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Online Edition - Vol. VI, No. 10 - February 2001

Do we really need a "Children's Lectionary"?

Task force of bishops to study the question for two more years

Editor's Intro and Transcript of bishops' discussion of the Lectionary for Masses with Children - November 14, 2000 

"She dressed him in baby clothes and laid him in a feedbox". This is the verse from Luke 2 as it appeared in the Lectionary for Masses with Children when it was first presented to the bishops for vote in 1991. The bishops, although they approved the Lectionary, did succeed in changing the word "feedbox" back to "manger".

The Contemporary English Version [CEV] of the Bible, the base text used for the Lectionary, had been given the bishops' imprimatur. But this version of the Bible -- hence also the Lectionary -- is as deficient in conveying important teachings as it is in its relentless "dumbed-down" style.

At the bishops' request, the Holy See gave conditional permission to use the Lectionary for a three-year experimental period, "on the basis of the assurances given that the Contemporary English Version of the Bible does not present any doctrinal problems in the sphere of the issue of the inclusive language question at present under study", and on condition that a full report be given when this term expired [Congregation for Divine Worship, May 27, 1992]. Thus, in December 1992, Cardinal William Keeler, then president of the bishops' conference, ordered the publication of the Lectionary.

Nearly a decade later, and after several official extensions of the permission to use the Lectionary for Masses with Children (the most recent in a letter from the Congregation for Divine Worship last March which said that the bishops must "come to a position both on the issue of a Lectionary of this kind and on the suitability of the translation presently requested"), a majority of bishops passed a resolution proposed by the Committee on Liturgy at their meeting in November 2000. The bishops voted (187 to 60) to "endorse the concept of a Lectionary for Masses with Children, and resolve[d] to complete a revision of the present liturgical book, including a response to the concerns of the Holy See, within a period of two years".

The bishops had another reason for reviewing the "Children's Lectionary". The American Bible Society, a Protestant Scripture-translation group, has asked the bishops to give the Church's imprimatur to a newly revised CEV Bible, and had submitted the new version to the bishops' Committee for the Review of Scripture Translations, headed by Bishop Richard Sklba of Milwaukee, for this purpose.

A "task force", with members from both committees (Liturgy and Review of Scripture Translations) will study the issues.

The translators' "concept"

The justification for the CEV Bible, according to its translators, is to provide a text accessible to young children and to people who have difficulty reading. Although the translators claim to convey the "concepts" of the Bible, it has deliberately eliminated a list of words that have distinctly religious meanings and that convey key concepts of the Christian faith. Words such as justification, righteousness, redemption, grace, atonement, repentance, sanctification, covenant, Gospel, and anoint are all absent from the CEV text.

In addition to this, the translators of the CEV, responding to feminist demands, are committed to so-called "inclusive language"; that is, eliminating as many masculine-gender nouns and pronouns as possible (e.g. "son", "man", "king", "brothers"). The issue of feminist language, along with the theory of "dynamic equivalence", or "free", or "functional" translation, has received strong criticism from the Holy See during the protracted process of revising the Roman Missal (both the Lectionary for Mass and Sacramentary). The matter of translation principles has not yet been definitively settled; however, that the choice of words can affect doctrine is now acknowledged to be a key issue in the translation of liturgical texts.

The Children's Lectionary further changes the Bible by eliminating passages deemed "too abstract", or "containing images that could confuse or disturb children, or readings children could perceive as anti-Semitic or racist" [§17, Introduction to the Lectionary for Masses with Children ].

Questions about the use (or misuse) of the Lectionary led the Bishops' Committee on Liturgy to conduct a survey last spring. A questionnaire was sent to 375 people who had purchased it, most of whom teach religion in Catholic grammar-schools. Unsurprisingly, most of the teachers who responded to the survey favor the Children's Lectionary; although some objected to using a separate Bible translation for children; and some also criticized the oversimplified translation.

The bishops' latest discussion of the Children's Lectionary reflects the persistent confusion and difference of opinion.

The following transcription was made from audio tapes Adoremus recorded at the November 2000 meeting. -- Editor

Transcript of bishops' discussion of the Lectionary for Masses with Children

Tuesday Morning November 14, 2000

Action Item #10

Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb [Mobile, Chairman of the Bishops' Committee on Liturgy] : This deals with an effort to continue the ministry of the Lectionary for Masses with Children for those groups that qualify and have found it to be useful.

