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Online Edition:
December 2012
Vol. XVIII, No. 9

USCCB November 2012 Meeting

Bishops Promote Penance, Preaching, for the New Evangelization

by Helen Hull Hitchcock

“We have a lot on our plate,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan said as the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) began its semiannual plenary meeting held in Baltimore November 12-15.

In his presidential address to his brother bishops on Monday, November 12, Cardinal Dolan listed some of the “urgent issues” the bishops face: the suffering caused by the recent hurricane, the “imperative” of the New Evangelization and the Year of Faith, urgent social and religious freedom issues (highlighted by the November 6 national elections) — “all issues calling for our renewed and enthusiastic commitment.”

Yet, we must put “first things first,” he said. “We gather as disciples of, as friends and believers in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, ‘the Way, the Truth, and the Life.’ We cannot engage culture unless we let Him first engage us; we cannot dialogue with others unless we first dialogue with Him; we cannot challenge unless we first let Him challenge us.”

The “first thing” Cardinal Dolan emphasized is the recovery of the Sacrament of Penance, which “evangelizes the evangelizers, as it brings us sacramentally into contact with Jesus, who calls us to conversion of heart, and allows us to answer His invitation to repentance — a repentance from within that can then transform the world without.”

Dense Agenda

At the public sessions November 12 and 13, the bishops worked through a dense agenda — ranging from approving a proposal for a document on the bishops’ use of new social communication technologies to endorsing the cause for sainthood of Dorothy Day.

Barely a week after the elections that present particular challenges to Church teachings (i.e., the health care act and same-sex marriage) the bishops heard reports on the defense of religious liberty (by Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty), and on the defense of marriage (by Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, chairman of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage).

The bishops elected several officers: a new treasurer-elect (Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas) and new chairmen-elect of the committees on Consecrated Life and Vocations (Bishop Michael Burbidge of Raleigh), Divine Worship (Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston), Domestic Justice and Human Development (Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami), Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth (Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo), and Migration (Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, auxiliary Seattle). The newly elected chairmen will take office in November 2013.

Liturgy-related Actions

Several action items and decisions made during this meeting directly relate to Catholic worship, although unlike many recent USCCB meetings, there were no long debates over liturgical translation. The bishops also heard a report from Monsignor Jeffrey Steenson, Ordinary of the Anglican Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, established for the US and Canada January 1, 2012, on progress in receiving new members and in developing the liturgical texts for the ordinariate.

Penance and Reconciliation

The bishops overwhelmingly approved (236–1) a “Pastoral Exhortation on the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation,” prepared by the bishops’ Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, headed by Bishop David Ricken of Green Bay.

Bishop Ricken said that the invitation to confession “might assist in the conversion of hearts for Jesus Christ, which is at the heart of evangelization.” The very brief exhortation (four paragraphs) opens with Jesus’ words to the apostles after His resurrection from the Gospel of John, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them” (John 20:19-23).

Bishop Ricken pointed out the exhortation is “rooted in the teachings” of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and its very brevity is intended to encourage wide dissemination in parish bulletins, diocesan publications, and social media — even a pamphlet. The exhortation, Bishop Ricken said, reminds Catholics that “Pope Benedict XVI has said, ‘The new evangelization ... begins in the confessional!’” It will be made public in time to prepare for Lent 2013.

Revising the Liturgy of the Hours

The bishops approved what was termed a “Scope of Work” to start the process of updating the Liturgy of the Hours (a/k/a Divine Office, or breviary), to reflect more accurately the Latin original and to incorporate texts of the new Roman Missal. By a vote of 189 to 41, with one abstention, the bishops approved beginning this work.

Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans, chairman of the Committee on Divine Worship, said it would probably take three to five years to complete the revision.

The “Scope of Work” consisted of 23 components to be updated in the Liturgy of the Hours, including incorporating psalms from the Conception Abbey Revised Grail Psalter, and having the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) retranslate the Benedictus and Magnificat antiphons and the Te Deum, and update the Proper of Saints. ICEL will also provide English translations of the Latin hymns. The psalm prayers that appear only in the US version of the Liturgy of the Hours will be eliminated, and the traditional “Glory be” is expected to be restored (“as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end, Amen”), replacing the version in the current books (“is now and will be forever”).

The voting process on this item was somewhat confused. In fact, the vote was taken twice. After an initial vote (203–14, one abstention), Bishop Robert Brom of San Diego asked to speak, saying he had not been recognized earlier, and Cardinal Dolan reopened the discussion.

Bishop Brom said that in his diocesan “listening sessions” priests in particular objected strongly to the new Missal translation. He said that they found the new texts “complicated and awkward,” and that the “priests expressed in unison” that the new Missal “is a burden, not a blessing” so the Missal should not be used as a base translation for any other liturgical books.

Cardinal Dolan called for a new vote on the proposed “Scope of Work.” In the re-vote a very strong majority (82%) still favored the plan for revising the Liturgy of the Hours.

Preaching

“Preaching the Mystery of Faith: The Sunday Homily” is the bishops’ first statement on preaching in 30 years, said Archbishop Robert J. Carlson of St. Louis, in his presentation to the bishops. (“Fulfilled in your hearing” dates from 1982; the bishops had first proposed revising it in 2005.)

Archbishop Carlson is chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations, which prepared the document in consultation with eight other USCCB committees. The 54-page document received very strong approval from the bishops (227–11, 4 abstaining).

“Preaching the Mystery of Faith” is rooted in Pope Benedict XVI’s apostolic exhortation Verbum Domini (The Word of the Lord) issued two years ago, Archbishop Carlson said. He told this reporter that the new document first of all “responds to the Holy Father’s request that we do a better job of preaching for the new evangelization.” He noted that the National Advisory Council had asked for a helpful document on preaching; furthermore, he said, “as we looked at this, we knew that we not only have to preach, but we also have to catechize.”

The document talks about scriptures, the archbishop pointed out, but it also says that the local ordinary “will ask certain things from priests in his diocese” in order to improve preaching. When asked if concrete actions are being taken to achieve this, Archbishop Carlson mentioned that Bishop David Ricken of Green Bay is having a consultation with priests, and people are being invited to come and give suggestions. He also said that Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St. Louis had prayed a novena for this intention; and will hold workshops to implement this new commentary on preaching.

“I like to say there is one 18-inch strip from our head to our heart,” he said, and it is important to make a strong connection between them. “Each week do Lectio Divina, which is not just an academic presentation of the scriptures,” but a prayerful meditation and contemplation of the word of God. “Through the Lectio Divina the priests will deepen their own understanding of the Gospel so that they can more adequately share it with the people,” he explained. “Saint Polycarp said that a priest has to stand at the altar in such a way that the people do not see him but see Christ,” Archbishop Carlson said. The priest’s homily should “open up the power of the text — to deeper things.” He mentioned that workshops with priests, deacons, and seminarians could highlight how to “reflect in their preaching how Jesus preached.”

“Preaching the Mystery of Faith” will be published as soon as the Spanish translation is completed. However, Adoremus received permission to publish quotations from the document. (See sidebar.)

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