Liturgy, Catholic identity, Young Adults, Restructure, Occupy US
Bishops at Fall 1996 Meeting
A VERY HEAVY AGENDA confronted the National Conference of Catholic
Bishops [NCCB] as they gathered for their semi-annual meeting at
the Omni-Shoreham Hotel in Washington, DC November 11-13.
Items on the agenda ranged from the last two segments of the
proposed revision of the Roman Missal, to the "Implementation" of
a Vatican document mandating the religious integrity of Catholic
colleges and universities, to a new pastoral statement on ministry
to young adults, and included continued discussion of a proposal
for sweeping restructure of the NCCB and the USCC (United States
Catholic Conference). The reorganized structure, if the proposal
is accepted, would be called the United States Catholic Conference
of Bishops (USCCB).
Although other agenda items received the bishops' attention-
especially the restructuring proposal-important liturgical items
once again were a primary concern, although debate over the
proposed liturgical revisions was relatively subdued, in contrast
to the past several meetings.
The proposed Implementation of the Vatican statement on Catholic
higher education, ("From the Heart of the
Church"), watered down the original document's strong directives
and contained no mechanism whatever to insure that even its mild
suggestions be observed by the Catholic colleges and universities.
Although provoked instant expressions of
outrage from many Catholic university presidents (it would
interfere with "academic freedom"), the NCCB Implementation
pleased them. This is not surprising, since several heads of major
Catholic universities were members of the committee, headed by
Bishop John Leibrecht, of Springfield, Missouri, which produced
the Implementation. However, the bishops' weak document will not
lessen the concern of Catholic faculty members who rarely
encounter strong support for Catholic teaching in Catholic
universities; nor the serious concern of Catholic parents who have
often made considerable sacrifices to send their children to
Catholic institutions of higher learning in the expectation that
there would be at least a "preferential option" for teaching
consistent with the Catholic faith.
Final Segments of ICEL Sacramentary
The final portions of the revision of the Roman Missal, the
Sacramentary (prayers used at Mass), contained three sets of
texts: 1) The texts for Masses, feasts of US saints and civil
holidays; 2) Segment VII of the revision proposed by the
International Commission on English in the Liturgy [ICEL], the
Common of Saints, Ritual Masses (i.e., Masses offered in
connection with the conferral of a Sacrament such as Baptism), I
Votive Masses, and Masses for the Dead; and 3) Segment VIII,
Masses and Prayers for Various Needs and Occasions, Antiphonal for
Volume TWO, Other Texts.
As with earlier revisions, hundreds of amendments were offered by
the bishops to these texts, few of which were accepted by the
Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy [BCL]. There was very little
debate on the floor over the rejected amendments, in contrast to
the past several bishops' meetings. Most of the problems had
already been debated-for example, ICEL's substitution of the Greek
word 'presbyter' (leader) for 'priest', inadequate translation of
words expressing dependence on God and the theology of grace, and
general desacralization of the language used in the Mass texts.
In the past most amendments were rejected on the grounds that the
ICEL translation was in accord with the 1969 Instruction on the
Translation of Liturgical texts, known as
(CLP). The text of CLP had been included in copies of the revised
texts given to the bishops, and the BCL's rationale for rejecting
amendments frequently referred to it. The Liturgy Committee still
relied heavily on CLP in the latest segments. Printed copies of
rejected amendments began with several pages of "Introductory
Notes" which gave general explanations of issues raised by the
bishops. Rationales for rejecting individual amendments generally
referred to these notes. One passage in the Introductory Notes
The Committee carefully considered all motions based on stylistic
concerns. However, due to the length of the process and the
complexity of remanding texts to ICEL for further consideration of
eleven episcopal conferences, motions based on objections which
are basically stylistic in nature (even if the points are well
taken) were not accented.
The Introductory Notes do not acknowledge the fact that bishops
often offer amendments precisely because they see theological
problems with the language of ICEL translation.
