Jul 15, 2005

Bishops Defer Decision on Missal Adaptations

Online Edition – July-August 2005

Vol. XI, No. 5

Bishops Defer Decision on Missal Adaptations

USCCB June Meeting Report

by Helen Hull Hitchcock

The bishops had a lot on their plates at the June 16-18, 2005 meeting of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops in Chicago. The persistent clergy sex-abuse problems are a continuing preoccupation, and much of the meeting was in “executive session”. Only the morning sessions on Thursday and Friday were open to press and observers; and the action items in these sessions included approval of the norms on sex abuse cases, a look at the ninth draft of a plan for seminary formation, issuing a statement on Catholic schools, and electing a new chairman of the Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine, among other things. (Bishop Arthur Serratelli of Paterson will replace Archbishop William Levada of San Francisco, who has been appointed prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Bishop Serratelli is a member of the BCD and chairman of the committee for the Review of Scripture Translations).

Compared with the bishops’ meetings of the 1990s, where discussions on revisions of both the Lectionary and Sacramentary occupied a major place on the conference’s agenda (and involved huge stacks of documents and hundreds of amendments), the liturgy items at this meeting appeared simple. This was evidently the perception of many reporters, whose stories on the liturgy actions got it mostly wrong — understandably, considering that media interest was primarily aimed at other issues, reporters had to file stories in a hurry, and they based their reports only on the bishops’ brief but intense public discussion on Friday morning.

What the BCL Proposed

The single liturgy “action item” was the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy’s (BCL) proposal to retain in the new Missal a number of changes in the Order of Mass that had been made three decades ago. This action item had six sections: 1. placing the Rite of Blessing and Sprinkling Holy Water (Asperges) before the Act of Penitence (it is in an appendix in the Latin Missal); 2. two additional introductions to the Act of Penitence (“Penitential Rite”); 3. four additional formulas for the “Penitential Rite C” (i.e., the Kyrie with acclamations); 4. including present memorial acclamations as additional optional acclamations; 5. providing alternate introductions to the Lord’s Prayer; and 6. two alternate forms of dismissal.

The discussion on Friday focused almost exclusively on one memorial acclamation text, “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again”. This text was on the original list of about a dozen or so “alternative texts” that the BCL proposed. However, the BCL’s unexpected withdrawal of this one text — and its rejection of several bishops’ request to keep it on the list — led to the lively floor debate on Friday morning. The debate ended abruptly with the bishops’ very strong vote to defer all decisions on all sections of the BCL proposal until they have a chance to consider the English translation of the new Missal, now in its second draft. (The bishops had not yet received the text of the most recent draft translation of the Missal prepared by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy [ICEL]).

Bishop Donald Trautman of Erie chaired these sessions at the first bishop’s meeting of his second term as chairman of the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy. (His earlier term, 1993-96, was during the height of controversy over liturgy revisions.)

The BCL decided to withdraw the “Christ has died …” acclamation, Bishop Trautman said, “for a theological reason”:

On the advice of the Committee’s theological advisors, and after much discussion … the Committee has declined to recommend this acclamation for a theological reason. Unlike the acclamations of the Ordo Missae, the acclamation “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again” is more an assertion, a statement, rather than an expression of the gathered assembly of its incorporation into the Pascal Mystery. No pronoun is used to signify the people being incorporated into the Pascal Mystery. In the other memorial acclamations that incorporation is specified. For example: “Dying you destroyed our death, rising you restored our life …” Therefore the committee voted to drop this one acclamation.

He also told the bishops that the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments “welcomes the submission of these six American Adaptations, but is not disposed to more extensive changes or innovations”.

All proposals to amend the Missal would require a 2/3 majority vote of the bishops as well as recognitio (acceptance, approval) of the Holy See.

Discussion Reveals Doubts, Questions

In the preliminary discussion on Thursday, Bishop Edward Boyea (auxiliary, Detroit) asked if the six sections, involving different parts in the Order of Mass, could be considered separately. Archbishop John Myers (Newark) asked, “Could someone provide us the Latin for the response, ‘Christ has died, Christ is risen…’”? Bishop Trautman responded, “We’d be happy to do that”.

Bishop Michael Sheridan (Colorado Springs) observed that the BCL rationale “very consistently says that what we have had has proven to be ‘pastorally helpful’”, and asked, “Did we determine that from surveys, or — ?”

Bishop Trautman responded, “I think that language is taken from the document Liturgiam authenticam itself — the rationale for us to present adaptations, that is found in the document Liturgiam authenticam”.

“But have we as a Conference determined that [the proposed adaptations] have been pastorally helpful?”, Bishop Sheridan asked.

