Jun 15, 2002

"Sacramentary" project deemed a dud — ends decade of debate

Online Edition – Vol. VIII, No. 4: June 2002

Holy See Sends Message on ICEL

"Sacramentary" project deemed a dud — ends decade of debate

Cardinal Medina Estévez’s letter to Bishop Gregory

Official rejection by the Holy See of a proposed revision and re-translation of the 1975 edition of the Roman Missal (or "Sacramentary") was sent to English-speaking bishops’ conferences in March.

The letter and accompanying critique of the proposed text were sent March 16 by Cardinal Jorge Arturo Medina Estévez, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (CDW), to Belleville Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The letter renewed criticism of ICEL (International Commission on English in the Liturgy), the group that has produced English versions of liturgical texts for three decades. The accompanying "Observations" sharply criticized ICEL’s revision and re-translation of the 1975 "Sacramentary" (ICEL’s term for the Missal), a text that was submitted to the Holy See in 1999 for the required recognitio, or approval.

ICEL’s proposed text had been considered moot following the appearance in 2000 of the new Missale Romanum (Roman Missal), third typical edition. It is significant that an explicit rejection and specific criticism of the text was deemed necessary by the Holy See.

The new Missal was presented to Pope John Paul II on March 18, at which time its introductory chapter giving regulations for celebrating Mass, the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani (IGMR, or "GIRM") came into full effect. (A proposed English translation of the Institutio was returned to ICEL by the US bishops’ conference last November.)

The Holy See’s problems with ICEL are not new. The CDW has repeatedly called for changes in its structure, and similarly critiqued ICEL’s new version of the Ordination Rite (see AB archives). The Instruction on liturgical translation, Liturgiam authenticam, issued a year ago, is seen in part as a response to ICEL’s defective approach to translation.

Among the problems have been so-called "inclusive language", and other changes introduced into the text that inject an ideological bias. Some of these problems were raised in the US bishops’ debates during the 1990s when the ICEL texts were submitted to the English-speaking bishops’ conferences for vote.

Some changes have been made. Earlier this spring, John Page, executive secretary of ICEL for twenty years, submitted his resignation effective August 15. And, as also reported here, some new consultors have been recruited. (As of this writing, details of an April meeting of the ICEL board, including Cardinal Francis George, US bishops’ representative to the episcopal board, have not been revealed.)

The creation of Vox Clara (reported in AB May 2002) signaled problems with ICEL, whose present leaders appear to be very resistant to change.

In April, the National Catholic Reporter, a "liberal" weekly published in Kansas City, Missouri, reported the CDW letter and critique (NCR April 14), and the liturgical group "WeBelieve!" posted both on its web site. Adoremus later obtained a copy of the letter and the complete critique, which were posted on our web site (www.adoremus.org) and are now presented here in their entirety. The CDW letter follows; the "Observations" appear on page 4.



Cardinal Medina Estévez’s letter to Bishop Gregory

Your Excellency,

After some time to reflect upon contacts in recent months with the Presidents of a certain number of Conferences of Bishops in whose territory the Liturgy of the Roman Rite is habitually celebrated in English, this Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments addresses the present letter to you and to your brother Bishops regarding the translation of the Missale Romanum, editio typica altera…

Obviously the promulgation of the editio typica tertia would have necessitated a number of adaptations to the translation in any event. Even so, as many have already correctly surmised, there are additional substantial reasons for which this Congregation is regrettably unable to accord the recognitio to this text in the form in which it was submitted. A summary of the principal reasons may be found in the Observations enclosed with the present letter. Though these are extensive, they are not intended to be exhaustive, even in a generic sense.

It has become apparent in the course of this Dicastery’s examination that a truly exhaustive presentation of the inadequacies of the translation would best be made in the form of an integral annotated or reworked text, and in the continued anticipation of a Mixed Commission operating under statutes approved by this Dicastery in accordance with the Instruction Liturgiam authenticam, such an instrument would not yet be feasible.

This Congregation has been prepared from the beginning to spare no efforts in arriving at a solution to this difficulty that would have avoided the present impasse. A decision was made to maintain an optimistic assessment of such a prospect, even though the unfeasibility of the present Mixed Commission’s collaborating with this Dicastery in an effective and timely resolution of such fundamental problems had long been clear. In practical terms, the Congregation nourished the hope that a truly renewed structure for English language liturgical translation would be in a position to collaborate with this Dicastery in a way that the present Commission evidently could not — even if perhaps not because of any lack of good will on the part of certain key collaborators, but rather because of an evidently insurmountable divergence as regards fundamental principles of liturgical translation. This consideration was one of the primary reasons for which this Congregation asked the Conferences for such a renewal of that structure.

As of the present date, the member Conferences of the Mixed Commission known as the International Commission on English in the Liturgy have taken a number of steps in response to the Congregation’s request for such a restructuring of the Commission. Certain procedures have been set in place which — while falling short of those for which the Congregation continues to ask — would not be without positive effect in terms of the formulation of new translations.

Unfortunately, however, such measures have not yet resulted, as the Congregation had hoped, in a fresh group of experts and administrators appropriately positioned to collaborate with the Holy See in the implementation of new norms represented by the Instruction Liturgiam authenticam, as approved by the Holy Father on March 20, 2001, for the appropriate emendation of texts already in progress.

The feasibility of resolving the problems in a manner that would involve the participation of the present Mixed Commission has been impeded by the fact that as of the present date the Conferences have not succeeded in making the necessary adjustments to the Commission’s personnel, nor have all of the provisions requested by this Congregation and now required by the Instruction Liturgiam authenticam been included within its statutes. Certain bishops have indicated further that the conferences are inhibited from making such changes as a result of contractual arrangements binding in civil law. While the problems in the proposed translation of the Missale Romanum have been evident to the Congregation for some time, the inflexibility of the structural problems hindering their effective resolution has admittedly come as somewhat of a surprise to it. The Congregation’s delay in giving a response regarding the translation of the Missale Romanum has been interpreted by some as a stalling strategy aimed at thwarting the eventual publication of a new English-language translation of that liturgical book. In fact, nothing could have been further from the truth. Even so, it has become increasingly apparent that the negative consequences of further delay by the Congregation in providing a definite response regarding the liturgical translation in question have clearly overtaken the hopes for a solution that justified such a delay, and therefore the moment has come for the present communication.

This Dicastery had hoped to communicate its findings regarding the translation in question together with a concrete and realistic proposal for a future collaboration with the Conferences aimed at the resolution of the problems through the instrumentality of a renewed Mixed Commission. To this end, it has considered various options and continues to do so. In any event, it would clearly be preferable to incorporate within an eventual solution the best elements of the work that has already been done. Nonetheless the Congregation has determined that it is no longer feasible to delay the present communication, even in the continued absence of such a proposal. This Dicastery wishes to state also that it would also have no objection if the content of the attached Observations were to be made public, with or without the contents of the present letter.

The Congregation considers it a duty to express its thanks to those Bishops whose efforts have been dedicated in a particular way to a resolution of these issues of English-language translation of liturgical texts of the Roman Rite. It also wishes to assure the Conference of Bishops of __________ that it will give all due consideration to any proposals that the Conference may wish to offer for the resolution of the present difficult situation, so that the translation of the Missale Romanum to be published may conform to the present norms for liturgical translation and the heritage of the Roman Rite be more effectively preserved and transmitted to the faithful of your country in the English language.

With every prayer and good wish, I remain,

Sincerely yours in Christ
+Jorge A. Cardinal Medina Estévez
+Francesco Pio Tamburrino



The Editors