The Antiphons in Segment VIII caused particular problems. Because
these texts are meant to be sung, permits
"flexibility" in their translation. A few examples:
St. Louis Archbishop Justin Rigali suggested that in the opening
antiphon for the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, "It would seem
advantageous to retain the traditional form of the citation from
the Hail Mary. There would be less confusion for the people." He
advocated the restoration of traditional words like "thee" in the
Hail Mary. The BCL in rejecting his amendment, argued that the
updated translation of the "Hail Mary" appears in , approved by the Administrative
Committee of the NCCB several years ago.
Bishop Roberto Gonzalez of Corpus Christi objected that "dance for
joy" is not an accurate translation of "exsultet." The BCL stated
that the corresponding Hebrew word "is translated The
root implies something to do with a circle.... It is
likely...that it connotes a dance for joy, such as a ring dance."
Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua of Philadelphia objected to the
translation of the opening prayer for the feast of St. Andrew
based on the Lord's call to Peter and Andrew beside the lake of
Galilee. The Latin, ("Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men") is
rendered by ICEL, "Follow me, and fish for people."
"'Fish for people' just does not swim!", Cardinal Bevilacqua
commented. Yet the BCL insisted, imprecisely, that "This is a
precise translation of the Latin."
These typical examples of the bishops' attempt to amend the ICEL
texts illustrate some of the principal problems with the
revisions, and the reason for the debate and controversy
surrounding them. The ICEL translations and revisions seem to
reveal a theology of the Mass and an ecclesiology-a view of the
meaning of the Church-that many bishops find problematic or
Even considering only the style of the translations, the new ICEL
effort further diminishes the sacred character of the texts; and
many changes (like "fish for people") intended to be sensitive to
certain interest groups (in this case, feminists) have the flat
affect of most products of committees. The result is prosaic at
The sense of the Mass as a sacrifice is virtually eliminated in
the ICEL approach to translation. What is sacrificed, in these new
texts, is beauty, tradition, sacral language, a sense of
timelessness and transcendence-and too often even basic accuracy
Where Do We Stand?
All the texts presented at this meeting passed with more than the
required two-thirds majority. So all segments of the ICEL
Sacramentary have now been approved by the NCCB. This does not
mean that the process is over, however. In dozens of instances,
texts from these segments were sent back to ICEL. These "remanded"
texts must all be reconsidered by ICEL, who will decide whether to
incorporate the amendments from all the English-speaking bishops'
conferences into the final version. Then the final revised texts
will be presented to all eleven English-speaking episcopal
conferences for their final approval.
Assuming it is approved by all these national conferences (the
United States is by far the largest and most influential), the
entire ICEL Sacramentary will be sent to the Congregation for
Divine Worship. Vatican approval is required before any new text
can be used in the liturgy.
Bishop Donald Trautman of Erie, outgoing chairman of the BCL who
has overseen the entire Sacramentary approval process, does not
expect immediate confirmation. Responding to a reporter, he said,
"I would suggest it probably would be a long time on the part of
the Apostolic See to revise the texts. I say that based on the
experience we're having with the Lectionary."
Since the process of debate and vote within the conference failed
to produce significant improvements to the ICEL revision of the
Roman Missal, many bishops (including those whose amendments were
repeatedly rejected) now depend upon Rome to accomplish what they
could not. During the past several years of controversy
surrounding revisions of texts used for Mass-both the Lectionary
(Scripture) and the Sacramentary-the US bishops have become
markedly polarized, as the many energetic debates revealed.
Debates were minimal on the final segments of the ICEL
Sacramentary, in part because it had become clear that "dialogue"
could not resolve the differences differences which include, but
go far beyond, mere matters of style. Bishops who had raised
serious concerns about the texts in the past, only to have their
amendments rejected or voted down, seemed weary, disspirited,
resigned. The vast majority of these amendments, numbering in the
hundreds, involved substantial issues involving both theology and
doctrine, as well as style. Prolonging the dialogue seemed futile.