Bishop Trautman replied, “I think in the judgment of the Committee, in the practice of thirty years, the advice we have received is, yes, they have been indeed very pastorally helpful to us”. The bishops had until 5 o’clock to give amendments to the BCL before the final debate and vote the next morning.

Theological Rationale

On Friday morning, Bishop Trautman introduced the BCL’s action item, and commented further on the rejection of “Christ has died …”:

The purpose of this action item is to ensure that the six adaptations listed on page one of the Supplementary Document will be added to the ICEL translation of the Order of Mass of the Missale Romanum, editio typica tertia for the United States. These six items were previously approved by this body and confirmed by the Holy See. [For the 1973/74 “Sacramentary” now in use — Ed.] The use of these options has shaped the liturgical formation and spirituality of our people for two generations.

The Committee received several amendments seeking to restore the memorial acclamation “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again”. The Committee is very understanding of the support and sentiment behind these amendments. The text in question is a popular music text and has served us well. The Committee wishes to point out that this well-known memorial acclamation is not a translation of any Latin text. I repeat, it is not a translation of any Latin text. It is an original English text composed by Lucien Deiss in 1964. In 1968 ICEL copyrighted this text, long before the Roman Missal came out in 1970. The other memorial acclamations, which the Committee is recommending, are translations of Latin texts.

Some have suggested that the acclamation in question was taken from the Eucharistic Prayers for Masses with children. But it does not come from these prayers, since the original Latin acclamation for these prayers reads “Christum qui mortuis est pro nobis et resurrexit expectamus venientum in gloria”. The Latin text talks about Jesus dying for us, and that pronoun is not found in the English. It speaks of us expecting or hoping for His coming in glory. Again that is not found in the English. So this Latin text — the Latin one I have just quoted — like all memorial acclamations, is a proclamation of the assembly’s incorporation into the Pascal Mystery. The English text “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again” does not use any pronouns to indicate the people being incorporated into the Pascal Mystery. All the other memorial acclamations specify that incorporation. For example, “Dying you destroyed our death, rising you restored our life….” Or “When we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim your death, Lord Jesus …” Therefore the text “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again”, which originated in English, and not from a Latin text, does not reflect the theological meaning of the memorial acclamation as envisioned in Liturgiam authenticam. In the view of the Committee a memorial acclamation which insufficiently reflects the theological meaning contained in the texts of the Missale Romanum will not be readily confirmed by the Holy See.

The Liturgy Committee is in the initial stages of presenting to you the new ICEL translation of the Order of Mass and recognizes it has to make difficult choices to be in conformity with the norms and theology of Liturgiam authenticam. Paragraph 22 of that document states texts are to be governed by theological content.

Origin of “Original Texts”

As some bishops no doubt knew, most of the alternate and additional texts on the BCL’s list of proposed adaptations for the new Missal are original texts composed by ICEL members, not translations at all. These ICEL original texts were added in the first wave of production of post-conciliar liturgical books, at a time of maximum pressure for change by liturgical experts, including the members of ICEL, who produced the English-language texts.

At that time, the procedure for approval of vernacular texts was far more fluid than now. Texts (original or translated) were usually approved by the members of the liturgy committee, often with the added approval of the conference’s Administrative Committee; but not necessarily by the full body of bishops. The texts were then submitted to the Consilium, a group of experts (not necessarily bishops) appointed by the Vatican to oversee the implementation of the liturgical reform. This procedure permitted very rapid production and approval of vernacular books; though, obviously, actual episcopal oversight at any stage was extremely limited.

It was commonly held among liturgical experts at that time that there should be maximum freedom to make “adjustments” to the texts given in the official books. Most of these “ICEL originals” date from that period.

Father Lucien Deiss, mentioned by Bishop Trautman, is a French liturgist who was one of the highly influential innovators of the early phase of the post-conciliar liturgical reform, a vigorous promoter of litugical dance, a composer and a member of Consilium. The song “Keep in mind” was composed in 1964 by Father Deiss, and its refrain has often been used as a memorial acclamation, though it was never approved for that use. (He also composed one of the more than 30 existing tunes for “Christ has died….”)

The origin of the “Christ has died …” text is attributed to the International Consultation on English Texts (ICET), a mostly Protestant group founded to produce ecumenical texts for the liturgy. ICET (later known as the English Language Liturgical Consultation) was part of a plan, shared and promoted by influential Catholic liturgists of that era, to achieve unity of worship among various Christian bodies by supplying common texts.

By 1970, the “Christ has died …” phrase had appeared in the revised books of Protestant denominations, though not for a memorial acclamation, as in the Catholic liturgy.

Most bishops are well aware that ICEL was fundamentally restructured recently, so that its work is now carefully overseen and guided by the bishops’ conferences and the Holy See. ICEL’s new statutes prohibit composing new texts and restrict its work to translation.

