Dec 15, 2006

November 2006 USCCB Meeting

Online Edition – December 2006 – January 2007
Vol. XII, No. 9

2006 USCCB Meeting
Bishops Vote for Music Directory and New Revised Lectionary
First guidelines for approval of music texts; Advent Readings

by Susan Benofy

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops met in Baltimore for their semi-annual plenary meeting November 13-16. Only the first two days were open to the press; the rest of the meeting was conducted in “executive session”. Most of the discussion was related to the proposed restructuring of the conference — combining and/or eliminating some standing committees.

Only two action items related to the liturgy were on the agenda. The Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy (BCL) presented a Directory for Music and the Liturgy, and the first portion of a proposed revision of the Lectionary, readings for Advent .

A chairman-elect for the BCL was also chosen. Bishop Arthur Serratelli of Paterson, NJ was elected to become chairman at the end of the November 2007 meeting. Bishop Serratelli completed a three-year term as chairman of the Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine at the November 2006 meeting.

Revised Lectionary Proposed
The Lectionary review is the result of an amendment presented during the discussion and vote on the revised Lectionary for Mass in 1997, which said that the Lectionary would be reviewed after five years of use. The review process was described by Bishop Donald Trautman of Erie, chairman of the BCL, in his presentation to the bishops on November 13:

After consultation with the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions and the Ad Hoc Committee for the Review of Scripture Translations, the Bishops’ Committee on Liturgy approved a review instrument. In 2003 we shared that review instrument with all the bishops and a select group of pastors throughout the United States. That consultation surfaced detailed and serious reservations about the present Lectionary. For example, concerns about the suitability of certain texts for proclamation, concerns about grammar and vocabulary, concerns about length of sentences, pronouns without a clear antecedent. The Bishops’ Committee on Liturgy then conducted an experimental revision for the readings of Advent. This process called upon pastors, Scripture scholars and persons with credentials in proclamation and English literature to help revise the text. The results of this work were then reviewed by the entire Bishops’ Committee on Liturgy, and final recommendations are now before you.

Most of the changes proposed are fairly minor. Only the Advent revisions were presented at this meeting, though the entire Lectionary will be revised (based on the re-revised New American Bible). Only the readings were considered, the Responsorial Psalms were not included in this segment of the revision. (The revisions for Lent will be presented at the June meeting.)

Only after the entire Lectionary is revised, approved by the conference and receives recognitio from the Holy See, will a new Lectionary be introduced into parishes. It appears that the recognitio will not be sought until the entire set of revisions has been approved by the USCCB.

Since it is a revision of a liturgical book, the Lectionary needed a two-thirds vote of the Latin rite bishops. The vote was 205 in favor, 13 against and 2 abstentions.

Directory for Music and the Liturgy
A second item introduced for a vote of the Conference by the Committee on the Liturgy at the November 2006 meeting was the “Directory for Music and the Liturgy”. This is intended to satisfy the requirement of Liturgiam authenticam (LA) §108, which says, in part:

Within five years from the publication of this Instruction, the Conferences of Bishops, necessarily in collaboration with the national and diocesan Commissions and with other experts, shall provide for the publication of a directory or repertory of texts intended for liturgical singing. This document shall be transmitted for the necessary recognitio to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.

The BCL chose to produce a directory, a set of principles to be used in the evaluation of texts, rather than a repertory of specific texts, as explained in the introductory material the bishops:

While repertorium textuum seems to imply a list of songs appropriate for liturgical use (a “white list”), the practicality of such a task in the United States of America is questionable in the light of the number of published hymns and new compositions regularly commissioned.

In his preliminary presentation of the Directory, Bishop Trautman further explained:

The pivotal question in this action item concerns the committee’s understanding of a Directory versus a fixed and exclusive “white list” or a national hymnal. If the Bishops’ Committee on Liturgy were to seek to produce a list of approved liturgical songs, it would mean that we would have to choose from tens of thousands of approved songs presently in use in the liturgy. To accomplish such a task would entail more rigorous criteria for choosing. The final collection of liturgical songs would have to be voted and approved by this body of bishops. The ramifications of such an approach would lead to the virtual elimination of companies dedicated to the publication of liturgical participation aids since the number of songs would be too extensive to include. This would also lead to a stark reduction in the creation of new liturgical songs and the loss of significant income for Catholic liturgical music composers. Finally, the committee believes our informal contacts with the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments uphold our understanding of this matter.

