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Online Edition Vol. II, No. 1: April 1996

The Long View of Short Breviaries:

What Does It Mean if a Text is 'Not Approved for Liturgical Use'?

by Helen Hull Hitchcock and Susan Benofy

In the summer of 1995, two editions of the psalms, revised by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) were published by Liturgy Training Publications, an agency of the Worship Office of the Archdiocese of Chicago. One is The Psalter, containing all 150 psalms. The other is Psalms for Morning and Evening Prayer, a short breviary, or prayerbook edition which includes psalms, canticles, readings and other prayers arranged in a fourweek format for a simplified version of the Liturgy of the Hours. Both books bear the imprimatur of Cardinal William Keeler, on the approval of the bishops' Ad Hoc Committee on the Review of Scripture Translations. Neither edition is approved for liturgical use. Neither was submitted to the full body of bishops for their approval.

In advance of the publication of the new books, the Newsletter of the Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy, (April 1995) noted the granting of an imprimatur to the ICEL liturgical psalter and mentions its publication (though only The Psalter is specified.) The BCL Newsletter also says, "By virtue of the imprimatur granted to the Psalter by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB), it may be used for private prayer and study, but it should be noted that the Liturgical Psalter in any form is not authorized for liturgical use in this country, i.e., in the Liturgy of the Hours."

Although this absence of authorization for liturgical use is noted in both published versions of the ICEL Psalter, it is clear that they were intended for that purpose. Psalms for Morning and Evening Prayer includes psalm tones and suggestions for use in the liturgy, and its Introduction by Sister Mary Collins, OSB, seems to urge such use. In fact, it is difficult to imagine why the short breviary version was published if not for use in the official Liturgy of the Hours. There have been no objections to this publication from the Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy (BCL) or any other agency of the NCCB.

Why is this noteworthy? A review of the recent history of the publication of breviaries reveals a sharp contrast in the reaction of the BCL to ICEL's new short breviary, and the response nearly twenty years ago to two similar prayerbooks. Like Psalms for Morning and Evening Prayer, both earlier breviaries used translations which bore an imprimatur, but were not approved for liturgical use. However, the earlier books were not permitted to be used even for "private prayer and study", and were ultimately suppressed.

Liturgical Press breviary stopped

On December 5, 1975 the National Catholic Reporter (NCR) ran a front page article that began: "The Liturgical Press has been ordered by the executive committee of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) to withhold distribution of The Book of Prayer. The book is an unofficial translation of the ... Liturgy of the Hours"....

The reason given for this decision of the NCCB (whose president was then-Archbishop Joseph Bernardin of Cincinnati) was that the Liturgical Press breviary did not contain the English translations of Scripture and prayers which had been approved by the NCCB. The Book of Prayer was intended as a successor to A Short Breviary, which had been published since about 1940 for Catholics who are not obliged to say the Divine Office by St. John's Abbey of Collegeville, Minnesota. The Abbey operates Liturgical Press.

Abbot John Eidenschink of St. John's explained to the NCR that there had been a distinction between those prayer books intended for official use (for example, in monasteries) and those intended for popular use by private individuals. The abbot believed that the latter needed only the approval of the bishop of a diocese. He thought this distinction had been maintained by a decree of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on liturgical books issued March 19, 1975.

This decree, Ecclesia Pastorum, said that "Liturgical books, including the vernacular translations or parts thereof, are to be published only by mandate of the conference of bishops and under its supervision, after consultation by the Holy See"; but it also said that "Prayer books for private use are also to be published only by permission of the local Ordinary."

"However," the abbot told the NCR, "the Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy appealed to Rome when our Book of Prayer became known, and the cardinal prefect of the Congregation for Worship gave this new (narrower) interpretation."

In October 1974, the Chairman of the BCL, Bishop Walter Curtis of Bridgeport had written to the Liturgical Press:

"It is immaterial, moreover, whether a translation of the Liturgia Horarum, in part or in whole, purports to be for private, individual, noncommunal use: such a publication must contain the official liturgical text." Furthermore, he said, a breviary containing an unapproved translation "would be a formal violation of the pastoral and canonical authority of the episcopal conference..."

