Dec 31, 2007

How Shall We Proclaim the Mystery of Faith?

Online Edition – Vol. II, No. 1: March 1996

How Shall We Proclaim the Mystery of Faith?

Bishops’ Efforts to Amend ICEL Revisions of the Order of Mass

by Helen Hull Hitchcock

As the massive project of revising the Roman Missal continues, the first major revision since the official translations into English were completed two decades ago, the U.S. bishops have found themselves confronted with hundreds of pages of revised manuscripts to consider at each meeting of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Bishops must approve these revisions before they are sent to the Apostolic See for final confirmation. Although it has been the conference’s practice in the past to rely entirely on the advice of the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy regarding liturgical translations and new texts, bishops have become actively engaged in careful analysis of the proposals for revision. This has led to considerable debate at the conference.

Bishops are in general agreement that the original "vernacularization" of the Roman Missal by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) was not perfect. However, there are serious problems with the proposed revisions. During their discussions of the ICEL revisions, many bishops’ suggestions and amendments for improvement of the texts were rejected by their Liturgy Committee.

The bishops’ amendments printed below also reveal that the issues involved even in those texts which may appear to be of minor importance are not simple matters of style or personal preference, but involve important theological and doctrinal considerations.

Bishops Consider Mystery

One instance of the bishops’ attempts to amend the ICEL text concerned the Memorial Acclamation, Mysterium Fidei. Before the June 1995 meeting of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Liturgy Committee accepted 119 and rejected 213 amendments to the revision of the Mass proposed by ICEL presented to the bishops as Action Item 2A: Segment Three: Order of Mass I.

In this case ICEL had not only re-translated the Latin phrase as it appears in the editio typica (typical, or authoritative Latin edition of the Mass), but had added three new alternative texts. The bishops’ amendments objected to ICEL’s innovative texts and favored retaining only the Mystery of Faith phrase.

Memorial Acclamation (Editio Typica: Mysterium Fidei)

Current translation: Let us proclaim the Mystery of Faith; (followed by Christ has died…; Lord, by your Cross and Resurrection…; When we eat this bread and drink this cup we proclaim your death…)

ICEL Proposal: substitution of the Mysterium fidei with four different new acclamations, each to be used specifically with each new optional response,

1) Great is the mystery of faith

2) Praise to you, Lord Jesus

3) Christ is the bread of life

4) Jesus Christ is Lord.

Although fourteen bishops offered amendments opposing the ICEL proposals regarding Mysterium fidei, all these amendments had been rejected by the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy [BCL] before the June meeting.

The bishops submitting amendments were Cardinals Bevilacqua, Hickey, and Mahony; Archbishops Francis Stafford (Denver) and Justin Rigali (St. Louis); Bishops Alfred Hughes (Baton Rouge), Edward Slattery (Tulsa), John Myers (Peoria), David Arias (Aux., Newark), Fabian Bruskewitz (Lincoln), Robert Carlson (Coadj., Sioux Falls), James Sullivan (Fargo), and Rene Gracida (Corpus Christi).

Members of the BCL were Erie Bishop Donald Trautman (Chairman), Cardinal Mahony, Archbishop Jerome Hanus (Dubuque), Bishops Anthony Bosco (Greensburg), Edward Grosz (Aux., Buffalo), Frank J. Rodimer (Paterson), and Emil Wcela (Aux., Rockville Centre).

The Mysterium fidei amendments were the first of the rejected amendments considered at the June 1995 meeting and were introduced for separate consideration by Bishop Alfred Hughes, supported by Archbishop William Levada (now of San Francisco). Both bishops were members of the Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine.

After discussion (excerpts from which appear below), the standing vote of the bishops was 61 in favor of the bishops’ amendments of the ICEL texts; 129 for sustaining the BCL’s rejection of the amendments. (Evidently 23 of the 213 bishops then present did not vote.) Thus the ICEL proposals remained in the text as eventually approved by the bishops. (The written ballot on Segment III of the Revised Roman Missal, requiring 2/3 majority for approval, was inconclusive at the end of the June meeting, and a mail ballot was necessary to secure approval.) The text must be approved by the Holy See before the changes become effective.

