Jul 15, 2006

ICEL Order of Mass sent to Holy See for "recognitio"

Online Edition – July-August 2006

Vol. XII, No. 5

US Bishops Approve First Missal Texts

ICEL Order of Mass sent to Holy See for "recognitio"

Two more sets of Mass texts scheduled for vote in November

On June 15, on the first day of the meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in Los Angeles, the bishops quickly and decisively approved the Order of Mass, translated by the recently restructured International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL).

This was the first segment of the English translation of the new third “typical edition” of the Roman Missal that was released in Latin four years ago, March 18, 2002. ICEL is the “mixed commission” that has produced unified translations of liturgical texts for the English-speaking Churches since it was organized in 1963, during the Second Vatican Council — and which was thoroughly reorganized three years ago.

The Missal translation is not yet complete, and the remaining texts — the Prefaces and the Propers, or prayers for particular seasons and feasts — must also be approved by the ICEL-member countries and by the Holy See — a process that may take more than a year to complete. (The bishops have already received the draft version of these texts, scheduled for vote at their November 2006 meeting.)

The US bishops’ vote was 173 in favor (about 85% of those who voted), with only 29 opposed. Thus the new text handily achieved the required 2/3 majority of the 254 eligible Latin-rite bishops without resorting to an absentee ballot.

The US conference was the fourth of the eleven ICEL-member conferences to approve the texts. Australia, England and Wales, Scotland and Canada had also approved the translation, though without the amendments added by the US conference.

Before the new texts may be used for Mass, they require approval by the Holy See, where they will be reviewed (and amended where necessary). The Vox Clara committee, an international group organized in 2002 to advise the Holy See on the English translations, will assist with this review. Vox Clara consists of twelve bishops from nine countries (four from the US) and a panel of five consultants.

A Promising Beginning

The US bishops’ positive action on these new English texts for the Mass is a very promising beginning — although it has taken more than two years since the first draft texts were distributed to reach this point.

The first ICEL draft of the Order of Mass was sent to the English-speaking conferences in 2004, and both plenary meetings of the USCCB in 2005 involved discussion of the ICEL texts, along with a list of proposed “American adaptations”.

The English translation of the Missal is especially critical because of its international influence. English is the principal language of eleven countries and a significant secondary language in fifteen others. In addition, many other languages translate liturgical texts from the English version rather than directly from the Latin.

There were two “Liturgy action items” on the US bishops’ agenda at the June meeting:

1. Voting on ICEL’s English translation of the Order of Mass, preceded by voting on proposed amendments to this text; and

2. Voting on a list of adaptations that would be additions to the Missal for the United States.

The voting procedures were complex; and voting on an unamended text was not an option. (A description of the procedures was published in the May edition of AB.)

The new translation is a dramatic improvement over the 1973 ICEL version still in use, which reflects an iconoclastic view of “updating” Catholic worship that prevailed in the years following the Second Vatican Council. By contrast, the new ICEL version reflects the objectives of the Holy See’s 2001 Instruction, Liturgiam authenticam, to provide more accurate translations from the Latin, and a greater sense of sacredness, “dignity, beauty and doctrinal precision”. (LA 25)

Latin words and phrases from the Missal that were omitted in the first English translation are now restored by the newly restructured ICEL. (Examples: et cum spiritu tuo is now correctly translated “and with your spirit”, replacing “and also with you”; and the Confiteor’s “mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa” returns to “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault”. Entire phrases that had been cut from the Gloria are now restored.)

Ground Well-Prepared for “a new era of liturgical renewal”

Those who recall the protracted debates over revising translations of both the Mass texts and the Lectionary that occupied our bishops during the 1990s may be encouraged by the evident resolve of most bishops to act in concert with the Holy See. (A summary review of the recent history of revising texts, and the involvement of the US bishops’ conference and the Holy See in this long process also appeared in the May AB.)

The effect of two momentous actions of the Holy See was overwhelmingly evident at the USCCB meeting. After nearly a decade of problems with revised English liturgical texts — and in anticipation of the release of a new edition of the Roman Missal in Latin — the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments 1) curtailed ICEL’s independent control of English translations by mandating its radical restructure, so that it is now subject to the conferences and to the Holy See; and 2) issued Liturgiam authenticam to establish “the true notion of liturgical translation in order that the translations of the Sacred Liturgy into the vernacular languages may stand secure as the authentic voice of the Church of God”.

