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, OR
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, , 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 or not to accept the
bishops' amendments to their translations and revisions. The texts
must then be sent back to all the English-speaking conferences for
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. 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, ". The "" 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
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 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, St. 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 St. 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 for Holy Saturday.
Cardinal Bevilacqua, in a written amendment, said, "The provision
of an alternative 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 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 -the selected. ICEL renders this " selected."
In a carefully detailed argument, Cardinal Bevilacqua objected to
this translation and insisted that the deliberate use of the
masculine word indicated "a focus on the
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
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
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
Cardinal James Hickey of Washington, DC, observed that relevant
documents recommend a separate chapel 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 ) 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.
The "End of the Beginning"?
The controversy over the proposed liturgical and scriptural
revisions which has developed in the NCCB, as has been reported in
these pages since the new texts were first introduced, parallels
other disputes within the Church over fundamental matters of the
Catholic faith. Related matters surfaced in the controversy over
the . Earlier, the "women's
pastoral", had focused attention on feminist demands for language
and other fundamental changes in the Church. Unhappily, as
predicted in these pages, these issues did not die with the failed
"women's pastoral", and the serious errors of feminist theology
still undermine the unity of the Church.
As the liturgy revision project has progressed, it has become
clear, also, that securing the requisite 2/3 approval by the
bishops' conference of the new texts (often, it should be noted,
with bishops' amendments) is not an indicator of real consensus
within the bishops' conference on the proposals.
For example, 604 amendments were submitted by bishops on Segments
V and VI. And 513 (86%) were rejected by the BCL; 319 of the
rejected amendments were submitted by archbishops or cardinal-
At the November NCCB meeting, when the final portion of the Roman
Missal revision will be considered, it is unlikely that voting on
the last sections will be much different from the first.
What emerged for the first time since the first vernacular
translations of the Mass appeared, however, is that more bishops
have become more deeply and personally engaged in the process, and
that the bishops seem to recognize more clearly that -not
panels of liturgists or translators-are responsible for the
authentic implementation of the Second Vatican Council's reform.
What Comes Next?
Many bishops, Vatican officials and a growing number of ordinary
Catholic believers have come to realize, through the NCCB's
experience of the past few years, that the problem is not caused
by misunderstanding the objectives of the producers of the new
texts. In fact, for the first time people understand the
views of the dominant liturgical and theological factions-and
strongly disagree. The current wave of liturgical and scriptural
revisions have made it demonstrably clear that there is a
fundamental cleavage within the Church today over essential
matters of faith-of Catholic dogma, and the Church's authority to
teach what she believes.
Now essential issues which were not clearly in focus during the
first round of liturgical translations and reforms are now being
revisited, and examined in the light of thirty years of
So far, any real solution to the problem has not appeared. Some
bishops are discouraged and simply want to get the process
finished at the conference level. Some bishops have become
convinced that the Vatican, not the separate national conferences,
will have to decide these complex liturgical issues-issues which
involve not only legitimate diversity and authentic inculturation
of the truth of the Church into the various cultures (and all the
English-speaking Catholics in the world); but essential matters of
theology, ecclesiology, Christology- the very essence of the
On June 21, while the Portland meeting was in session, the Vatican
announced the appointment of a new Prefect of the Congregation of
Divine Worship and the Sacraments [CDW], Bishop Jorge Arturo
Medina Estevez, of Valparaiso, Chile. He is a theologian and a
canonist, and was one of the six bishops responsible for the
. The CDW, in consultation with
the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has final
responsibility for the liturgy. Bishop Medina Estevez will not
have an easy task.
This article appeared in the September 1996 issue of VOICES,
published by Women for Faith & Family, P.O. Box 8326, St. Louis,
MO 63132, 314-863-8385.