Following are selected quotations from the bishops’ rejected amendments, as printed in the document Action Item #2A, Amendments NOT Accepted by the Committee, along with the BCL rationale for rejection. (Editorial clarification appears in brackets.)

Archbishop Stafford:

"…These additions are not simple and accurate translations of the Mystery of Faith. I have not found the people having difficulty when the priest or choir say or sing the first word of the response. The translation should be left as it was in the 1973 translation."

Bishop A. Hughes:

"We need to keep the focus of the Latin text on the mystery of faith which the faithful often have difficulty in appreciating…. If anything I would prefer to go back to the original Latin and have the celebrant simply proclaim, ‘The Mystery of Faith’ without the words ‘let us proclaim.’"

Bishop Slattery:

"…1) for 30 years we have used the term, ‘let us proclaim the Mystery of Faith’, maintaining the original Latin; 2) it seems unwise to meddle with a critical part of the Mass which has indeed become part of our sacral language; 3) ‘mystery’ is a strong word that Christians should hear often, as it calls one to sense of transcendence; and 4) this also recalls the Pauline inference of the great mysterion or sacramentum. …"

Bishop Myers:

"These proposed changes seem unnecessary and confusing."

Cardinal Mahony and Archbishop Rigali:

"[The ICEL proposal] comes at a steep price; namely, eliminating the expression ‘mystery of faith’ in all but one of the acclamations…. There is no agreement among liturgical scholars as to the exact meaning of this phrase, given the present state of research on the matter, and this is sometimes advanced as a reason for its elimination. However, a lack of agreement or understanding can urge an even greater caution in its elimination. It has been in the Roman liturgy since at least the seventh century, and its peculiar status in the Roman liturgy gives one pause in eliminating it….

"For some thirty years Catholic people have heard the wonderfully suggestive and polyvalent expression ‘Mystery of Faith’ at one of the moments in which the sacramental economy is at its most dense expression. It has and will continue to establish deep in the consciousness of the Catholic people a sense of the word ‘mystery’ that roots it squarely in what the most ancient and biblical use of this word implies. It is all at once what lies hidden in the consecrated elements, what is made present by means of the epiclesis and Eucharistic narrative, what finds expression in the words of the various memorial acclamations.

"To do without it in even just some celebrations of the Eucharist is to do without one of the most powerful phrases unique to the Roman liturgy at this point, and present there since the seventh century. Today’s generation of Catholics now has the experience of associating this expression with one of the most important liturgical moments the Church experiences, and the desire for a mnemonic cue is too slight a reason to sacrifice this element….

"The Canadian practice is advanced as a precedent for this change, but many have pointed out that the cue technique does not work there. In any case, the fact that it is done in Canada does not answer the objections raised here."

Bishops Bruskewitz, Gracida, Chaput, Arias, Carlson, and James Sullivan:

"The translation of the Memorial Acclamation, Mysterium fidei is mishandled…. Compare the [four ICEL variations] to the simple and accurate translation of Verbum Domini after the Readings: The word of the Lord. ICEL should refrain from changing the editio typica."

Cardinal Hickey:

"The words Mysterium fidei that are found in the editio typica [of the Mass] after the consecration do not function as an invitation but as a proclamation of the presence of the paschal mystery. These optional expressions are of an invitational, not a proclamatory, nature. [The last three variations] as presented are a significant shift in the intention of the phrase Mysterium Fidei."

BCL Response:

"The Committee DOES NOT ACCEPT.

"The introductions have been used in Canada for many years and have been approved by Rome. There have been no pastoral difficulties in using a proper [specific] introduction for each memorial acclamation.

"According to the Apostolic Constitution Missale Romanum, it is an invitation to the people to make the memorial acclamation. It is not the invitation that is central but the people’s acclamation which is anamnetic and is followed by the anamnesis [memorial] proper. The Congregation for Divine Worship has indicated in Notitae [official publication of the Holy See] that Mysterium fidei is an invitation to the people and that it is to be omitted if the people are not present.

