Dec 15, 2001

Letter on "American Adaptations"

Online Edition – Vol. VII, No. 9: December 2001 – January 2002

Letter on "American Adaptations"
Congregation for Divine Worship’s observations, suggestions to US Bishops on proposed adaptations of the
Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani

EDITOR’S NOTE: On October 25, 2001, Cardinal Jorge Arturo Medina Estévez, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments wrote to Bishop Joseph Fiorenza, president of the USCCB, detailing the CDW’s acceptance "in principle" of proposed adaptations to the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani submitted to the Congregation for approval after the June 2001 USCCB meeting.

The letter offers suggestions and provisions for approval, and directs that the American adaptations be incorporated into the Institutio, rather than as a separate appendix, as in the present American version of the Roman Missal (or Sacramentary).

A copy of this letter was distributed to bishops and to the press at the November 2001 USCCB meeting.

(See AB July -August 2001 for an account of the bishops’ proposals for the American Appendix, or adaptations of the universal norms.)


Rome 25 October 2001
Congregatio de Culto Divino et Disciplina Sacramentorum – Prot n. 138/10/L

Your Excellency,

This Congregation for Divine Worship thanks you for your recent letter written in your capacity as President of the Conference of Bishops of the United States of America, with which you transmit certain provisions approved by the Bishops for those parts of the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani that invite adaptation or require specification by the Conferences. This Dicastery is grateful to the Conference on such prompt action taken to assure timely implementation of this new document, and also takes note of more than a few instances in which it is evident that careful attention has been given to this Congregation’s recent Instruction Liturgiam authenticam, on the use of vernacular languages in the publication of the liturgical books of the Roman Rite.

While it is still not possible for this Dicastery to approve legislation complementary to a document that has not yet entered into force, this Dicastery wishes to cooperate fully with the Conference’s initiative in making the necessary preparations for this eventual step by communicating even now certain of its own observations which will hopefully assist the Bishops in making the necessary pastoral preparations for the new legislation.

A clarification does seem to be necessary regarding the precise status of the document transmitted by Your Excellency under the title of the Appendix for the Roman Missal for the Dioceses of the United States of America. While this Congregation intends to communicate with the present letter its own observations regarding the actual content of the legislation proposed, the form of promulgation of any such provisions is now subject to the provisions of Liturgiam authenticam nn. 67 and 125. That is, those parts of the Institutio Generalis that mention in a general way the possibility of adaptation or closer specification by the Conference of Bishops would simply be replaced in the new translation of the Institutio by a newly formulated statement of the actual provisions approved by the Conference, perhaps prefaced by a phrased such as "In the United States of America…." The recognitio for such provisions, then, would be formally considered and granted as part of the text of the translation of the Institutio Generalis, rather than their being appended at the end of the Institutio Generalis within the Missal, as in some previous English-language editions. Of course, the Congregation would have no objection to the Conference’s publishing the provisions as a separate fascicle as a pedagogical tool, but such a document would not have the force of law, in the way that the General Instruction itself would. In this way it will be possible to provide for those adaptations approved by the Bishops and the Holy See without the confusion that arises from the existence of parallel documents covering the same material within the Missal.

Turning now to the content of the provisions that Your Excellency has communicated, the Congregation is pleased to inform you and your brother Bishops of its readiness in general terms to accord the recognitio for the new provisions, with the modifications and certain exceptions as given below. These observations are therefore given as a guide for the preparation of an eventual translated text of the entire Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani, since a legitimately adapted translation that would take these observations into account could be expected to meet readily with the formal approval of the Holy See.

For those provisions not specifically mentioned here, the Conference may infer the approval in principle of the provision as Your Excellency has transmitted it. The exact language in which such provisions would be inserted into the translation of the Institutio Generalis remains to be established, though their present wording in most cases should be easy to adapt for such a purpose. The aim should be to make concise modifications at a limited number of appropriate points.

In appreciation of a long-standing practice in the United States of America, the Congregation is willing to assent in principle to the provision submitted for n. 43 regarding the posture of the congregation during the Eucharistic Prayer, though some adjustments would be required. Specifically, the mention of the bishop is unnecessary in the provision regarding posture during the Eucharistic Prayer, since it is already implicit in the general law within reasonable limits. Perhaps the definitive text could be carefully worded in such a way as to make provision by way of exception for those localities in which the spontaneous expectation of the people would be otherwise. In such cases, the adaptation need not apply, and it would obviously pertain to the Diocesan Bishop to make a prudent determination of the existence of such a situation.