This fifth Instruction on the implementation of the Council’s Constitution on the Liturgy, published in May 2001, “envisions and seeks to prepare for a new era of liturgical renewal, which is consonant with the qualities and the traditions of the particular Churches, but which safeguards also the faith and the unity of the whole Church of God”. (LA 7)

Liturgiam authenticam stressed the obligation of translators to render the original texts faithfully, “without omissions or additions”, or “paraphrases or glosses”:

The Latin liturgical texts of the Roman Rite, while drawing on centuries of ecclesial experience in transmitting the faith of the Church received from the Fathers, are themselves the fruit of the liturgical renewal, just recently brought forth. In order that such a rich patrimony may be preserved and passed on through the centuries, it is to be kept in mind from the beginning that the translation of the liturgical texts of the Roman Liturgy is not so much a work of creative innovation as it is of rendering the original texts faithfully and accurately into the vernacular language. While it is permissible to arrange the wording, the syntax and the style in such a way as to prepare a flowing vernacular text suitable to the rhythm of popular prayer, the original text, insofar as possible, must be translated integrally and in the most exact manner, without omissions or additions in terms of their content, and without paraphrases or glosses. Any adaptation to the characteristics or the nature of the various vernacular languages is to be sober and discreet. (LA 20, “General Principles Applicable to All Translation”)

The Instruction emphasized the importance of sacral language — words that convey a sense of reverence and transcendence:

The translations should be characterized by a kind of language which is easily understandable, yet which at the same time preserves these texts’ dignity, beauty, and doctrinal precision. By means of words of praise and adoration that foster reverence and gratitude in the face of God’s majesty, His power, His mercy and His transcendent nature, the translations will respond to the hunger and thirst for the living God that is experienced by the people of our own time, while contributing also to the dignity and beauty of the liturgical celebration itself. (LA 25)

Other, more immediate factors contributed to the bishops’ decisive vote at the June meeting — and doubtless also account for the brevity of debate. (Vocal criticism by a few bishops of the Holy See’s “interference” in liturgical matters was well known, so open conflict and even an effort to delay the bishops’ action on the ICEL texts were considered serious possibilities.)

Cardinal Arinze’s Letter

Before the USCCB meeting, response to opposition to the principles of Liturgiam authenticam and the ICEL Missal texts came from several sources — first from the Holy See.

On May 2, Cardinal Francis Arinze, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, sent a letter to the president of the USCCB, stressing that all translations of liturgical texts must conform to Liturgiam authenticam’s principles of translation. The letter said, in part,

[I]t is not acceptable to maintain that people have become accustomed to a certain translation for the past thirty or forty years, and therefore that it is pastorally advisable to make no changes. Where there are good and strong reasons for a change, as has been determined by this Dicastery in regard to the entire translation of the Missale Romanum as well as other important texts, then the revised text should make the needed changes. The attitudes of Bishops and Priests will certainly influence the acceptance of the texts by the lay faithful as well.

Cardinal Arinze’s letter was sent to all bishops only weeks before their meeting in Los Angeles. (The complete text of this letter appeared in the June edition of AB.)

Monsignor Harbert’s Article, Cardinal Pell’s Interview

Later that month, an article by the executive director of the ICEL Secretariat, Monsignor Bruce Harbert, appeared in the National Catholic Reporter — in response to BCL chairman Bishop Donald Trautman’s criticism published earlier.

Referring to the omission from present translations of Latin words and phrases, Monsignor Harbert said that “ICEL seeks to develop a liturgical language that will address God with no less courtesy than we use toward one another in our everyday conversation”. He said that ICEL is aiming not only at restoring sacredness to the translation, but also at an international style of English.

“The prize at the end of the process is catholicity”, he wrote. “For one and a half millennia, Latin secured the unity of a large section of the church. It remained stable as the Romance languages were growing out of it. Now English often has a similar role. If we can develop a single English-language liturgy, faithful to the traditions of the Roman rite, we shall be handing on to the Church of the future a gift of immeasurable value”. (NCR, May 26, 2006)

Only two weeks before the USCCB meeting, an interview with Cardinal George Pell, published in the National Catholic Reporter June 1, included the Vox Clara president’s comments on progress with the English texts.

Cardinal Pell revealed that the bishops’ conferences of Australia and England and Wales had already approved the ICEL texts for the Order of Mass, and commented that if the US bishops approved the texts it would probably “enormously change the balance of things, but I have no doubt there would be isolated and sporadic resistance”. He also said that the aim “is to have one Roman Missal for the English-speaking world”.

