Fall 1996 Meeting of NCCB

Author: WFF

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 reads:

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 inadequate.

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 best.

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 of translation.

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 meeting.

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 liturgy item.

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 concern.

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 revisions.

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.