The sheer number of song texts published in annual “worship aids” clearly contributes to the committee’s view that the task of reviewing all the texts is not practical. But this is also what makes it necessary. New texts are constantly being published, and parish repertoires are constantly changing. Yet, LA §108 says that the sung texts of the liturgy “should remain relatively fixed so that confusion among the people may be avoided”.

Note that LA §108 does not speak of “songs”, but of “texts intended for liturgical singing”. (emphasis added.) For many centuries new liturgical music did not mean music with new texts, but new musical settings of fixed liturgical texts. Since the Council, however, most new music produced for liturgical use also has a newly composed text. LA §108 seems to be aimed, at least in part, at changing this situation by limiting the number of new texts for singing introduced into the liturgy. Yet Bishop Trautman’s remarks above seem to indicate that the number will not be significantly reduced, lest this adversely affect music publishers and composers.

A serious problem is the fact that the theological content of the texts of these new compositions is often ambiguous, at best. The Directory mentions this problem and insists that:

Individual songs should be consonant with Catholic teaching and free from doctrinal error.

It also says,

The repertoire of liturgical songs in any given Christian community should reflect the full spectrum of the Catholic faith.

However, only a few specific directives as to what constitutes doctrinal correctness are given. In songs referring to the Blessed Trinity there must not be “consistent replacement of masculine pronominal references to the three Divine persons”. Any reference to work of the members of the Church must be “balanced by an appreciation of the doctrine of grace”. Significantly, the Directory states:

The elimination of archaic language should never alter the meaning and essential theological structure of a venerable liturgical song.

Some ingredients of the “full spectrum of the Catholic faith” are given. They include: the Trinity, centrality of Christ in salvation, grace as God’s initiative, “careful treatment of the ecclesial and sacramental context of Catholic beliefs” and presenting God as the “instrumental cause of all good”. Amendments were accepted adding that every liturgical repertoire should reflect the centrality of the paschal mystery, including our participation in the self-offering of Christ, and include songs expressing the communal dimensions of the faith.

The proposed Directory is to be used by “bishops of those places where liturgical songs are published in authorizing individual collections”. This gives most bishops no role whatever in the approval of these texts for music used throughout the country, while seeming to put a huge burden on bishops of the two dioceses where major publishers are located. At present in the US almost all music used at Masses is produced by three publishing companies: Oregon Catholic Press (OCP) of the Archdiocese of Portland (Archbishop John Vlazny is a member of the BCL music subcommittee), and two in Chicago, GIA and World Library Publications (WLP). This means Archbishop Vlazny and Cardinal Francis George would be responsible for approving virtually all liturgical music in the US.

The Directory is not clear whether its procedures are to be applied to songs previously published or only to songs published after it comes into effect. But Liturgiam authenticam seems to require some approval procedure for all the texts to be sung at Mass.

A Common Repertoire
The Directory, in addition to providing criteria for judging hymns and songs, prescribes that the BCL Subcommittee on Music propose a common (or core) repertoire of liturgical music to be included in all hymnals published commercially in the US. In the course of the discussion Bishop Trautman mentioned that he anticipates this core repertoire would be a set of 60 to 100 items. Several bishops asked if this common repertoire would include songs in Spanish, or bilingual songs, though the Committee said that they were concerned primarily with English. Beyond that, the contents of the core repertoire are left quite vague. These core hymns and songs would not be the only ones permitted for liturgical use; and the Directory does not require that the “core” actually be used, only that this list of approved songs and hymns be included in all “worship aids”.

But some of the statements about its contents seem contradictory. At one point in the preliminary presentation, Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington, DC tried to clarify whether the core repertoire would be the only hymns to appear in worship aids.

Bishop Trautman: Certain core hymns that are in the Catholic tradition — “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name”, “Silent Night” — I’m not going to pretend I would enumerate these, but I think those would be two classical examples that would be in the —

Archbishop Wuerl: Only? Only those?

Bishop Trautman: No, we may have a list of 60 or 100, yet to be determined. This is simply establishing the principle that whatever makes up that core repertoire would be in liturgical aids that are published.