Most bishops also know that Liturgiam authenticam, the fifth Instruction on the implementation of the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Liturgy, provides principles for accurate liturgical translations, replacing guidelines dating from the 1960s used by ICEL to produce the first wave of English-language liturgical texts. These guidelines, known as Comme le prévoit, were produced by the Consilium, and also date from the early post-conciliar phase.


Some bishops raised questions about the theological rationale Bishop Trautman gave for rejecting the “Christ has died …” phrase. Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb (Mobile), for example, said he thinks the phrase is a “very valid acclamation of faith”. Several other bishops similarly argued in favor of keeping this text on the list of options.

Missing from the Committee’s rationale was the liturgical significance of the memorial acclamation. An “acclamation” is a prayer-like statement of praise addressed to God. The main problem with the phrase “Christ has died …” is not its theology, but that it is a simple statement of fact — a proclamation, rather than an acclamation directed to God. (A similar observation could be made of “Dying you destroyed our death …”: although it is addressed to Christ, it is another ICEL text that is not truly a translation.)

Several bishops questioned why this text alone, among all the other ICEL original texts that were being proposed as additions to the new Missal, should have been singled out by the BCL. No response from Bishop Trautman satisfactorily explained his Committee’s decision. It seemed that the BCL was invoking two sets of rules.

An intervention by Cardinal Francis George, former chairman of the BCL and now vice-president of the conference, focused on this apparent anomaly:

I’m genuinely puzzled. In Adaptation 3 we are willing to go to the Holy See to ask for four additional formulas for the Penitential Rite, which are not in the Latin. And I think that’s a good idea, we’re used to them, and they are fine formulas. I don’t understand why we’re not willing to go to the Holy See for this acclamation.

Bishop Trautman repeated that this is the only memorial acclamation that is not in Latin.

“Well, we have Penitential Rites [on the list] that are not in Latin”, Cardinal George said. “It seems to me to be analogous, if not identical”.

Bishop Trautman responded that in addition, this text “doesn’t fit the standard of Liturgiam authenticam for incorporation of the people. No pronouns are being used to recognize that incorporation. So it’s a twofold argument”.

Cardinal George said he did not understand how this came under Liturgiam authenticam, since this is not a translation.

During the discussion it became apparent to most bishops that the issues were far too complex to be dealt with adequately in the brief time allowed. (A majority did vote to override the BCL’s elimination of the “Christ has died …” text from the list, however. This would have restored it to the list of alternatives in that one section of the action item as the BCL originally proposed — i.e., four added alternatives for the memorial acclamation in addition to the three new translations in the new Missal.) The bishops well understand the pre-eminence of the Mass over all other matters, and the urgent need to get it right.

Cardinal Edward Egan (New York) suggested, at one point, that instead of relying on a committee to make proposals for the Mass, the whole body of bishops’ act together. Just before a vote was taken on the entire proposal, Cardinal George again intervened:

[W]e’re creating, I think, a needless conflict before we even know what the entire ICEL text is going to be.… [T]he question we just addressed — a double translation — should be addressed when we take up the question of the translations given us by ICEL.

At that point if the translations given us by ICEL, even though perhaps in some ways, marginally perhaps, are more accurate, we make the decision that we would prefer to keep the present translations for pastoral reasons, well that’s a legitimate concern. And at that point you can make a decision without leaving us with six rather than three texts.

I don’t think the Holy See is going to approve a Missal with two translations of the same texts, which is what we’re asking them to do here. So then we’ll get something back from the Holy See saying: What’s the matter with you people? And then we will have another conflict. It just seems to me to be an odd procedure.

May I ask why we are doing this before we even have the ICEL text and its ICEL translations before us for a vote?

Bishop Trautman replied, “last year your Committee approved these texts”. Cardinal George seemed surprised, and responded, “Well, I was wrong.… All I’m saying is that when this comes back to us, as it will, I think we’re going to be asked respectfully by the Holy See, ‘Would you please tell us which translation you want?’ And we’ll have to make the choice then”.

A few bishops raised questions about some of the other proposals, but the discussion was interrupted by a motion by Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio (Brooklyn) to “table this until we receive the text from ICEL, so we won’t be doing the same thing twice”.

A brief exchange with the conference secretary and parliamentarian ruled that the motion was in order. A standing vote was taken, and the bishops voted 160 to 70 to table.

Thus abruptly ended this latest phase of our bishops’ continuing effort to provide a good English version of the Roman Missal, and to deal intelligently with the complicated and sometimes vexing problems involving the liturgy. There is more to come, obviously.

[NB: Quotations of the bishops are from Adoremus audio tapes of the USCCB meeting, transcribed by Susan Benofy.]



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.