The election at this meeting of the new chairman of the Doctrine
Committee is revealing. Cincinnati Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk,
appointed to the committee by retired San Francisco Archbishop
John Quinn, defeated Archbishop Francis George, of Portland,
Oregon, in a close vote. Archbishop Pilarczyk is the president of
ICEL's episcopal board. The Doctrine Committee examines the ICEL
texts to pronounce them free of any doctrinal error before the
bishops vote on them.
Cremation, Televised Masses
In June the NCCB voted to ask the Holy See for an indult for the
entire US to celebrate a funeral Mass with cremated remains
present. A few individual dioceses had already received such an
indult. The modifications in the funeral rite to adapt to this
circumstance, "Adaptations of the
for Funeral Liturgies Celebrated in the Presence of the Cremated
Remains of a Body", was approved by the bishops at the November
Another liturgical item on the agenda was Guidelines for
Televising the Liturgy, developed by a Task Group appointed by the
BCL. The proposal took a strongly negative view of pre-recording
and editing liturgies for telecast. Some bishops argued that pre-
recording was often the only available option, and that editing
of, e.g., part of the Communion procession, was sometimes
necessary because of TV time slots. Both Cardinals James Hickey
(DC) and John O'Connor (New York) asked for a more sympathetic
wording. In response to a unanimous voice vote the BCL agreed to
amend the Guidelines.
New Communion Rules Debated
The shortest of the liturgical items, a five-paragraph set of
Guidelines for the reception of Communion to be printed in
missalettes, provoked by far the most energetic debate of any
The controversy surrounded the proposed change stating that
members of the Orthodox churches, the Polish National Church and
the Assyrian Church of the East may be admitted to Communion in
the Catholic Church. Many bishops-representing a broad spectrum of
points of view-believed this statement would be interpreted as an
implicit invitation to Communion which might violate the
discipline of other churches. The effect on Catholics was also a
Bishop Charles Chaput of Rapid City, for example, noted the
passage saying Catholics should not go to Communion when conscious
of grave sin "unless a grave reason is present and there is no
opportunity of confessing." He said:
By introducing the exceptional case in this guideline we invite
the faithful to calculate against the principle which prohibits
sacrilegious Communions. That those calculations would be accurate
is doubtful when majorities of those polled are unaware of or deny
significant Church teachings in issues of faith or morals. It is
hard enough for the conscientious to stay in the pews now. The
erosion of law (which in this case can lead to an erosion of love
and awe for the Eucharist) can be just as 'heavy a burden' to bind
up as is an overly rigorous law."
Bishop Chaput's proposal was defeated on a voice vote.
The vigorous debate over these few paragraphs in the missalette.
revealed that the conflicts and disagreements within the bishops'
conference over the Mass are far from resolved.
Vatican Must Intervene-Again
In the past, Vatican approval has been mostly
confirmation of anything the national conferences have approved.
But the role of the Holy See will be much more important-and more
difficult-now. Controversy has characterized the entire discussion
of the liturgical revisions and the re-translations of Scripture
at the NCCB for nearly a decade. This surfaced in the nine-year-
long debate over the "Women's Pastoral", and again with the
Catechism for the Catholic Church, when the English translation
was delayed because the first translation made use of the same
principles of translation (including feminist, "inclusive",
language) that have been used for the Lectionary and Sacramentary
Vatican intervention was necessary in the case of the ;
and again in the revised Scripture translations used for the
Lectionary. It will apparently be necessary again.
The entire project of revision of the English-language scriptural
and liturgical texts has apparently been governed by an
overwhelming determination to avoid taboos imposed by an
increasingly secular, even relentlessly anti-Christian culture.
One example of these taboos is imposed by feminist ideology, and
is reflected in the militant excision of generic English nouns and
pronouns, such as "man", "mankind", "he", etc.
Many bishops now believe that the method of considering these
crucial matters at the conference level-the process of debate and
vote-is grievously inadequate, or even counterproductive. Far from
producing unity, it has revealed in very sharp relief the
differences within the conference over very fundamental matters-
matters which cannot be resolved by dialogue or good will.
This article appeared in the December 1996 issue of VOICES,
published by Women for Faith & Family, P.O. Box 8326, St. Louis,
MO 63132, 314-863-8385.