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Vol. II, No. 4: July/August 1996
Liturgy Occupies Bishops at Spring Meeting
ICEL revisions of Roman Missal near completion

by Susan Benofy and Helen Hull Hitchcock

THE PROPOSED REVISIONS of the Roman Missal (Sacramentary), Segments V and VI, again occupied the National Conference of Catholic Bishops [NCCB] at their Spring meeting in Portland, Oregon June 20-22, 1996.

All the items voted on at this meeting concerned the liturgy (including an indult for funerals with cremated remains present); but the bishops also discussed the implementation of the Vatican document on Catholic higher education, Ex Corde Ecclesiae, and the reorganization of the NCCB/USCC. They are scheduled to vote on these items in November, when Segment VII of the Sacramentary will also be presented for debate and vote.

Approval of Liturgy Items

Even before the meeting officially opened, the bishops discussed matters of translation during a closed session on Thursday morning, July 20. Some bishops later said they welcomed the opportunity to raise serious concerns about feminist language and liturgical translation criteria in a situation free of the restrictions imposed by the parliamentary procedure of their formal meetings. This closed session also had the effect of limiting time spent on floor debates on the liturgy items.

All the liturgy items ultimately received the required 2/3 majority vote of the 265 bishops eligible to vote. Votes taken at the meeting on some sections of the revisions and "American Adaptations" of the Roman Missal were inconclusive, and required mail-in ballots. (Results were announced in late August.)

Bishops had requested hundreds of amendments, but only a few were accepted. Amended texts are returned to the International Commission on English in the Liturgy [ICEL], the group of liturgists and translators who are revising and retranslating the liturgical texts. Then ICEL decides whether to accept the bishops' amendments to their translations and revisions. The texts must then be sent back to all the English-speaking conferences for final vote.

Even if all these revised liturgical texts-both the proposed Sacramentary (prayers of the Mass) and the Lectionary (Scripture used at Mass) -- are eventually approved by all the English-speaking conferences, they will still require approval of the Holy See before they can be used in the liturgy. Thus, even bishops who may favor the changes cannot implement them in their dioceses until this established process is complete.

Until recently, the approval procedure was almost a formality, and approval of the proposed English translations of the Sacramentary and Lectionary was virtually automatic -- both at the level of the national conferences and at the Holy See. However, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith determined that the first proposed English version of the Catechism of the Catholic Church was not adequate, and it required revision.

Status of Revised Lectionaries: Still Unapproved

Although Scripture texts for use in the liturgy are approved through a somewhat different process at the conference level, the bishops are also much concerned about the new Scripture translations proposed for use in the Lectionaries-the New Revised Standard Version [NRSV] and the Revised New American Bible [RNAB].

So far these versions have been deemed inadequate for use in the Church's liturgy. Both re-translations of the Bible incorporated so-called "inclusive" language demanded by feminists, and other related revisions, which affected the meaning of the texts.

The US bishops' Liturgy Committee submitted a Lectionary based on the RNAB about four years ago, but it has not received Vatican approval. Despite several meetings between Vatican officials and representatives of the NCCB and American translators, the Lectionary still has not been approved. The most recent of these meetings took place in July, just after the NCCB June meeting.

Last year, after meeting with the American panel, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued principles of Scripture translation which must be observed for all these English-language revisions. These so-called "secret norms"* have never been made public -- not even to bishops. (*They were later released.--ed.) Only those directly involved in the translations have seen them.

During a press conference at the Portland meeting, Bishop Donald Trautman, chairman of the Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy, explained that a corrected version of the first thousand pages of the proposed RNAB Lectionary had been submitted to the Holy See.

He also told reporters that the "secret norms" were similar to the US bishops' 1990 document, "Criteria for the Evaluation of Inclusive Language in Scripture Texts for Liturgical Use". The "Criteria" established in principle the use of "inclusive language" relating to gender and other factors, such as "sensitivity" to various disabilities (e.g., "persons with leprosy", rather than "lepers") and religions (e.g. "the Jewish leaders", rather than "the Jews").

Bishop Trautman said these meetings had been productive, in that the Vatican officials "understand us better". But the report on the July meeting between Vatican officials and the American translation panel did not say that the most recent revisions of the proposed Lectionary submitted by the American committee had been acceptable to the Vatican. Presumably, more work is needed.

Priests or "Presbyters"

The bishops submitted 252 written amendments to Segment V-Proper of the Saints, nearly all of which were rejected before the meeting by the Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy [BCL].

One group of amendments dealt with ICEL's use of the word "presbyter" in the description of saints who were priests. In one amendment regarding the use of "presbyter", Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua of Philadelphia remarked, "one cannot help but wonder if this is not another of ICEL's attempts to reeducate the Catholic people by demythologizing the notion of 'priest."'

The BCL insisted on the use of the unfamiliar word "presbyter" for priest on the grounds that the term is necessary to distinguish between ordinary priests and bishops:

"The word 'presbyter' will be retained in the prayers, since they are translations of the Latin and the distinction has been made by the Apostolic See."