ICEL President Addresses Bishops

At the June meeting, just before the discussion of the liturgy “action items” began, there was a surprise address by the president of ICEL, Bishop Arthur Roche, of Leeds, England. He was introduced to the assembly by Bishop Trautman. Bishop Roche’s remarks addressed some specific points of the public criticism of the ICEL translation, and problems with the current translation which are both stylistic and ideological. He, too, stressed the international importance of the US bishops’ action.

“We are at a very important moment in the whole of this process”, Bishop Roche said. “If the bishops of the English-speaking countries can agree on a single version of the Mass, what a sign of catholicity that will be. But more than that, it will be a guarantee of catholicity for the future, not only in our own time, and not only in our own countries. Clearly I, and all my brother bishops of ICEL, believe that you, the bishops of the United States, have a most important role of leadership to play in just that”.

Bishop Roche’s address probably assured this “enormous change in the balance of things” Cardinal Pell mentioned.

(See complete text of Bishop Roche’s address in this issue.)


Before they voted on the ICEL text itself, the bishops dealt with the proposed amendments. Altogether, about 175 amendments were submitted, though many of them were duplicates, and some were very minor. The BCL reviewed the amendments before the meeting, accepted some and rejected others.

Most of the bishops’ discussion concerned a very few of these amendments. Any bishop may ask for “separate consideration” of any item on either list, and only these few are discussed and voted on separately. For all the rest, the bishops accepted the decisions of the BCL. All approved amendments are considered incorporated into the text they then vote on. (Obviously, this can be confusing, as it is not always clear to the bishops exactly how the final text appears.)

Among the accepted amendments were those that would alter the new ICEL translation of the Creed — by inserting “I believe” in three places; and retaining “one in being with the Father”, instead of the new ICEL rendering, “consubstantial with the Father”, translating the original Latin, “consubstantialem Patri”. [See sidebar.]

The BCL’s rationale for retaining the earlier translation is that people could not understand the term “consubstantial”. Some bishops suggested that this would be an excellent opportunity to explain the meaning.

Two of the several bishops who argued against “one in being” and in favor of “consubstantial” were Archbishops Alfred Hughes and Oscar Lipscomb, both of whom are members of Vox Clara. Cardinal Francis George of Chicago observed that the US is “odd man out” on our version of the Creed. Cardinal George, vice-president of the USCCB, is the US bishops’ representative to ICEL and a member of Vox Clara. (Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia is also a Vox Clara member.)

In the vote, “consubstantial” lost to “one in being”.

It is worth noting that the translation of the Creed we now use was not an ICEL translation, but is one of the “ecumenical texts” of the Mass that were produced by the International Consultation on English Texts. (Two other ICET texts are the Gloria and the Sanctus. The US bishops had voted to reject the ICET version of the Our Father, and retained the traditional version.)

Deleted “men”

One of the rejected amendments also involved the Creed. The new ICEL text simply deletes the word homines (men) so that the phrase reads “for us — and for our salvation…” (changing “for us men and for our salvation…”).

Three bishops — David Foley, Fabian Bruskewitz and Joseph Martino — had proposed amendments to restore “men” to the text. But the BCL rejected them, offering as its rationale: “The Committee declines to accept the amendment, suggesting that the avoidance of men as a universal non-gendered inclusive, when possible, is a reasonable principle when translating into English as spoken in the United States (cf. NAB translation used in the Lectionary for Mass)”.

These rejected amendments were not brought into the open discussion, however — possibly because feminist language issues present problems that cannot be resolved by ten minutes of floor debate at the USCCB meeting.

Why did ICEL delete “men”? Unhappily, ICEL continues to use so-called “inclusive language” in some places — presenting problems both stylistic and ideological. Though the new translations reflect the new principles of translation in the main, it is disturbing that ICEL ignores Liturgiam authenticam §30, which emphasized that the nouns and pronouns in the original text “should be maintained in translation”, and suggested “catechesis” to aid in correct understanding, if there is any ambiguity of meaning.

As we have observed elsewhere, this may reflect ICEL’s “translator’s bias”. In the CD video sent with the 2004 text, Monsignor Harbert of ICEL, speaking of changes in the Gloria states that,

Objections are sometimes raised to the use of the masculine pronoun “his” here and elsewhere in the Liturgy. The new version [of the Gloria], “and peace on earth to people of good will”, corresponds more accurately to the Latin, and also removes the unnecessary masculine pronoun. The bishops of ICEL are taking care to make the language of the Mass as inclusive as possible.

