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Online Edition -
December 2005-January 2006
Vol. XI, No. 9

USCCB November Meeting

by Helen Hull Hitchcock

At their plenary meeting in Washington, DC, November 14-17, 2005, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) took action on three items involving the liturgy. They held their first formal discussion of a translation of the Order of Mass of new Roman Missal; they accepted a revision of a Lectionary for Masses with Children; and they approved a document on professional lay Church workers, entitled “Co-workers in the Vineyard of the Lord: Resource for Guiding Development of Lay Ecclesial Ministry”.

In a departure from standard practice at the fall plenary meetings, the only sessions open to the press were the first day and a half. The rest was held in “executive session”.

Other business during the public sessions included electing a new general secretary (Monsignor David Malloy), approving a statement opposing capital punishment, proclaiming an observance for mariners, and a preliminary presentation on “priorities and plans”, reorganizing committees and addressing budget problems.

Children’s Lectionary

The bishops’ debate and vote on the Lectionary for Masses with Children -- a long-delayed project -- was brief; and a simplified version of the New American Bible-based US Lectionary was approved with little opposition. Approval by the Holy See is required, and is expected. Concern about the wisdom of using a different Lectionary for children’s Masses -- as well as “dumbing-down” the Bible for youngsters -- has surfaced in the past, but these issues were not revisited in any depth. The use of the Lectionary for Masses with Children is highly restricted. It may be used only at Masses where the congregation is almost entirely children -- defined as “pre-pubescent” (under age ten); and it is not required even then. The problematic matter of conducting separate “Liturgies of the Word” for children during a regular Mass was mentioned, but was not a matter for conference action at this meeting.

Missal Translation

A transcription of the bishops’ discussion of the second draft translation of the Order of Mass from the 2002 Roman Missal appears in this issue. This draft was produced by the recently re-organized International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL), the group that has provided English translations for its eleven member countries (and 15 others) since it was founded in 1964.

A copy of this latest draft was sent to bishops before the meeting. Bishop Donald Trautman, chairman of the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy, introduced the topic for discussion, and reported on a mail survey on selected texts the BCL had conducted. Reports were also given by Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb, representing Vox Clara, and by Monsignor Bruce Harbert, executive secretary of ICEL.

(Vox Clara is an international committee of bishops established by the Holy See in April 2002 to expedite the English translation of the new Missal, to oversee the translation of liturgical texts, and to provide translation norms. The US bishops’ representative to ICEL is Cardinal Francis George, now vice-president of the USCCB and former chairman of the BCL.)

The bishops’ discussion of the ICEL draft was primarily focused on several texts from the present 1970 translation that the BCL panel proposed should be retained --out of “pastoral sensitivity” to the congregation, who would, it was argued, have difficulty learning new texts. One example is the response to the priest’s greeting, “The Lord be with you”. The new translation, “And with your spirit” (Latin: et cum spiritu tuo), would replace “And also with you”, the version now in use. This text was specifically mentioned in Liturgiam authenticam as requiring an accurate translation. (Liturgiam authenticam [Authentic Liturgy] is the Holy See’s fifth Instruction on the implementation of the Second Vatican Council’s constitution on the Liturgy, released in 2001.)

As the discussion -- and “test votes” on the BCL’s proposals -- revealed, the bishops are about evenly divided on the BCL proposal at present. At issue is the more accurate and distinctively sacral tone of the new translations, called for by Liturgiam authenticam. (The present BCL chairman, Bishop Trautman, is a vigorous and public critic of Liturgiam authenticam.)

It may seem paradoxical that some bishops who rigorously insist that people must change customary practices such as kneeling after Communion, now argue that retaining flawed translations from the first period of post-conciliar reform is necessary to show “pastoral sensitivity” to the people. A common basis for this apparent inconsistency, however, is resistance to efforts to restore a greater sense of sacredness, dignity, and reverence to liturgical celebrations -- efforts often dismissed as “retrograde”, “rigid”, or even as a rejection of the Council itself.

Some bishops hope for a fuller discussion of the proposed translations by the conference as a whole, rather than restricting attention only to the BCL panel’s sampling of isolated texts. At the end of the discussion, one bishop asked if the Holy See might intervene if the US bishops fail to reach a consensus on the ICEL texts. This is a possibility, and it has happened in the past.

The objective is to have the completed Missal translation ready for use in 2007. A member-country’s changes to ICEL texts might be returned to ICEL for possible amendment and re-vote of all the member-countries. (This happened in the past, as in the protracted process surrounding the proposed revision of the “Sacramentary” in the 1990s.) Now, however, it is at least theoretically possible that a single conference of bishops could alter some texts for their country alone; although this would conflict with the Holy See’s long-standing aim to have common vernacular texts for countries sharing a common language. Any such deviations would require approval by the Holy See, of course.

The bishops’ discussion at the November meeting made it clear that they are far from reaching a consensus on these matters; and that there is much confusion on many levels. The good news is that many more bishops are now fully convinced of their direct responsibility for the liturgy -- a radical change from the years when the body of bishops could be expected to rubber-stamp almost anything the committee “experts” proposed. Most bishops apparently agree that the translation of the Mass is so fundamental to the life of the Church that no effort should be spared to get it right this time.

SEE: Bishops Discuss Mass Translations
Transcription of the discussion of ICEL’s draft Mass texts at USCCB November meeting

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