Following the expiration of several extensions of the Holy See's 1992 permission for the use of the Lectionary for Masses with Children, the Committee on the Liturgy has carefully considered the imminent expiration of this permission, the concerns of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments and the widespread pastoral use of this book. The committee has resolved to appoint a task group to resolve these questions in a timely fashion, and asks your support in endorsing the concept of a lectionary for Masses with children; and our intention to seek resolution of the questions within the next two years. It is our hope that your support of the committee's intention in this regard will assist the conference president in an effective presentation of the proposal to the Holy See.

And so I move this on behalf of the committee.

Bishop Joseph Fiorenza [Galveston-Houston, President of the NCCB] : The motion has been made; is there any discussion? Archbishop Weakland.

Archbishop Rembert Weakland [Milwaukee] : Archbishop Lipscomb, I think you knew I was going to get up and talk about when we passed this in 1991. The vote in 1991 was and this was the Weakland amendment that the NCCB approve the introduction of the Lectionary for Masses with Children, with the stipulation that the NCCB within three years will examine thoroughly the pedagogical issues involved in introducing children to liturgical services. Now, more than three years have passed and I can't say that I know any more now than I did in 1991.

And if you recall the debate on the floor, it was whether it was wise to introduce children to a version of the Scriptures that then, when they become sixteen, you tell them to forget because they have to get the adult version whether this is the right way to go. And I don't think anybody has really looked in seriously to the whole question of our children and the introduction catechesis to the liturgy. So I feel a little nervous about putting now in two years we're going to do everything, and what that implies. Does that mean we're going to take the present Lectionary, kind of go over it and make some adaptations here and there of words we don't like? What's going to happen in two years? It seems to me we're back where we were in '91.

Archbishop Lipscomb : We're not exactly back where we were in '91, we are nine years older. And in that sense there has been at least a body of some evidence of some judgment. Most of it favorable for the use of this kind of a Lectionary; some of it, however, not. And the Holy See, the Congregation, has certain reservations, precisely about the use of the Scriptures in this fashion. What can I say about the sins of the past, except that here we are trying to do our best to compensate for them. So I can only say that we hope to accomplish in two years what should have been done, if we had addressed it in a timely fashion, at an earlier date. Beyond that, what else shall we do? Do we wish to let it lapse for lack of an action? I don't think that's really an appropriate option at the present moment. It may come to that, but we will have to find out first whether it should be simply just discontinued. So I recommend the motion as it is stated.

Archbishop Charles Chaput [Denver] : Archbishop, I don't quite understand. Are you asking us to approve the concept of proceeding, or just another study?

Archbishop Lipscomb : This is a task group that will be formed in conjunction with Bishop [Richard] Sklba's committee on Scriptural texts that will undertake to discover the three elements: the textual modifications that will make this more acceptable; the pastoral provisions that somehow in this whole question have risen to cause at least some concerns not many but enough to be noted that very often this text, this procedure, is used in parish Masses not necessarily for children and that has posed some problems. So primarily those two elements.

Archbishop Chaput : I'd like to speak against the concept, but I don't know if it's appropriate to do so, because I'm not sure what the question is. So I'd like to speak against it here since I have a little bit of time.

I would recommend that we don't endorse even the concept, Archbishop. I don't think there is a need for this Lectionary because children who have reached the age of reason are capable of understanding, and as they mature, even reading the ordinary Lectionary. As one of the responses to the survey remarked, we don't always give children enough credit in this respect. Because even young children are watching Star Wars and are able to understand computers these days. If terms are not ever used terms like `redemption' or `grace' how and when do we convey to children that these terms are from Scripture, from revelation?

To modify the Scriptures for the proclamation of the Word for any particular group of the faithful is confusing on a number of levels. Just as children struggle to memorize an Act of Contrition because they are called to memorize so many between the period of the second and the eighth grades, it can be confusing to use more than one liturgical text. Furthermore, the idea that the words of Sacred Scripture should be adapted to a group of children also confuses some who believe they can change a reading on their authority so that they could be understood by other groups.