We hope these concessions to feminist ideological influence evident in the ICEL texts will be repaired before the Holy See grants recognitio (approval, confirmation). Altering the English language for essentially political reasons is not merely a matter of personal preference or taste, but has important theological ramifications. Past experience with the Lectionary and the Catechism translations suggest that problems like this can only be resolved and corrected by the Holy See — and we urgently hope for this correction.

In the end, fewer than two dozen actual changes to the ICEL text for the Order of Mass resulted. Bishop Trautman said that he thought the ICEL text had been “significantly improved” by the amendments, therefore, “In the name of the Committee, I ask that the body approve this for the dioceses of the United States”.

With no further discussion, Bishop Skylstad called for the vote.

As the ballots were being collected, Cardinal George spoke in favor of the text as a representative of ICEL, and Bishop Robert Lynch, of St. Petersburg, said that he had intended to enter ask for a delay because the time was not right to introduce changes in the liturgy, and he thought “the degree of acceptance by our priests” was an issue.

(See our transcription of the bishops’ discussion in this issue.)

American “adaptations” Added

In contrast to the amendments, the adaptations become additions to the Missal for the Church in United States. Because of this, the adaptations also require a 2/3 majority vote of the Latin-rite bishops. Without discussion, the bishops accepted all the decisions of the BCL regarding adaptations, and all proposed adaptations were voted on by a single ballot (184 yes – 8 no).

Most proposed adaptations are familiar to Americans. For example, the memorial acclamation, “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again”. Though this acclamation is the most used, it never existed in the Latin Missal. It was a creation of ICEL. Also included are two new prayers for already-blessed holy water — also original compositions of ICEL, recycled almost verbatim from the rejected “ICEL Sacramentary” of the 1990s.

Again, original creations are not translations — which was one of the problems with the “old ICEL” that led to its restructure and to new translation principles.

What Happens Next?

How long before we get the new texts? When can we hear — and pray — the new Missal in our parishes?

The next step is approval by the ICEL-member conferences of the remaining texts (Prefaces and Propers), which should occur before the end of this year. Then there will be the close examination by the Holy See before recognitio is granted. (This is already underway for the Order of Mass. Vox Clara met in early July to begin this work.) The best estimates are that we might see printed books next year. And there is reason to hope this will happen.

But, as Cardinal Pell predicted, there will be “sporadic resistance”. It may seem ironic that resistance to change is now rationalized as “pastoral sensitivity” to the people in the pews, who, we are told, cannot be expected to say “and with your spirit” or “I believe” without extensive advance drilling.

Attitudes of the 1960s are still deeply entrenched in some liturgical circles, and old opinions and old habits die hard. It is fast becoming a truism that today’s most recalcitrant opponents of change are often the same ones who were the “change agents” of yesterday.

Resistance to the new English translation is likely to be expressed primarily in delay tactics. One method of delay is likely be developing programs of “catechesis” for the changes. “We need a full court press to bring this new Missal to our people”, Bishop Trautman said in an interview after the bishops’ meeting, and he mentioned several liturgical organizations that must be involved in “catechizing” Catholics for the changes.

Authenticity Now Appears Assured

Nevertheless, a new and far superior translation of the Order of Mass is now assured – even if we must wait patiently for the remaining work to be done before new books appear in our parishes. The kind of liturgical changes that Catholics will soon experience will be welcomed by most for what they are — a genuine recovery of the sacred, transcendent dimension of Catholic worship.

The liturgy of the Church transcends time. It is not our creation. It must draw believers of today into genuine communion with the Church throughout the world and in every age — which is the reason for translating the Mass into vernacular languages. The Second Vatican Council permitted the translation of the timeless Latin Liturgy into contemporary tongues precisely in order that the Church might more effectively transmit the unchanging truth of the ages to the people of our time.

To remain vital, the liturgy must maintain this connection with all ages — past, present, and yet to come — freed from the restrictions imposed by our own narrow and limited cultural and historical point of view.

The approval by our bishops of this translation of the Order of Mass is an essential step in advancing the “new era of liturgical renewal”. English-speaking Catholics have grounds for gratitude. We may now await the next steps with renewed hope.


Helen Hull Hitchcock is editor of the Adoremus Bulletin, and a founding member of Adoremus – Society for the Renewal of the Sacred Liturgy.



The Editors