"The introduction [the phrase Mysterium fidei] was originally found within the verba for the cup and was removed when the new Eucharistic Prayers were composed. Its origins are not known, but in comparison to the Eastern rites, it would appear to have been a diaconal acclamation. Its new function in the Missal of Paul VI is to introduce the memorial acclamation and the anamnesis that follow."


A frequent charge directed at those who criticize the ICEL revisions is that they are people unschooled in the liturgy and inept at Latin. Clearly the bishops who submitted these amendments are neither.

Another claim is that anyone who objects to the proposed revisions of the Mass is "preconciliar" and naively resists change qua change. Again, the bishops’ interventions cited above prove that this accusation is untrue. They believe the original ICEL translations of the Roman Missal were far from perfect, and need changing. The problem with the current proposals for revision of the Roman Missal is that they not only do not correct the deficiencies of the current translation, but contribute to the desacralization of the most sacred action of the Catholic Church.

While it is understandable that ICEL translators and composers of new texts find criticism unwelcome, the Church’s worship is not created or owned by ICEL (or any other group within the Church) and should not be treated as if it were.

Mysterium Fidei: A Closer Look

1. There are three acclamations given in the Missale Romanum [Roman Missal] as options (ad libitum seligendae). But in all the canons, it is the first option which is given, with the indication that there are other acclamations (aliae acclamationes). This seems to indicate a certain priority.

2. The first option, however, is not properly reflected in any of the present or proposed ICEL translations. Latin: Mortem tuam annuntiamus. Domine, et tuam resurrectionem confitemur, donec venias. English: "We proclaim your death, O Lord, and confess your resurrection, until you come." The attempt is apparently made with: "Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again." But, aside from eliminating reference to our proclamation and profession, it completely eliminates the most striking part of this acclamation: that we are directing the acclamation to Christ (your death, your resurrection, until you come again). This is the only place in the Mass where a prayer is so clearly directed to the Son.

3. Acclamation 2 in Latin: Quotiescumque manducamus panem hunc et calicem bibimus, mortem tuam annuntiamus. Domine, donec venias. The present option, "When we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim your death, Lord Jesus, until you come in glory" is a reasonably good translation (since `Jesus’ and `in glory’ are unnecessary additions).

4. Acclamation 3 in Latin: Salvator mundi, salva nos, qui per crucem et resurrectionem tuam liberasti nos, is Englished: "Lord, by your cross and resurrection you have set us free. You are the savior of the world." This appears very close to the original until one looks more closely and finds that the main verb and its object have disappeared (Save us). Thus what is an earnest supplication (Savior of the World, save us! By your cross and resurrection you have set us free.) becomes, in the ICEL translation, merely a statement of fact.

The conclusion of all this? In the edition now in use ICEL has mistranslated the invitation, subverted the principal acclamation and poorly translated option 3. Now, instead of remedying past mistakes, ICEL proposes to add three additional invitations, allowing mysteriophobes to avoid the millennial invitation entirely by never using the option.

The bishops have already approved ICEL’s options for the beginning of Mass that are found nowhere else in the Roman Rite and which would make it possible for the Kyrie and Gloria never to be said again. Now they intend the same thing for the Mystery of Faith. The Mass of the Missale Romanum will then be one option among many.

Will it stop there? Clearly not. ICEL is already planning a total of twenty Eucharistic Prayers. The present Missale Romanum has four (which some scholars maintain is itself a questionable break from a more than 1300 year tradition in the Latin Rite). This massive multiplication of options is neither reform nor renewal. It is revolution.

The liturgical debate of the past several years has begun to reveal ­ in very sharp relief ­ that there is a serious split within the Church over profoundly important issues of belief. Such splits are not new, of course, as history shows.

The thousands of Protestant denominations are evidence of the endless fragmentation that results from such dissent. What is unusual about the present historic struggle now focusing on the Catholic liturgy is that the seeds of dissent were sown not by some charismatic individual on the periphery of the Church who led a marginal movement, but within the very heart of the Church’s life — in her religious orders, her universities, her administrative structures, within the ranks of the clergy and even the episcopacy.

This phenomenon of the spread of dissent from the top-down is nowhere more clearly revealed than in the progressive desacralization of Catholic liturgy.



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.