Archbishop Wuerl: So I’m returning to that last sentence. “While songs outside the core repertoire may also be used, the core repertoire must be included in all worship aids”. Meaning —

Bishop Trautman: There are other songs approved by bishops that are not, perhaps, in the core repertory. But are approved, and can be used in the liturgy. But they do not make up this Catholic tradition, or the core.

Both the examples Bishop Trautman cited and his description of the core repertoire as consisting of hymns that “make up this Catholic tradition” suggest the use of older, traditional hymns. Such a core repertoire would be made up almost entirely of texts in the public domain. Yet, Bishop Grosz had earlier mentioned negotiations with publishers about copyright.

Bishop Grosz: Part of the difficulty will be … actually sitting down with the publishers. And this is a very sensitive issue as Bishop Trautman noted because we’re dealing with questions of copyrights. Will, indeed, some of these publishers be willing to allow us to put some of these pieces of music into this common repertoire? We’re not at that step right now, and that was mentioned to the publishers when we did meet with them in Chicago. So these are very delicate issues. The point is basically to get the document approved here, to get the recognitio from Rome, so that we can move on then with the next step, which is basically preparing that common repertoire. In doing that the subcommittee, for example, has suggested that we meet with the heads of such organizations like National Association of Pastoral Musicians, other publishers of music, whereby they may recommend one or two pieces of music that they find to be — not necessarily the top-ten tunes in the liturgy today — but pieces of music that are used very frequently. And obviously all these pieces of music in the common repertoire will reflect the basic principles that we find in this Directory.

Bishop Grosz’s description suggests that the core repertoire would include something more like the recent top twenty-five list compiled by the National Association of Pastoral Musicians (NPM), headed by such recent liturgical “hits” as “Eagle’s Wings” and “Be Not Afraid”. It also strongly suggests that the publishing industry will exert considerable influence on the choice of repertoire. The Directory does not require this core repertoire to be submitted to a vote to the conference or to be submitted for recognitio. Without such provisions the influence of the publishers will likely be much greater than that of any individual bishop or even of the conference as a whole.

Several bishops advocated a more serious involvement of the bishops, and a more restricted repertoire. For example:

Cardinal Sean O’Malley (Boston): I think the work that the committee has done is very valuable, and I’m personally convinced that the only way we’re going to have real community participation in the liturgies is if we have a corpus of hymns that most of our people know by heart. And so I really think that we should consider the possibility of a national directory of hymns, and look at what other conferences have done in that area. In our ethnic communities where there is a large corpus of hymns that people know by heart there’s wonderful singing and participation. But where you have too many songs or the changes are constant, the people are never going to learn them and never going to really participate the way that we all hope they will.

Bishop William Weigand (Sacramento): Bishop Grosz and Bishop Trautman, this piece seems wise as a first step. But wouldn’t we be well advised to look a little ahead, and to outline, I would hope, a process down the line? As we pray is what we believe, so there is a strong catechetical influence in our worship and our singing. Why wouldn’t we — down the line, so as not to spring it on publishers and our people — take for granted that we would mount a process similar to the working with publishers to review and revise the content of our catechetical texts? I certainly would hope for that.

The BCL offered no reply to these suggestions. An amendment suggesting such a process had been submitted by Bishop Alan Vigneron of Oakland, though it was rejected by the BCL. Bishop Vigneron, a former member of the BCL, had proposed adding a fourth norm to the Directory:

4. Further, within that same three-year period the Committee on the Liturgy will present to the body of bishops for discussion and vote a process for reviewing worship aids (hymnals, seasonal booklets, etc.) The aim of this review process is to make a judgment whether or not a worship aid is in conformity with the expectations of the Church for the renewed liturgy as these are articulated in Sacrosanctum Concilium and subsequent authoritative magisterial documents and statements, especially the GIRM, Musicam Sacram and Liturgiam authenticam.

The protocol(s) to be used in this review process will be based on these authoritative expressions of the mind of the Church and “The Three Characteristics of Liturgical Song” articulated earlier in this Directory. (lines 87 and ff.)

