Online Edition – Vol. IX, No. 8: November 2003
New ICEL Statutes Signal Coming Changes
Unusual meeting prepares way for Missal in English
by Helen Hull Hitchcock
Everything now appears to be in place for an accurate and beautiful English translation of the new Roman Missal "third typical edition" — three years after its General Instruction first appeared, and after the failure of a massive revision of the English version in use since 1974.
The rejected revision was the work of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL), a "mixed commission" that has provided translations for the world’s English-speaking Catholics since 1963.
The new Roman Missal was officially released in Latin in March 2002, and it has not yet been translated into vernacular languages — except for its "General Instruction" (GIRM), which provides liturgical norms. The Vatican approved the US-adapted version of the GIRM in March, in advance of the rest of the text.
An English translation of the new Missal is now being prepared — by a "restructured" ICEL — and it is expected to be ready for publication within two years. The new GIRM is being implemented in many US dioceses at the end of this year.
Recent Events Signal Changes
New statutes to govern the work of ICEL were approved by the Holy See and sent to bishops on October 17, less than a week before a highly unusual meeting at the Vatican helped pave the way for the English translation of the new Roman Missal.
Participants in this key October 23 meeting, convened by Cardinal Francis Arinze, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments (CDW), were bishops who are presidents and heads of liturgy committees of English-speaking national conferences, along with CDW officials.
Cardinal Arinze has headed the CDW only since October 2002. He succeeded Cardinal Jorge Medina Estévez, who had served since 1996, and had initiated the process of updating ICEL. In 1999 Cardinal Medina asked for the revision of ICEL’s statutes.
According to the statutes, the ICEL Board is made up of bishops who normally head the liturgy committees of eleven English-speaking bishops’ conferences that are voting members. Several other national conferences where English is an important language are associate members.
ICEL’s president, elected in August 2002, is Bishop Arthur Roche, of Leeds, England. Father Bruce Harbert, of Birmingham, England, is General Secretary. ICEL’s offices will continue to be in Washington, DC.
Chicago Cardinal Francis George, now chairman of the US Bishops’ Committee on Liturgy, has been the US representative to ICEL since 1999. A final draft of the new ICEL statutes was approved by the US bishops in June 2003 before it was sent to the CDW.
The October 23 meeting at the Vatican principally focused on issues of liturgical translation — including questions that surfaced during the four years that the ICEL Statutes were undergoing revision (See AB September 2003, p. 1. The date of the meeting was changed because the elevation of 30 cardinals took place on the original date scheduled.)
In particular the bishops reviewed the functions of ICEL, its relationship to the Holy See, and aspects of Liturgiam authenticam, issued in 2001, the landmark Fifth Instruction on the implementation of the second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Liturgy.
"Thoroughgoing reform" Launched after Years of Dispute over Translations
In his 1999 letter to the president of ICEL, Cardinal Medina had called for a "thoroughgoing reform" of this "mixed commission" that has produced English-language translations of liturgical texts since it was organized in 1963. Until now ICEL has operated as a virtually autonomous body, answerable neither to the Holy See nor to the bishops’ conferences it serves.
The official approval of new ICEL Statutes concludes a protracted (and sometimes conflicted) debate over translations of liturgical texts that has gone on for more than a decade.
ICEL proposed its own view of translation in its "Third progress report" in 1992, just as it was beginning to introduce to the bishops its massive revision and retranslation of the "Sacramentary" — a process that would occupy the bishops for about seven years.
ICEL’s proposals in the "Third progress report" were never adopted, but they would have expanded on a 1969 document on translation, Comme le prévoit ("As foreseen"), produced by Consilium, the group responsible for implementing the liturgical reform immediately following the Council.
In 1988 — 25 years after the Council’s Constitution on the Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium appeared — Pope John Paul II called for a review of the post-conciliar liturgical developments — including the "mixed commission" that produced vernacular translations (in Vicesimus Quintos Annos). It would be more than a decade before a real reform of ICEL would even appear possible — and forty years after Sacrosanctum Concilium before it was accomplished.
US Lectionary — Parallel Process
Meanwhile, in a parallel (and equally complex and confusing) process that did not involve ICEL, sweeping translation proposals were also introduced for a new the US Lectionary for Mass, presented to the bishops for approval in 1992.
In 1990, before the proposed re-translation of the Lectionary was introduced, the bishops approved new translation norms, Criteria for the Evaluation of Inclusive Language Translations of Scriptural Texts Proposed for Liturgical Use. These Criteria were intended to prepare the way for the revised Lectionary that would incorporate "gender-neutral" re-translations of the Bible. (The US bishops are the publishers of the New American Bible that is used for the Lectionary).
The Criteria were flawed, in part because changing the language to accommodate the sensitivities of any particular interest group (e.g., feminists) undermined a fundamental purpose of liturgical language — to convey the authentic meaning of the sacramental event. The intended effect of politicized and contrived usages in scriptural texts for the Liturgy is to change their meaning and thus to alter beliefs.
