that, yes, everybody who is a student of letters or is engaged in any kind of literature study has an opinion about how to translate. But I do think that in a lot of those opinions there are rationalistic even post-modem -- biases about what constitutes good translation.

And I think that those biases need to be uncovered by a deeper critical study. So, I, from my studies, think that the translation we're presented with is more suitable, and in fact can be defended for its scholarship.

Bishop Trautman asked to respond to the points raised by Archbishop Levada.

I wanted to respond to Archbishop Levada to argue the point of Matthew 5:17* in reference to the translation: "If you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there. Go be reconciled with your brother."

I understood him to say that was proper because "Jesus said to his disciples". That is an incipit; it's in black bold print. That's an incipit; that's not part of the original Greek text. ** [inaudible comment from another bishop] That's the way I understood it anyways [sic]. We can discuss it, perhaps, privately later.

But I will still call to the body's attention the fact that this text is translated by all the contemporary translations in an inclusive way. So its not just the NRSV or the NAB, but all the contemporary versions -- God's Word, all the current translations*** -- have an inclusive rendering of this particular text.

If we vote in favor of this motion we are endorsing what two biblical scholars have called our attention to as not contemporary biblical theology.

* Bishop Trautman meant Matthew 5:23.

** An incipit is a short introductory phrase to give context to the Scripture reading during Mass. Bishop Trautman apparently misunderstood Archbishop Levada.

*** The translators of God's Word show their avowed "concern for appropriate use of gender-neutral language" by rendering Matthew 5:23 as follows:

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and remember there that another believer has something against you...

In the New Testament and Psalms -- An Inclusive Version, Matthew 5:23 is rendered:

So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your sister or brother has something against you...

In 1995, when this Oxford University Press re-revision of the NRSV appeared, Bishop Trautman issued a strong warning against it, saying it was an "irresponsible translation that offends the doctrine of the Church, and revealed truth of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The editors of this volume have done a great disservice to biblical scholarship and the need for a balanced use of inclusive language. "

He added that this version "even adds words not found in the original. In my opinion it is not so much a translation as a rewrite based on contemporary political and social ideologies."

The "Five Year Plan"

When the bishops voted on the amended motion to accept the Lectionary, the required 2/3 majority was not achieved. Mail ballots were sent to absent bishops.

If Volume I of the Lectionary is approved by the bishops, and if the "five year plan" is acceptable to the Vatican, work will begin immediately to revise Volume II in accordance with the Vatican Norms. This could be completed by the fall.

If Volume I should fail to receive the positive vote of the bishops, or if the Holy See does not accept the five year plan the current Lectionary would remain in use.

In effect, the five-year plan could make even a positive vote, in a more fundamental sense, inconclusive, unless the bishops actively move to stop the practice of "cutting and pasting" or penciling-in improvising "corrections" by those who are unsatisfied with the translations. Bishops could make a tamper-free text policy clear to their priests and liturgy offices.  If they do not, unauthorized altering of the Scripture will continue to create confusion, whether or not the new Lectionary is adopted.

While several bishops deplored improvizing, none mentioned the use of other Lectionaries unauthorized for use in the US. For example, the Canadian Lectionary based on "inclusivized" New Revised Standard Version is reportedly being regularly used by some US parishes. The NRSV was rejected for liturgical use by the Holy See in 1994, but books had already been printed, so temporary authorization was granted to use them until the translation problem is resolved -- for Canada alone. But Chicago's Liturgy Training Publications advertises the temporary Canadian Lectionary "for parishes desiring a more inclusive" version, and includes NRSV Scripture readings along with the text of the US Lectionary in these liturgy workbooks used throughout the United States.


The procedures for revising the Sacramentary are established by ICEL (International Commission on English in the Liturgy). All eleven national conferences that are members of ICEL must approve all texts before they can be submitted to the Holy See for final review and recognitio. As with all liturgical texts, the Vatican must grant approval before the Sacramentary may be used in the liturgy.

Also, unlike the Lectionary, which was first sent to Rome five years ago, the Sacramentary has not yet been submitted to Vatican officials.

The translators of the Sacramentary were selected by ICEL, not by the bishops. The translation principles employed for the revised Sacramentary are in the 1969 "Instruction on Translation" known as Comme le prevoit, which advocates a "free" approach to translation.

Early in the process, the American bishops asked that the nearly 3000 prayers of the Sacramentary be divided into several segments (e.g., the Order of Mass, the Propers for Saints, special prayers for Saint's Days and major Feasts, etc.). These segments were considered individually at each of several consecutive bishops' meetings.

Every other English speaking conference also met to approve all the revisions. In the US in particular, ICEL encountered difficulty and the process was delayed. Again, translation principles and "inclusive language" were problems.

During the years of discussions of the Sacramentary, individual bishops proposed hundreds of amendments to the texts. This was an immensely time-consuming procedure. The BCL, who worked closely with ICEL on the texts, rejected most of the bishops' amendments. Finally, of the hundreds proposed, only 160 were returned ("remanded") to ICEL asking for changes in the proposed text.