This view was reiterated by Archbishop Bernardin in a letter to liturgical publishers dated December 12, 1975:

"All publications containing rites or excerpts of the rites of the Church are to use only the translation approved by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and confirmed by the Holy See. Even books of a private nature that contain excerpts from the rites of the Church must contain the official translation.

"A recent letter from Cardinal Knox, prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship, makes this clear: 'Private books of prayer cannot be published without the consent of the Ordinary, who in turn cannot authorize a translation other than that approved by the episcopal conference.'" [quoted in Thirty Years of Liturgical Renewal: Statements of the Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy, Washington, D.C., National Conference of Catholic Bishops, USCC, 1987, ed. with introduction and commentaries by Frederick R. McManus, p. 159.]

In his introduction to this letter in Thirty Years of Liturgical Renewal, Monsignor Frederick McManus mentions the controversy over the St. John's Book of Prayer, although he indicates that this occurred at a later date than the NCR account. It is clear that in 1975 St. John's was under the impression that it would only have to delay release of their short breviary until six months after a one-volume version of the NCCB-approved ICEL breviary became available. But the monks were later told that their Liturgical Press Book of Prayer could not be published at all, and the Bishop of St. Cloud withdrew his imprimatur. The actual suppression of the prayerbook published by the Liturgical Press occurred after Archbishop Bernardin's letter quoted above. (Monsignor McManus had been a peritus [expert] at Vatican II and a member of ICEL since its inception. He was also Executive Director of the BCL Secretariat from 1965-1975 and has remained a consultant to the BCL thereafter.)

Costello Controversy

On July 28, 1978, the NCR published a front-page story concerning the efforts of the BCL to block publication of another short breviary. This time, however, the book was being promoted by a commercial publishing house run by a Catholic layman, Harry Costello. Costello was planning to distribute a short version of a breviary that had an imprimatur and had been commissioned by the Bishops of Ireland and England and Wales and approved for liturgical use in England and Wales, Ireland, Australia and several other countries in which English is used in the liturgy. The book, however, had not been approved for liturgical use in the US.

Again, it appears that this was not a case of positive disapproval by the bishops, but of nonsubmission of the text to the full body of bishops. Nevertheless, a BCL memorandum quoted in NCR'S story stated that the publister was "going against a decisive vote of the episcopal conference." This memorandum was addressed to religious goods dealers in the US asking them not to distribute the Costello breviary. Most dealers complied with the bishops' directives, and canceled orders for the book. Costello attempted unsuccessfully to negotiate with the NCCB/USCC, suggesting the possibility of a disclaimer stating that the text was not approved for liturgical use.

In October 1976, Costello filed a federal antitrust suit against the bishops' conference. The suit eventually also involved the episcopal conferences of Ireland, England and Wales, and Australia, in addition to the NCCB. Although NCR predicted in 1978 that a settlement would be reached with a provision of no disclosure, the lawsuit continued at least into 1981. NCR quotes a document indicating that the legal expenses of the overseas conferences were paid by the NCCB, and estimates the total legal costs at $500,000. It is not clear from published accounts of the controversy what the exact outcome of Costello's suit was. But this prayer book was never allowed to be distributed in the US.

Both the NCR's July 1978 story and an article in Commonweal [August 19, 1977] dealing with the controversy over the Costello breviary suggest that the bishops' liturgy committee was less concerned with orthodoxy than with protecting the exclusive right of ICEL to supply these liturgical texts, and therefore to collect royalties. The NCR estimated then that the NCCB's share of ICEL royalties was $500,000 per year, and noted the overlapping responsibilities of people who were on the staff of both BCL and ICEL. This phenomenon of "interlocking directorates" persists to the present. (Monsignor Frederick McManus's affiliation with both ICEL and BCL is noted above. Sister Kathleen Hughes, RSCJ, who teaches at Chicago's Catholic Theological Union, is a longtime member of ICEL and a consulter to the BCL.)