When the Lectionary was submitted for approval, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), which oversees Scripture texts, was aware of the translation problems building within the English-speaking conferences — principally in the United States (though Canadian bishops had published a new Lectionary without the Holy See’s authorization).
In the mid-1990s, as the debate over translation continued, the CDF developed "Interim Norms" for Scripture translation in order to provide guidance for the translators of biblical texts. These CDF norms were made public in 1997.
The US Lectionary, as originally presented to the bishops in 1992, required substantial revision before it could receive Vatican approval, largely because the New American Bible (NAB) New Testament and Psalms had been revised for so-called "inclusive" language according to the Criteria principles. Although five US bishops worked with Vatican officials to correct the Lectionary text, some bishops complained of Vatican "interference".
During its review of the Lectionary, the CDF officially rejected the revised NAB Psalms in 1994; also the ICEL Psalter and the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) that had been used for the Canadian Lectionary.
In spite of the corrections that were made to the text for the US Lectionary, all copies of the New American Bible now in print still contain the defective 1986 New Testament and the 1991 Psalm translation that was so seriously flawed that it could not be used even as a "base-text" for the Lectionary.
It was not until 1997 — five years after the bishops first saw it, that Volume I of the revised Lectionary for Mass for the United States was approved.
When they voted on the revised text, the bishops had included a provision that the Lectionary be subject to review after five years (i.e., 2002), primarily because some bishops objected to the corrections. The new Lectionary’s two volumes were not fully in use until 2001. Nevertheless, last November a majority of the bishops approved "in principle" initiating a review process for the Lectionary translation.
Besides the separate process for translating Scripture texts used for Mass, there is yet another difference: unlike the vernacular Missal texts, where a single translation is used by countries that share a language, the biblical texts used for Mass may vary, even within the same language group. There are several Scripture translations now used by English-speaking countries for their Lectionaries.
This confusing multiplicity of English translations of the Bible used in the Liturgy could change, however.
During the decade of discussion and debate concerning translation issues, many bishops became accutely conscious of the need for principles of translation that would assure accurate texts. In May 2001, the Instruction Liturgiam authenticam broke new ground in the field of liturgical translation. It recommends that "there be a single translation of the liturgical books for each vernacular language, brought about by means of coordination among the Bishops of those regions where the same language is spoken" (LA 87). It continues: "In the case of the Order of Mass and those parts of the Sacred Liturgy that call for the direct participation of the people, a single translation should exist in a given language, unless a different provision is made in individual cases" (LA 88).
Progress Toward Authentic Liturgy
Are we at last coming to the end of the long, sometimes tortuous journey through the translation jungles that arose during the revision of liturgical books? All signals point to this. We can, at last, look forward with some confidence to an accurate and noble English translation that is truly worthy of the celebration of Holy Mass.
One of the welcome changes of having a relatively permanent translation of the English Missal is that we may at last be able to dispose of the "disposable worship aids" (a/k/a "missalettes"), and replace them with real books — for the first time in most people’s memory. Liturgiam authenticam says that it is "necessary to move beyond the temporary phase" and that books used for worship should "have a universal and perennial appeal":
The books from which the liturgical texts are recited in the vernacular with or on behalf of the people should be marked by such a dignity that the exterior appearance of the book itself will lead the faithful to a greater reverence for the word of God and for sacred realities [Cf. SC 122; Inter Oecumenici 40]. Thus it is necessary as soon as possible to move beyond the temporary phase characterized by leaflets or fascicles, wherever these exist. All books intended for the liturgical use of priest or deacon celebrants are to be of a size sufficient to distinguish them from the books intended for the personal use of the faithful. To be avoided in them is any extravagance which would necessarily lead to costs that would be unaffordable for some. Pictures or images on the cover and in the pages of the book should be characterized by a certain noble simplicity and by the use of only those styles that have a universal and perennial appeal in the cultural context (LA 120).
Now that ICEL and the bishops and the Vatican seem to have reached a new accord, will there be clear sailing with the authentic reform of the liturgy now? Probably not, for changing course takes time, and much confusion remains. But real progress toward the promised "new era of liturgical renewal" has been made. The goals of translation are clearly laid out in the carefully crafted Instruction, Liturgiam authenticam; and signal inspiration and encouragement is found in the encyclical on the Mass, Ecclesia de Eucharistia. These two key Vatican documents will help to keep a clear focus and to chart a steady course. Ad astra per aspera (To the stars through difficulty.)
Father Harbert, ICEL’s general secretary, commented on Liturgiam authenticam in an essay published in 2001 in Antiphon — soon after the Fifth Instruction appeared:
The Instruction treats many issues, but what concerns most people is the end product. "Will it change our liturgy?" is the first question many Catholics will ask. The answer is yes: Provided that those responsible for the liturgy follow these guidelines, there will be changes.
Most Catholics we know will not only welcome this kind of change, but pray that it comes quickly!