In November 1996, the US bishops accepted the final segments of the proposed Sacramentary -- but with these amendments. If ICEL had incorporated all the bishops' amendments into the final text, the Sacramentary would automatically have been approved at the June meeting for submission to the Holy See.

However, ICEL did not. A few weeks before the meeting, the Conference received ICEL'S disposition of these amendments. Of the 160 texts remanded, ICEL accepted 85 and rejected 75. Without debate the bishops approved all 85 amendments ICEL accepted by a vote of 194-11, and 73 of the 75 on the rejected list by a vote of 188-20.

The Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy then asked the bishops to vote against ICEL's rejection of these two texts, and proposed alternate language for both. The bishops voted against one BCL proposal, and the vote was inconclusive on the other.

These two texts were:

I. Sucipiat (people's response to the "Orate fratres"):

1973 ICEL version (current text): "May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands, to the praise and glory of his name, for our good and the good of all his Church.

ICEL proposed revision: "May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands for the praise and glory of God's name, for our good, and the good of all the Church.

BCL: "Lord, accept our sacrifice at the hands of your priest, for the praise and glory of your name, for our good and that of all the Church"

[NB-Here the BCL proposed recasting the original text in the second person, as a direct prayer to God. in order to amid the "God language problem" (elimination of "masculine pronouns for God).]

Vote: The bishops rejected both ICEL and BCL, so the present text would remain.

2. Agnus Dei:

1973 ICEL version: "This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are those who are called to his supper.

ICEL proposed revision: "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Blessed are those who are called to the banquet of the Lamb. "

BCL: "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those who are called to the banquet of the Lamb."

Vote: Inconclusive

Theological Complexities

That only these two texts selected by the BCL were discussed at the June meeting may suggest that the bishops were generally satisfied with ICEL'S work. But this would be simplistic. (One bishop seemed to express the view of many when he asked in apparent amazement "are these two the only texts we think are worth fighting for?")

The selection of these two texts was not insignificant, however; for at issue in each text were theological problems with ICEL's principles of translation of the Sacramentary. Disagreement about the way texts were translated by ICEL characterized the entire prolonged debate.

The two main concerns of the bishops were 1) elimination of sacral vocabulary (e.g. words with special theological meanings, like "blessed", "sin/sins" "merit", "only-begotten Son"); and 2) use of "inclusive" language (e.g., neutering masculine-gender collective nouns and pronouns, such as 'Father', 'Kingdom', 'Lord', 'brethren', 'he', 'his'.)

Occasionally the issues became deeply convoluted. A good example of this is #2 above. "Blessed are those... the banquet of the Lamb" actually restored a literal translation of Beali qui ad cenum agnii vocati sunt in the authorized Latin version, the "typical edition" or source text for the English translation.

Translators of the 1973 ICEL version, "Happy are those... his supper", evidently thought "Happy" and "supper" sounded more contemporary and informal than the literal Latin. This is a good example of the "dynamic equivalency", or "free" approach to translation, where words and phrases (or even entire concepts) may be deleted or changed if the translator judges it would be more "meaningful" to contemporary readers or listeners.

In this instance, however, the ICEL/BCL'S proposed change also eliminates the masculine pronoun "his" (referring to Christ) from the 1973 ICEL text; thus by changing "his supper" to "banquet of the Lamb" the new text could be seen as an instance of "vertical inclusive language" -- even though "his" does not appear in the original Latin text.

So, in this case, the bishops had to decide whether to accept a more literal translation of the Latin and a restoration of the word "blessed", or to retain the familiar 1973 ICEL version which retains the masculine pronoun for Christ.

Convoluted conundrums such as this contributed to the appearance of the bishops' indecisiveness. But most American bishops are not indifferent to translation problems, as their hundreds of proposed amendments attest.

Experience Gained, Issues Clarified

Every bishop who has been involved in this process knew from experience that each of the 160 remaining amendments to the Sacramentary could have resulted in long debate.

Although any bishop could, theoretically, have asked for any text to be separately considered, they have already been through this. In the years of discussions of the Sacramentary, the bishops have examined virtually every aspect of the doctrinal and theological issues involved in these translations.

Arguably, the basic issues involved in liturgical translation have been clarified by the extensive debates, but not resolved. Translation principles are still a focal point of disagreement.

Most bishops apparently think that they have done all that a national conference can do to amend the texts. Many seem to believe that the unresolved issues must be dealt with at a higher level, when the liturgical texts are examined by the Vatican.

The long process of approval of the Sacramentary and the Lectionary, a process which has occupied translators, conference committees and bishops -- meetings, drafts, dialogue, debate, votes, amendments accepted, amendments rejected, more meetings, more drafts, more debates, more dialogue -- did not produce accord.