Press accounts about the bishops' essentially financial motives for denying approval to the St. John's Book of Prayer and the Costello short breviary could be merely a manifestation of the well-known anti-establishment stance of both Commonweal and the National Catholic Reporter. (Both journals have made their reputations by publicly challenging a wide spectrum of Church teachings.) Nevertheless, the current tolerant response of the BCL to the publication of ICEL's Psalms for Morning and Evening Prayer -- which, like the others, is not approved for liturgical use, but which, unlike the others, does use the ICEL translation of the Psalms and other prayer texts -- lends credence to their speculations.

ICEL'S new Psalms for Morning and Evening Prayer is mentioned in the BCL Newsletter with only a mild disclaimer. Its publisher, Liturgy Training Publications, is an agency of the Archdiocese of Chicago; thus it also has the implicit approbation of Cardinal Bernardin, who had suppressed the Liturgical Press's Book of Prayer twenty years earlier.

Both the ICEL Psalter and Psalms for Morning and Evening Prayer are widely available in Catholic bookstores, and the bishops have raised no objections to its distribution. Its translation has been praised in the Catholic press for its freshness, concreteness and "inclusivity" but the fact that the texts are not approved for liturgical use is not mentioned.

An exception is Commonweal (November 17, 1995; pp. 1718), where two reviewers were sharply critical of the ICEL Psalms. The first, Ralph Thibodeau (a professor emeritus of music and humanities) quotes several passages that he calls "howlers" and "shockers", and says that "some of this work seems almost Runyonesque". He also comments on the extreme brevity of the ICEL versions of the psalms, noting that ICEL has reduced Psalm 51(50) to 18 words from 37 words in the Rheims-Douay version, and asks: "Even if we ignore the doggerel, isn't this simply dumbing down the Scriptures?"

The second review, by John C. Cort (a former editor of Commonweal) begins "The neuterization of God seems well underway." Noting Mary Collins's complaint that the translators had to "undo" their work due to the bishops' refusal to grant an imprimatur to the original ICEL translation that never used "he" for God, Cort comments: "The task of undoing some of their original work could not have been arduous. The translators restored, by this writer's count, exactly 6 masculine pronouns while leaving intact 703 deletions of masculine pronouns." He supports inclusive language in the Church, but denies that neutering God is part of this battle: "For if it is, then ICEL's major opponent, standing like Horatio at the bridge, is Jesus Christ Himself."

Why is the new ICEL breviary different from the others? Has the bishops' conference requirement that books containing rites of the Church contain only the approved text changed since 1978? Why is publication of the new short breviary produced by ICEL not in "formal violation of the ... authority of the conference" as the two suppressed versions were said to be? The only apparent difference among these prayer books is that one is a product of ICEL, and it employs the "inclusive" language so strenuously promoted by the liturgical establishment.

More New Prayerbooks

Other unapproved versions of texts for liturgical use have been published without objections from the BCL or individual bishops. One of these is At Home With the Word, also published by Liturgy Training Publications. The book contains the Sunday Scripture readings, reflections on them, and other prayers.

The copyright page notes that the Scripture readings are from the Revised Standard Version "as emended in the Lectionary for the Christian People". This "lectionary" is the work of two non-Catholics, Gordon Lathrop and Gail Ramshaw. Both Mr. Lathrop of the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia and Ms. Ramshaw of LaSalle University are editorial consultants of Worship, the influential liturgical journal published by St. John's Abbey, Collegeville. Ms. Ramshaw is known for her radical feminist opinions. It is clear that the "emendations" to the Scripture texts in the Lectionary for Christian People have been made for the sake of "gender neutral" language.

At Home With the Word also contains some prayers of the Mass, and a suggested form for morning and evening prayer. In addition to containing texts of rites of the Church in versions which lack approval for liturgical use, the book lacks an imprimatur. Yet it is promoted by its publisher as a guide to the Sunday Mass readings, to help the reader "gain familiarity with the books of scripture as they are set out in portions for us to feast on Sunday after Sunday". It is published by a diocesan worship office (Chicago), distributed widely throughout the United States, and has provoked no objections from the BCL or ICEL.

The psalms in At Home With the Word are taken from the 1995 ICEL psalter, and a version of the Salve Regina is from another ICEL production, A Book of Prayers.

