The Long View of Short Breviaries
What Does It Mean if a Text is 'Not Approved for Liturgical Use'?
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
, containing all 150 psalms. The other is , a short breviary, or prayerbook edition which includes psalms,
canticles, readings and other prayers arranged in a four-week 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 Sr. 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
Liturgical Press breviary stopped
On December 5, 1975 the (NCR) ran a front-page article
which 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 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. was intended as a successor to 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
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, , 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
"However," the abbot told the NCR, "the Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy appealed
to Rome when our 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 , 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 ,
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 , Msgr.
Frederick McManus mentions the controversy over the St. John's ,
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 could not be published at all, and the Bishop of St.
Cloud withdrew his . The actual suppression of the prayerbook
published by the Liturgical Press occurred after Archbishop Bernardin's letter quoted
above. (Msgr. McManus had been a [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 a has remained a consultant to the BCL thereafter.)
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
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
non-submission of the text to the full body of bishops. Nevertheless, a BCL
memorandum quoted in NCR'S story stated that the publisher 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 cancelled 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 anti-trust 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 [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. (Msgr.
Frederick McManus' affiliation with both ICEL and BCL is noted above. Sr. 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 and the Costello short breviary could be merely a
manifestation of the well-known anti-establishment stance of both and
the . (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 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.
Is there a double standard?
ICEL'S new 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
twenty years earlier.
Both the ICEL Psalter and 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 (November 17, 1995; pp. 17-18, where two reviewers
were sharply critical of the ICEL Psalms. The first, Ralph Thibodeau (a professor
emeritus of music and humanities) quotes several passages which 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 ) begins "The
neuterization of God seems well underway." Noting Mary Collins' complaint that the
translators had to "undo" their work due to the bishops refusal to grant an imprimatur
to the original ICEL translation which 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 TCEL 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 , 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
" 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 , 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 have been made for the sake of "gender neutral" language.
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
. 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 are taken from the 1995 ICEL psalter, and a
version of the is from another ICEL production, .
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 translationsand therefore
of the translators and those who approved the translationswas called into question.
As a matter of correctness, and also of justice, this cannot go unchallenged."
(Quoted in McManus, , p. 219.)
In his introduction to Bishop Cummins' letter Msgr. McManus calls "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, Msgr. 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 nonliturgical 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
Msgr. 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. Msgr. McManus
believed that a psalm in the rejected Grail translation could therefore be used as a sung
Msgr. 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
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 processionsalong
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 which 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 translations or revisions of
Scripture or other liturgical texts which they are convinced are defective?
If Bishop Cummins' 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.
COMPARING THE RSV TO ICEL
Psalm 1: 1-2
Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
If you would be happy:
never walk with the wicked,
never stand with sinners,
never sit among cynics,
but delight in the Lord's teaching
and study it day and night.
Psalm 24: 1-2
The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof,
the world and those who dwell therein;
for he has founded it upon the seas,
and established it upon the rivers.
God owns this planet
and all its riches.
The earth and every creature
belong to God.
God set the land on top of the seas
and anchored it in the deep.
(RSV) verses 10-11
"Be still, and know that I am God.
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth!"
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.
(ICEL) verses 11-12
An end to your fighting!
Acknowledge me as God,
high over nations, high over earth.
The Lord of cosmic power,
Jacob's God, will shield us.
Taken from "Adoremus Bulletin" Vol 2, No. 2, April 1996. To subscribe: Adoremus,
Society for the Renewal of the Sacred Liturgy, P.O. Box 5858, Arlington, VA 22205,
Copyright (c) 1996 EWTN