A similar reply was given to the other amendments offered on this point. But during the meeting an addendum listing 18 new accepted amendments, all attributed to the Liturgy Committee, was distributed. All these replaced "presbyter" with "priest" (or inserted "priest" where it had been omitted) in the various prayers.

On Sacral Language

Another large group of amendments dealt with retention of the title "saint" or the adjectives "holy" and "blessed" where they appeared in the Latin, but not in the English translation. All of these amendments were rejected. The reason given by the BCL was that the usage in the original Latin was inconsistent, and that such terms as <beatus> were often merely rhetorical.

To a bishop's request that "holy" be re-inserted before "apostle" to correspond to the Latin, the BCL responded that "the very nature of the apostles was that they were 'holy."' (They did not offer an opinion as to why the word "holy" was thought important enough to include in the Latin original.)

Biographies of Saints

The second part of Segment V, biographies of the saints, contained several instances of pejorative comments, which were amended at the request of bishops. For example, Saint Cyril of Alexandria was said to have "a somewhat intransigent and confrontational personality". It was said that he was "remembered for his ardent defense of orthodoxy, even at the cost of provoking rivalry, condemnations, and schism."

Strong objections from Archbishop Justin Rigali of Saint Louis and Cardinal James Hickey of Washington, D.C. resulted in a change to the wording proposed by the latter. The biographies, as amended, passed by a vote of 184 to 24.

The third part of Segment V, the Roman Calendar, included a list of proposed new titles for categories of saints. These include replacing older titles such as king or emperor with the single term "ruler" and "teacher" with "educator." This segment passed by a vote of 189 to 15.

Holy Week Changes

Segment VI dealt mainly with Holy Week, but also included the Antiphonal for Volume I of the Sacramentary and other texts. The bishops' objections to proposed revisions of liturgical texts for Holy Week centered on the "alternative texts" supplied by ICEL for the Good Friday Reproaches and the Exsultet for Holy Saturday.

Cardinal Bevilacqua, in a written amendment, said, "The provision of an alternative Exsultet is particularly troubling. It has a sort of 'cosmic' orientation and moves toward a New Age mentality of seeing divinity identified with creation. It is hard to imagine what need there might be for such a text ..."

The BCL did not accept Cardinal Bevilacqua's amendment. It replied: "The Exsultet is a praise of all creation in the face of the resurrection of Christ. The same criticism could be directed to the traditional text."

Cardinal Bevilacqua no doubt had in mind passages in the ICEL alternative text with no counterpart in the traditional text; passages such as:

"Rejoice, O mother moon, that marks the months!"

"Awaken, earth! Awaken, air and fire!"

"... surging seas that cradle earth and rock against her breasts."

The vote on the liturgical texts for Holy Week was inconclusive, but passed on the mail ballot.

The second section of Segment VI included the American variations for Holy Week, i.e. rubrics or texts changed from the Latin version of the rite.The discussion of this section focused on the proposed change in the foot washing on Holy Thursday. Officially, those participating in this rite must be men; the liturgical books speak of viri selecti -- the men selected. ICEL renders this "those selected."

In a carefully detailed argument, Cardinal Bevilacqua objected to this translation and insisted that the deliberate use of the masculine word viri indicated "a focus on the apostolic service of charity as an example for all Christians and certainly for the successors of the apostles."

The BCL, rejecting another of Cardinal Bevilacqua's amendments, responded that the proposed variation, which would include women as well as boys in the ritual, "reflects current practice".

Variations for Holy Week were accepted by a vote of 177 to 28.

Pastoral Introductions, Blessed Sacrament Chapels

Another part of the Holy Week revisions concerned the Pastoral Introductions. These are introductory comments, written by ICEL, containing advice on how liturgical ceremonies should be conducted.

One item in this section which was debated has significance beyond the celebration of Holy Week liturgies. The Pastoral Introduction for Holy Thursday says: "The rites presume that the eucharist is normally reserved in churches in a separate blessed sacrament chapel."

Cardinal James Hickey of Washington, DC, observed that relevant documents recommend a separate chapel only when private devotion would be difficult in the main part of the church. He adds:

"Clearly on the basis of these documents, the Holy Thursday ritual does not presume that normally churches will have a separate Blessed Sacrament chapel. In fact, the rubrics from the current sacramentary which speak of preparing a special place of reposition make this abundantly clear."

The wording was changed, and the Pastoral Introduction for Holy Week passed by a vote of 181 to 25.

The Antiphonal for Volume I includes many texts intended to be sung. Ninety-four amendments were offered to this section. Almost all of these express a view that the new translations of these antiphons (and some Latin hymns such as the Pange Lingua) are theologically inadequate. Some phrases were not translated at all, and some passages in the English version do not appear in the Latin. Virtually all amendments were rejected. The vote on the Antiphonal was inconclusive, but received the necessary 2/3 vote on the mail ballot.

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