I think the survey itself indicates that the Lectionary for Masses with Children did not achieve its goal. The children's comprehension of the readings improved only modestly. And it is also my experience that children exhibit the ability to read the ordinary Lectionary when it's explained to them and they are given the opportunity to practice it. Pedagogically, since we come to an understanding through repetition and familiarity with the text, developing a catechesis on the ordinary Lectionary would be a more fruitful endeavor than revising a special Lectionary.

Furthermore, the Lectionary for Masses with Children sometimes is used on occasions that it ought not to be used, as you indicated. This is apparent from the survey: thirty percent stated that this translation was used at regular liturgies. Also it appears that the CEV [Contemporary English Version], on which this is based, is used with adults who have English as a second language.

I think, while revisions of the Scriptures for children might be of some catechetical value in classroom instruction, I don't think that a liturgical text is useful or, in the long run, beneficial for our children. So I would speak against the concept of even doing this. Thank you.

Archbishop Lipscomb : Thank you, Archbishop Chaput. One has to note, if I may respond to each one. Or shall I

Bishop Fiorenza : That's your call.

Archbishop Lipscomb : Briefly, just so that we keep it in mind. These are certainly valid points of view. They have to be taken over against those who actually deal with children at liturgies of this kind, who have found the result to be both positive, for the time being. Children grow out of childhood, so there is no continuing sort of sense of permanence as to their impressions and what happens at those ages when they would be susceptible to this kind of use. And in growing out of it, of course, they grow beyond it. So our understanding of this, from the data that have been received, is that those who are engaged in children's liturgies favor this by a significant margin. And for that reason we propose its continuation we do not propose its continuation. We propose that the task force study this, rather than discontinuing it at the present, to see whether, in fact, both the Scriptural questions, the pedagogical questions, and of course, the liturgical questions concerning the appropriateness of use justify its continuation.

Bishop Fiorenza : Cardinal Law?

Cardinal Bernard Law [Boston] : Archbishop, would it be your plan to have the report of this task force come back to this body for discussion before any further action is taken on authorizing the beginning of this new edition?

Archbishop Lipscomb : Absolutely. When you say "authorizing the beginning of it" certainly the approval of it. If this body wishes to modify the amendment, presumably it would proceed in a two-pronged area because the area of translations I am glad that Bishop Sklba has his hand up because he can assist me with the intricacies of the translation, especially in view of the whole question of translations now. But I would hate for the translations to have to wait until we have the question of the appropriateness of the whole issue resolved. That's going to put us back maybe another one or two years. But it would certainly come back for approval to this body.

Cardinal Law : The issue that is of concern to me, and I think I've heard it from others, is not so much the issue of the translation. It's the prior question as to whether or not as Archbishop Weakland has indicated and others have indicated whether or not the practice even at the moment is going in the right direction.

Now on the one hand, the survey would indicate that about seventy percent of the respondents indicated an appropriate use of the Lectionary on those days that you asked about. I wonder if it would be still thirty-one percent that would be using the Children's Lectionary in an inappropriate way, as the study indicates from the respondents for Christmas. I wonder if it would be the same for Pentecost, for Easter, for Epiphany, for Ascension.

And I just wonder if that pastoral usage of this [Lectionary] as we now have it doesn't need to be looked at a little bit more deeply, and we need to discuss the implications of that. If we move forward on a new edition, then how do we insure that we do it in a way that is really going to be helpful, and in the line with number 13 of the Introduction to the Children's Lectionary?*

Archbishop Lipscomb : Thank you, Your Eminence. I think that is the concern of the Committee as well: that what is done be done not only expeditiously, but with great care precisely to those kinds of questions, so that some intelligent data can be presented to the body of bishops that in the end will have to authorize this kind of an effect, provided we can begin to work on it.

Bishop Fiorenza : Bishop Sklba?

Bishop Richard Sklba [aux. Milwaukee; chairman, Ad Hoc Committee for the Review of Scripture Translations; Doctrine Committee member]: I thought it might be helpful simply to say that the work, the review and recommendation for the initial translation imprimatur for the translation used in this Lectionary was given prior to the existence of the current Ad Hoc Committee for Scripture Translations. It was done under the aegis of the late Archbishop John Whealon of Hartford. But I have heard that the [Children's] Lectionary itself, as a project, was initiated at the request of the Holy See itself. So that's information that was passed on to me. It might be helpful for the committee to review that aspect of its origin.**

Archbishop Lipscomb : Thank you, Bishop Sklba.