Perhaps more precise terminology would be advisable for 43n.3, 61n.2, 74n.3, and 87n.3 [concerning music], the common unclear element being the phrase "another collection". The idea itself of a collection of such material approved by the Bishops is clearly very sound, and this Dicastery is indeed gratified that Bishops are taking this matter so promptly in hand after the publication of the Instruction Liturgiam authenticam. In addition, n. 74 needs another slight adjustment, namely the mention of the fact that purely instrumental music is to be excluded during Advent or Lent, during the Sacred Triduum and in Masses of the Dead, in accordance with the Instruction Musicam sacram n. 66. found in Acta Apostolicae Sedis 59 (1967) 319.

The provision regarding the Sign of Peace, presented as being in reference to n. 82 of the Institutio Generalis of the Missal, seems instead to pertain to n. 154 of that document, where its content would appear to be appropriately introduced by the insertion, after the translation of the phrase "e rationabili causa", a parenthetic remark such as "…for example, at a funeral or wedding, or when civil leaders are present". While such an adaptation of the text is not specifically foreseen in the Institutio Generalis either in n. 82 or in n. 154, it seems to be sufficiently harmonious with the true intent of the latter. The specific object of the adaptation invited in n. 82 is instead the nature of the gesture for the exchange of peace.

This Dicastery agrees in principle to the insertion into n. 160 of a statement, as apparently desired by the Bishops, that Holy Communion in the United States of America is normally received standing. At the same time, the tenor of not a few letters received from the faithful in various Dioceses of that country leads the Congregation, even after a very careful consideration of such data, to urge the Conference to introduce a clause that would protect those faithful who will inevitably be led by their own sensibilities to kneel from imprudent action by priests, deacons or lay ministers in particular, or from being refused Holy Communion for such a reason as happens on occasion.

As to the provision for n. 393, the Congregation appreciates the evident intent to encourage a new era of responsible creativity among liturgical musicians and composers, and has no difficulty in principle with a provision for the submission of texts of the Gloria, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the acclamations and responses (perhaps more simply "the musical settings for the various parts of the Order of Mass") as well as other rites to the Conference’s Secretariat for the Liturgy prior to publication. At the same time, it would ask the Bishops to extend the same provision to the melodies. It is clear that according to the past implicit criteria which it has developed, the Conference would not approve banalizing settings or others that conflict with the liturgical spirit. Moreover, at a juncture when new compositions are to be made, it seems prudent to set in place a filter to exclude inappropriate settings for the future. For the implementation of this norm of the Institutio Generalis, the Congregation is willing to sanction internal legislation at the level of working regulations (not requiring the formal recognitio of the Holy See), whereby the Conference regulates this matter as they do copyright, liturgical edition design and other matters in a case-by-case manner through the Liturgy Secretariat or any other appropriate organ of their devising.

Certain other provisions seem to require further study and specification before being introduced as adapting legislation. What is said here may be understood to apply to nn. 301, 304, 326, 329, 339, 343, and the portion of n. 393 referring to approved musical instruments. In cases where the Conference of Bishops is to legislate, such legislation should be truly specific, and the law intends precisely that any particular episcopal legislation on these matters be enacted in common by the Bishops of the Conference rather than being left to be determined variously in different dioceses. In the absence of any particular legislation on such a matter, specifications contained in the universal law maintain their full force. In other words, the Conference of Bishops may name specific materials or instruments as suitable in addition to those universally deemed so, but in the absence of such specification, only the "traditional" materials or those otherwise specified in the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani are to be regarded as approved.

Regarding n. 283, on the distribution of Holy Communion under both kinds, the Congregation approves in principle the procedure of making reference to a separate document for the regulation of this matter. It would suggest, however, that the document not be given the same name as a previously existing one, so as to avoid any confusion. As to the content of the "Directory", this Dicastery will be in contact with the Conference in the near future on more specific terms, while it is possible now to provide certain general principles that will govern its response. The Congregation is concerned to ensure that the norms of the new Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani maintain their force in all cases except those where the Conferences will have suggested adaptations found to be justified on cultural grounds, as foreseen in the 1994 Instruction Varietates legitimae. Concerns of a pragmatic [nature] rather than of an indult, though not foreseen in the law, will be considered on the grounds of reasonableness. In such a case it would be necessary to establish the fact that all options provided in the existing norms of the new Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani have truly proved unworkable after diligent and sustained attempts to implement them. Certain reasons given for derogation from the norms would actually fall, instead, under the denotation of precisely the sort of difficulty to which n. 283 refers as a limitation upon distribution under both species, while the use of intinction remains a way in which such distribution may still be carried out reverently in accord with all norms of the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani.

The Congregation assures Your Excellency of its readiness to be of any assistance in the final formulation of the insertions to be made in the specified parts of the General Instruction, and thanks to you for your continued generous collaboration. With every prayerful good wish, I am

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Jorge A. Card. Medina Estévez, Prefect
[Archbishop] Francisco Pio Tamburrino, Secretary



The Editors