A Book of Prayers is a collection of devotional prayers which, when submitted to the bishops in 1982, failed to garner the required two-thirds majority for approval (though it gained a simple majority in a 125 to 115 vote). Bishop John Cummins of Oakland, then chairman of the BCL, issued a letter defending the orthodoxy of the translations, pointing out that a majority of the American bishops had voted in favor of it, and that the book had been approved for use in Ireland. Bishop Cummins' letter also said

"Before the bishops' meeting, some groups conducted a campaign against the collection in which, implicitly or even explicitly, the orthodoxy of the translations -- and therefore of the translators and those who approved the translations -- was called into question. As a matter of correctness, and also of justice, this cannot go unchallenged." (Quoted in McManus, Thirty Years..., p. 219.)

In his introduction to Bishop Cummins' letter, Monsignor McManus calls A Book of Prayers "a careful and conservative translation" and says "improper criticism perhaps confused its initial reception, but need not stand in the way of future use."

Problems with the Grail Psalter

A similar situation occurred in 1984 when the first proposed revision of the Grail Psalter failed to secure the bishops' approval. (A later Grail revision was also rejected by the bishops in 1993.)

Cincinnati Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk, then BCL chairman and now president of the episcopal board of ICEL, issued a letter defending the 1984 Grail revision and the principles of inclusive language. His letter, dated March 1, 1985, also said that the BCL "looks forward to the publication of the revised psalter as a volume apart from any liturgical book or worship aid so that this version of the psalter may be tested and reviewed by biblical, liturgical, and musical experts."

Archbishop Pilarczyk's letter also urged the "authorization for liturgical use in the dioceses of the United States" of an inclusive language version of the psalter. Commenting on Archbishop Pilarczyk's letter, Monsignor McManus explains that the Grail Psalter is not approved for liturgical use and so cannot be used in the Liturgy of the Hours, and "is excluded from the Lectionary, from which the responsorial psalm is read or recited." However, he adds, "Fortunately for those desirous of using the revised Grail Psalter, it may be used in non-liturgical services like other 'unofficial' texts, which as devotional texts ordinarily have only local ecclesiastical approval. Indeed, it may be used in those parts of the liturgy for which prescribed or appointed official texts may be replaced almost at will, for example, by hymns or other songs with appropriate texts.

Monsignor McManus bases his opinion on a 1968 decision of the NCCB to allow "other collections of psalms and antiphons" for these parts of the Mass. At the time the conference was awaiting the music settings of the Simple Gradual. Monsignor McManus believed that a psalm in the rejected Grail translation could therefore be used as a sung responsorial psalm.

Monsignor McManus said,

"Thus, the revised version of the Grail Psalter is excluded from the psalmody of the liturgy of the hours, for which the unrevised Grail Psalter alone is prescribed. It is likewise excluded from the lectionary, from which the responsorial psalm is read or recited.

"On the other hand, the new version may well be used at the eucharistic celebration as a substitute for the appointed texts of the entrance and communion processions -- along with hymns and various responsorial songs, which are rather freely chosen. This choice was allowed by the NCCB as far back as November 1968: So far as 'other collections of psalms and antiphons in English' are concerned. It is permissible to include 'psalms arranged in responsorial form, metrical and similar versions of psalms, provided they are ... selected in harmony with the liturgical season, feast, or occasion.' In November 1969, the NCCB made a further concession to allow, in accordance with specific criteria of choice, 'other sacred songs not from the psalter.'"

Does this mean that Scripture texts that are judged by the vote of the bishops to be unworthy can still be used in the liturgy of the Church so long as it is sung and not read? Could this explain why there is a new enthusiasm among liturgists for singing virtually the entire Mass? If so, have the bishops allowed their authority to be suborned? Can the bishops ever effectively weed out any translations or revisions of Scripture or other liturgical texts which they are convinced are defective?

If Bishop Cummins's comment that any criticism of a text implicitly questions "the orthodoxy of the translators and those who approved the translations" represents the view of many bishops, it may help to explain the difficulty now surrounding bishops' consideration of the many proposed translation and revisions of Scriptural and liturgical texts. Most bishops surely do not want to be accused of impugning the integrity of their committees or a brother bishop.

If this situation persists, it may seriously impede the bishops' free and objective appraisal of the proposed texts and hamper the exercise of their responsibility to guide the Church's worship.

***

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