Divisions Apparent

While the inconclusive votes do not indicate indecisiveness or indifference on the part of the bishops they do suggest the significant divisions within the conference -- divisions not merely over style or method, but fundamental disagreements over essential theological and ecclesiological matters.

This division was evident in the debates at the most recent meeting, as throughout the entire process surrounding both the Lectionary and the Sacramentary.

In some ways, the cleavage seemed to crystallize further in the final debates, as opinions seemed to harden around two essentially incompatible convictions about what a liturgical translation is supposed to accomplish.

Three bishops who were deeply involved in the revision of the Lectionary, Bishops Donald Trautman, Emil Wcela, and Richard Sklba expressed exasperation that their view of what constitutes "contemporary biblical scholarship" was not sustained by the Vatican Norms. All three strongly advocate the use of neutered English.

Bishop Trautman has also complained publically of "liturgical illiterates" whom he believes influence the Vatican, the media, and others to reject "inclusive language", in his June 19 address to the Notre Dame Pastoral Center for Liturgy. (He named ADOREMUS and CREDO as bad examples.)

Other bishops, however, disputed the implication that Vatican officials, scholars and many bishops who find serious theological problems at the root of the controversy over "inclusivism" are less skilled than those who produced the 1992 version.

What is Compromised by Compromise?

On both the Lectionary and the Sacramentary, the inconclusive vote seemed to signal a general lack of enthusiasm for the revised texts. Before the meeting one archbishop said of the latest version of the Lectionary, "It's not going to make anyone happy."

This may be the case. These were, in fact, "compromise" texts, and compromises seldom generate genuine enthusiasm. Compromises are necessary precisely in cases where unity and consensus do not exist among the participants -- where opinions are strong and emotions run high. As the venerable Benjamin Franklin quipped to the Constitutional Convention, "when two boards do not fit together, sometimes you must saw a little off of each".

This may work for resolution of impasses in the US Congress. But for Catholic worship, where transcendent truth, not majority opinion, is at stake, whittling at fundamental doctrinal and theological concepts in an attempt to make them fit comfortably within a model of the Church proposed by reformers is exceedingly risky. It may cause serious damage to the very structure being "repaired". Can compromise truly achieve the beauty and integrity and strength the Catholic Mass should embody for all?

Many bishops seem now to be aware of these risks, especially in revising the liturgy. If the result is not certain to be a marked improvement over what is now in place and familiar to people, what is to be gained?

If the revised translations are not more faithful, more beautiful, more accurate, more truly inspiring for Catholic believers, why go through the grindingly difficult, very expensive and sometimes divisive project of producing new books, or confronting increasingly restive (even suspicious) Catholics with more unsettling change? Many bishops may now be asking themselves if the result is really worth all the trouble.

What Now? What Next?

Now that so much time and money has been invested in this massive revision of the liturgy, it would be hard to decide abandon it or to change its course. But it is not too late to ask what theological and liturgical motives inspired the project.

Clearly a common element in both revision of the Lectionary and the Sacramentary, as is disputed by no one, is the commitment by the translators to employ "inclusive language" in response to a supposed "urgent pastoral need" of a minority of women who find standard English offensive. Many serious questions about how and why this view came to dominate Catholic liturgical circles and finds advocates among the bishops remain unanswered.

A further enigma is that so far only a few bishops seem to realize that the greatest "pastoral need" in the Church is not that of a minority of Catholics who view the Church as oppressive and badly in need of radical reform, but by the millions of believers who both desire and deserve authentic, beautiful liturgies untainted by feminist (or any other) politics.

In a re-translation and revision project of this magnitude -- both in its scope and historic significance for the future of the Church -- it is difficult to avoid becoming bogged down with the details of an exhausting, burdensome and often ego-bending task.

It may be difficult to find a perspective from which the present situation may be assessed serenely, objectively, with wisdom, sound judgment and secure faith. Difficult -- but absolutely necessary, and with God's help not impossible.


**Adoremus operates solely on your generous donations.**

Adoremus is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Donations are tax deductible.

Site Copyright © 1999 - Present by Adoremus
All rights reserved.

All material on this web site is copyrighted and may not be copied or reproduced without prior written permission from Adoremus, except as specified below:

Personal use
Permission is granted to download and/or print out articles for personal use only.

Brief quotations (ca 500 words) may be made from the material on this site, in accordance with the “fair use” provisions of copyright law without prior permission.  For these quotations proper attribution must be made of author and Adoremus + URL (i.e., Adoremus or Adoremus Bulletin – www.adoremus.org.)

Generally, all signed articles or graphics must also have the permission of the author. If a text does not have an author byline, Adoremus should be listed as the author.  For example: Adoremus (St Louis: Adoremus, 2005 + URL)

Link to Adoremus web site.
Other web sites are welcome to establish links to www.adoremus.org or to individual pages within our site.

Home | Join/Donate | Adoremus Bulletin | Archive | Index | Church Documents | Architecture | Posture | Music | Translation | What's NEW? | FAQ | Search Site | Site Map