Bishop Fiorenza : Bishop Mestice?

Bishop Anthony Mestice [aux. New York] : I would like to speak of retaining the Lectionary for Children. I happen to be a pastor in a parish where we have a school with about 450 children; we have a CCD program with over 1,000 children, and some of the CCD classes take place right after the children's Mass that we have every Sunday. And it's been very, very helpful, not only to the celebrant of the Mass, but also for the children to listen to a simplistic, yet solid, explanation of what the Scripture might be, which might be very difficult for people to understand every Sunday. Sometimes it's very, very long. But we use the [Children's] Lectionary only for this 9 o'clock Mass that's attended principally by children of grammar-school age because it's tied in with the CCD program, and it's tied in with the school, and it's been extremely helpful. And I look at the children when I'm reading the text, they're looking at me eyeball to eyeball because the text is so simplistic that they understand it. And then you can give a nice little short homily on what you had just read to them. So I'd be very much in favor of retaining the children's text because it is very, very helpful for a parish priest.

Bishop Fiorenza : Bishop George Murry.

Bishop George Murry, SJ [St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, Liturgy Committee consultant, chairman of Committee on African American Catholics] : Archbishop, I don't feel like I understand or have enough information about the concerns that have been raised, especially in terms of the effectiveness of using a children's liturgy. I can understand where using the simplistic version would be helpful for children and that they would outgrow that over time. But there are also others, especially educational psychologists, who would argue that its not the best way to go, that we should enable them and instruct them in using the adult version. In looking at this proposal, where you talk about a resolution "to complete a revision of the present liturgical books including a response to the concerns of the Holy See", would it be possible to put into that a study dimension so that we as the body of bishops could have more information about what is being said by experts in the field concerning the value of a more simplistic version of the Scriptures for the children to learn?

Archbishop Lipscomb : We are broadening the scope somewhat, but if the body feels that is useful to make a judgment, I certainly feel it is within the competence of the task force to include that component as a result of its operation and activity. I assume that is true? I'm being told it is true. Thank you, bishop.

Bishop Fiorenza : Bishop Grosz?

Bishop Edward Grosz [aux. Buffalo] : Back in the 1980s when I served as part of the executive committee and the board of the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions, the very concept of the Children's Lectionary was presented by the delegates at our national meeting in Buffalo, New York. And that was after years of study and reflection, and so I want us to keep that in mind: that, indeed, the delegates of all our liturgical commissions of the country, through the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions, proposed the concept to the BCL [Bishops' Committee on Liturgy] and to the bishops. We're very pleased with that.

I think now in light of our experience we need to move ahead to evaluate our experience of the Children's Lectionary, but I don't think we should toss out the Children's Lectionary and all of what we have built and experienced in the past [inaudible] years.

Bishop Fiorenza : [asks if Archbishop Lipscomb has any other points to make]

Archbishop Lipscomb : No, except, once again, we feel this is a timely motion. [inaudible] task force. We're not asking for approval of a product, we're asking for approval of a process that will come back to this body.

NOTES:

* §13, Introduction to Lectionary for Masses with Children:

"Proper balance and consideration for the entire assembly should be observed. Therefore, priest celebrants should not use this [Children's Lectionary] exclusively or even preferentially at Sunday Masses, even though large numbers of children are present. In addition, this Lectionary may be used only when the liturgy of the word with the children is held in a place apart from the main assembly on Christmas Day, Epiphany, the Sundays of Lent, Easter Day, Ascension, and Pentecost. This is to assure that on these days the Roman Lectionary for Mass will take precedence over the Lectionary for Masses with Children in the main assembly of the faithful.

** §43 Directory for Masses with Children [1973]:

"If all the readings assigned to the day seem to be unsuited to the capacity of the children, it is permissible to choose readings or a reading either from the Lectionary of the Roman Missal, or directly from the Bible, but taking into account the liturgical seasons. It is recommended, moreover, that the individual conferences of bishops see to the composition of lectionaries for Masses with children.

"If, because of the limited capabilities of the children, it seems necessary to omit one or other verse of a biblical reading, this should be done cautiously and in such a way "that the meaning of the text or the intent and, as it were, style of the Scriptures are not distorted". [quote from Lectionary for Mass, 1969 ed., §7.d - Ed.]

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