RATIONALE: The process proposed builds upon our experience of (1) doing reviews to determine whether or not catechetical materials are in conformity with The Catechism of the Catholic Church; (2) Working out a “curriculum framework” for catechesis at the level of secondary education.

These efforts by the bishops to be involved in handing on the faith in its integrity through catechesis offer helpful models for how to fulfill our responsibility to pass on the mystery of grace through the liturgy.

The committee declined to accept Bishop Vigneron’s amendment giving as its primary reason:

The administrative support demanded of a centralized application of these criteria to popular participation aids would be enormous. In a time when the conference is trimming administrative staff, the allocation of a full time person to such an endeavor is untenable.

At the same time, the Committee notes that the less ambitious review of editorial and style questions in the layout of popular participation aids is already among the concerns and active responsibilities of the Secretariat for the Liturgy.

Bishop Vigneron’s proposed amendment and the BCL rationale for rejecting it appeared in the documentation for the meeting.

Before the vote was taken on Directory, Bishop Vigneron asked for separate consideration of his rejected amendment:

Bishop Vigneron: Thank you, Bishop Skylstad, and my thanks to the Committee for the work on the Directory. I offer this amendment because I think it adds a very important fourth norm for the work of what the Directory can accomplish.

The committee’s response falls into what I would describe as two kinds of comments: one procedural and the other more substantive. The procedural comment says that this would add more work, and this isn’t really the time to be increasing that sort of burden on the staff.

I’d point out that what I propose does not call for a conformity review to be mandated, but simply that the staff, in three years, present for us a plan for a kind of conformity review for hymnals, on analogy with what we do for catechisms and all kinds of catechetical material. So it isn’t today that we would vote that we do a conformity review; we simply ask the staff and the committee then, of course, to present to us a plan for what that kind of review would look like. So I think it’s moderate in that sense.

In terms of substantive: I believe that my proposal is — well, I know it’s an attempt to take on our very important corporate responsibility for the texts that are sung at the liturgy. One of the things Liturgiam authenticam underscores is that what we sing at the liturgy is a liturgical text. We don’t simply have the liturgy and tack some hymns on. And I believe that my proposal helps us take as serious approach to these texts — and our responsibility to hand on the faith in its integrity — as the way we’ve taken responsibility for the catechetical texts. And likewise it’s a process that would allow us to act together communally.

Certainly I appreciate the burden that will fall on the Archbishop of Chicago and the Archbishop of Portland, and rightly so — I mean that’s the responsibility of the local bishop, to give the Imprimatur.

But I think there’s more that needs to be done to advance the liturgical renewal. And I think we need to be engaged in it at the level of the conference. And I believe there’s the possibility in a conformity review for hymnals, analogous to what we do with catechetical material, of accomplishing that. I think if we don’t do something that significant, the Directory, as it’s been proposed, doesn’t achieve the goal that Liturgiam authenticam has in mind for the Directory. Thank you.

Bishop Skylstad: Thank you, Bishop Vigneron. The committee recommends that you vote “no”. But let’s hear any further discussion.

Bishop Trautman: If I could just respond, maybe, to the amendment. The committee gave considerable thought, and had much discussion about this proposed action. Our view was that we still would prefer to give the principles, the guidelines, to the bishops of those places where worship aids are published. We prefer to put the emphasis there, rather than to create this centralized office. We believe that would be counterproductive; would also entail this body voting on those hymns that are brought before us. So we believe providing the principles for the local bishop to determine the authenticity of these hymns, that they’re in our Catholic tradition. But we do not favor a centralized application. We believe that would call for a centralized office. The present work of the Secretariat is enormous; we could not take on that responsibility.

There was no further discussion on Bishop Vigneron’s amendment, which failed on a fairly clear voice vote.

The final vote on the Directory, which required a two-thirds vote of Latin Rite bishops, was 195 in favor, 21 against, with 5 abstentions. The Directory requires recognitio from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.

It remains to be seen whether the bishops’ attempt to comply with Liturgiam authenticam is considered adequate, or if the Holy See will require a more effective plan.


Susan Benofy is research editor of Adoremus Bulletin. She attended the Baltimore USCCB meeting, and recorded the proceedings.



Susan Benofy

Susan Benofy received her doctorate in physics from Saint Louis University. She was formerly Research Editor of Adoremus Bulletin.