Sep 15, 2002

ICEL Renewal – Sine non difficultate

Online Edition – Vol. VIII, No. 6: September 2002

ICEL Renewal ­ Sine non difficultate

Britons to head episcopal board, secretariat of translation commission

by Helen Hull Hitchcock

A new phase in renewing the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL), the body that has provided English translations of liturgical texts since 1963, began September 9, when new leaders assumed their duties.

At meeting in Ottawa, Canada, July 29-August 1, bishops from the English-speaking conferences that are members of the "mixed commission", elected Bishop Arthur Roche, of Leeds, England, as chairman of the episcopal board of ICEL; and Father Bruce Harbert of Birmingham, England as executive secretary. Bishop Roche replaces Bishop Maurice Taylor, of Galloway, Scotland, who has served as chairman of the eleven-member board of bishops since 1997. Father Harbert replaces Dr. John R. Page, an American who has held that office since 1980, and has worked for ICEL for thirty years.

Bishop Roche, 52, was appointed Coadjutor for Leeds, his native diocese in Yorkshire, on July 16. He had been Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster for only a year, and was chairman of the Liturgy Committee for the Archdiocese.

Bishop Roche has been General Secretary of the bishops’ conference of England and Wales since 1996. He was Spiritual Director at the English College in Rome from 1992-96; Vice-Chancellor of the diocese of Leeds from 1979 to 1989; and was coordinator of the papal visit to York in 1982.

Father Harbert, 59, taught last term at the Liturgical Institute at Chicago’s Mundelein seminary campus. An expert in Greek and Latin, he has written articles critical of ICEL’s translation methods. The ICEL Missal, he wrote in 2000, "is redolent as much of the 1960s as of the fourth century. Yet the liturgical reform that gave us vernacular liturgy was intended to be, not so much a fresh start with a clean sheet, as a recovery of primitive tradition" ("The Roman Canon: Ancient Rhetoric or Modern Prayer", Antiphon, Vol. 5.2, 2000).

In a 1996 article in New Blackfriars, Father Harbert wrote, "ICEL has become something of a tyranny, which individual bishops’ conferences are in effect powerless to resist. … ICEL is assuming the mantle of an English-speaking Congregation of Rites and preventing the process of inculturation which should be an important part of liturgical renewal" ("What kind of Missal are we Getting", New Blackfriars, December 1996, pp 549-552).

In an interview with the National Catholic Reporter, August 9, Father Harbert called Liturgiam Authenticam a "courageous document on texts" (John Allen, "Word from Rome", NCR on-line, August 16, 2002). "It’s not easy to write prescriptively on language," he said, "but I thought it did so very well. The time had come when some guidance had to be given". But he also told the NCR that Liturgiam Authenticam "has not spoken the last word" on "inclusive language", and said that the matter needed "much study" especially by Hebrew scholars.

In his Antiphon essay critiquing the ICEL translation of the Roman Canon, Father Harbert commented that "’Lord’ (Domine) is dropped in favor of ‘Father’, a substitution that ICEL was to use constantly in its subsequent work…. Feminist criticism has cast doubt on the wisdom of this change" (Antiphon, Vol. 5.2 2000).

ICEL was organized to supply common Mass texts for all the countries where English is used as a liturgical language. ICEL is an independent corporation, not controlled by any conference. The eleven English-speaking bishops’ conferences are represented on the episcopal board: United States, England-Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Philippines, India, and Pakistan. Fifteen other conferences are associate members. Funding for ICEL, is supplied by the member conferences, and assessments are proportional. The United States provides about 80%; Pakistan about 2%.

Repairing the Foundation

The process of restructuring ICEL has been going on for three years, initiated by a 1999 letter from Cardinal Jorge Medina Estévez, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, to Bishop Taylor. The letter called for a re-evaluation of ICEL’s work, and restructuring of the "mixed commission". The work began in earnest two years ago, when the ICEL episcopal board met with presidents of the member conferences to devise new statutes to govern the commission.

The call for changes in ICEL’s operation did not come out of the blue.

Concern over principles of translation had been building throughout the 1990s, during discussions of proposed revisions of both the Missal and the Lectionary. ICEL proposed a complete revision and re-translation of the Missal texts used for Mass since 1975, and, simultaneously, newly updated Scripture translations were proposed for use in the Lectionary.

In 1990, the US bishops approved Criteria for Evaluation of Inclusive Language Translations of Scriptural Texts Proposed for Liturgical Use, developed by its Joint Committee on Inclusive Language. These Criteria were intended to guide the re-translation of the New American Bible used for the American Lectionary. The Revised NAB translators employed "inclusive language" as a matter of "justice" to women — as did the translators of the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).

The English translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church figured in the debate over "inclusive language", as well. Eventually the Catechism translation was completed by a committee appointed by the Holy See, in 1994.

In the mid-1990s, during the process of approval of the Lectionary for Mass, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had intervened, and produced norms for Scripture translation for liturgical use. These norms were employed by a special Vatican "working committee" including US archbishops to correct the Lectionary texts.

In 1994, ICEL produced a modernized version of the Psalms and Canticles. Although this was not proposed for use in the Lectionary, it was intended for use in the Liturgy of the Hours. Although the ICEL Psalter had been granted an imprimatur by the US bishops and published in 1995, it was rejected by the Holy See, it’s imprimatur removed, and it was ordered withdrawn from publication.

ICEL’s translating staff said they had used for the Psalter the "dynamic equivalency" theory of "free" translation that justified "correcting" the original text for gender and other reasons — a theory found in a 1969 document on translation, Comme le prévoit ("As foreseen.") that had governed all of ICEL’s translations and revisions of the Missal texts.

In addition, for the Missal revision, ICEL had composed original texts, non-existent in the Latin edition, expanding considerably on its original mandate to translate.

During the years of debate on ICEL’s proposed revision of the Missal (1993-1998) concern grew steadily among the bishops that ICEL’s translation methods were inadequate, or worse. Many bishops also became frustrated at ICEL’s complete independence from the conferences. Though ICEL was financially supported by the conferences through assessments, the conferences had no control over ICEL’s work.

Need for change in ICEL’s old ways

At a meeting with ICEL’s episcopal board in June 1996, Archbishop Geraldo Majella Agnelo, secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, told the bishops, "We have no doubt that the meaning of what the Holy Father states in No. 20 of Vicesimus Quintus Annos [1988] about the serious responsibility of the episcopal conferences will not have escaped ICEL. It would be difficult to avoid, also, applying such affirmations to the structure, the method of work and all the initiatives taken by ICEL on behalf of the conferences themselves. The examination that the Holy Father calls for concerning all the work carried out by the commissions also concerns the relationship between the episcopal conferences and ICEL".

Archbishop Agnelo also said that Comme le prévoit "must be recognized as a text dated 1969, from the first period of liturgical reform. Its current value is therefore conditioned by the experience of the last 27 years, along with the fact that there exist new canon law norms regarding the approval of such translations", he said. "Perhaps along this line there is a need to make further clarification to the bishops’ conferences, in order to increase their involvement and their influence in something that is their right and duty: translating liturgical books and texts".

A month later, Archbishop (now Cardinal) Jorge Medina Estévez was appointed prefect of the CDW, and in December 1996, seven US cardinals met with him and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to discuss how to resolve problems with the Lectionary translation.

Early the next year, the "working committee" of US archbishops and Vatican experts met in Rome to make the necessary corrections, using translation norms provided by the CDF.

Renewal continues – duc in altum

In June 1997, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago was elected by the US bishops as representative to ICEL, ending the eleven year term of Cincinnati Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk, then chairman of the ICEL episcopal board. That same year, the CDF’s norms for Scripture translation were made public.

The complicated and confusing debate and vote on the ICEL revision of the Missal that had begun in 1993, finally reached a conclusion in 1998 – not without difficulty. The result, a compromise text that many bishops found unsatisfactory, was sent to the Holy See for recognitio in January 1999.

In October 1999, Cardinal Medina Estévez called for a "thoroughgoing restructure" of ICEL. (Proposed statutes were drafted and submitted to the Holy See, but have not yet been approved.)

Meanwhile, the third "typical edition" of the Roman Missal was announced by the Holy See in the Jubilee Year 2000, and its introductory rules for the celebration of Mass, the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani [IGMR] was released in advance of publication of the entire Missal. Obviously, the new Missal will require translation.

The translation landscape was changed dramatically by the appearance in May 2001 of Liturgiam authenticam, the Fifth Instruction for the correct implementation of Sacrosanctum Concilium.

On March 16, 2002, Cardinal Medina Estévez officially rejected ICEL’s translation of the Missal, accompanied by Observations critical of the text. In the letter, the cardinal observed that problems with restructuring ICEL had not been resolved:

"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".

These Observations, the cardinal stressed, were not intended to be an exhaustive critique of the ICEL revision. But they were nonetheless revealing, and entirely consistent with other recent critiques from the Holy See on other translations of texts that are used for Catholic worship and Catholic teaching. (Observations accessible on our web site)

In April 2002 a Vatican committee of bishops, Vox Clara, was created to oversee the translations of liturgical texts.

The dominant message – to ICEL and all translators of texts that transmit the Catholic faith – is that in matters of translation, translation matters.

The Catholic Church, at the dawn of this millennium, has launched into the deep. In undertaking the renewal of the liturgy that the Holy Father called for in 1988, we are in largely uncharted territory.

The road ahead, as the experience of more than a decade of struggle over translation has shown, may well be filled with pitfalls, and there are sure to be unexpected twists and turns and rough places ahead. We can navigate this road, sed sine non difficultate ­ but not without difficulty. This task will require concentrated attention, prudence and fearless determination. And utmost confidence that God can make the rough places plain.


See related stories in this issue. For other articles on the work of ICEL, and Church Documents on the liturgy, see Adoremus web site, Translations, and Church Documents.



Helen Hull Hitchcock

Helen Hull Hitchcock (1939-2014) was editor of the <em>Adoremus Bulletin</em>, which she co-founded. She was also the founding director of Women for Faith & Family and editor of its quarterly journal, Voices. She published many articles and essays in a wide range of Catholic journals, and authored and edited <em>The Politics of Prayer: Feminist Language and the Worship of God</em> (Ignatius Press 1992), a collection of essays on issues involved in translation. She contributed essays to several books, including <em>Spiritual Journeys</em>, a book of “conversion stories” (Daughters of St. Paul). Helen lectured in the US and abroad, and appeared frequently on radio and television, representing Catholic teaching on issues affecting Catholic women, families, and Catholic faith and worship.