Dec 31, 2007


Online Edition – Vol. IV, No. 4: July/August 1998


US Bishops’ Vote on Lectionary Revisions Signals Renewed Cooperation

by Helen Hull Hitchcock and Susan Benofy

The only liturgical item on the agenda during the open sessions of the June 1998 meeting of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) was the proposal to approve Volume II of the new translation Lectionary for Mass and to submit it to Rome for the required approval, called the


Volume II contains the Scripture readings for Masses for weekdays and saints days. Volume I contains the readings for Sundays and Solemnities, and was originally approved by the NCCB in June 1997 and sent to the Vatican for approval.

Both volumes of this edition of the Lectionary are based on a revised translation of the New American Bible, the most common Lectionary translation in current use in the US. The New American Bible is a translation prepared under the authority of the US bishops’ conference.


In 1991, a revised Lectionary translation was approved by the bishops; but the required Vatican approval of the proposed revision was delayed because of its excessive use of so-called "inclusive language". One of the base texts used for the proposed Lectionary, the Psalms of the Revised New American Bible, was later rejected for liturgical use by the Holy See for this reason. (Other Bible translations similarly rejected were another "inclusivized" version, the New Revised Standard Version, and a new version of the Psalms by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy [ICEL]. All had received some form of approval by the US bishops.)

The Vatican had also issued norms for translation of Scripture texts used for Mass.

In early 1997, a committee of three US archbishops from the Bishops’ Committee on Liturgy went to Rome to work with Vatican officials and translators to arrive at an acceptable translation.

The result of these meetings was a "re-revision" of Volume I of the Lectionary for Mass, which was introduced to the NCCB last year. At that time some bishops objected to it because much of the "inclusive" language had been removed from the texts. However, Volume I passed by a large majority.

The Vatican has now granted the required


for the Scripture texts of Volume I. The revised Volume I of the Lectionary for Mass is scheduled to appear in late November.

Changes — and "Leaked" Reports

In sharp contrast to past years in which liturgical proposals often provoked long debates at NCCB meetings, when Volume II of the Lectionary was presented to the bishops for vote there was no debate.

As do all liturgical revisions, the proposal to approve Volume II required approval by 2/3 of the

de jure

Latin rite bishops. The tally was 196 in favor, 6 opposed, and Volume II of the Lectionary will be sent to the Holy See for approval required before any change is permitted.

Although there was no public discussion, the Lectionary and other liturgical topics may have been discussed in the bishops’ executive sessions, which were closed to the press.

Just before the NCCB meeting,

National Catholic Reporter

stories stated that when the Holy See approved Volume I, the


was accompanied by a requirement that 400 amendments be made to the translation of the Pastoral Introduction to the Lectionary. ["Lectionary’s intro, psalter vetoed; little resistance from US bishops", by John L. Allen, Jr.,


June 19, 1998, p 16.]



said its account was based on leaked confidential documents, including minutes of a March meeting of the Administrative Committee on the revisions.

Liturgical books include an introduction, called


in the Latin editions. These introductions have been translated by the "mixed commission" of English-speaking bishops and translators known as the International Commission on English in the Liturgy [ICEL]. The ICEL texts affect all English-speaking churches.

While the re-revised translation of Scripture in the Lectionary received Vatican approval, as expected, the ICEL translation of the Introduction required massive changes, according to the





reported that the changes required by the Holy See included inserting words such as "sacred" where ICEL had omitted them, changing words such as "lectern" to the more specific "ambo", capitalizing "Blood" and "Passion" where they referred to Christ and correcting mistranslations.

Some of the Holy See’s amendments of the Introduction are strikingly similar to the changes the American bishops had asked for during their discussion of the proposed revision of the Sacramentary, or prayers used at Mass. Unlike the Lectionary, the entire Sacramentary was translated by ICEL. (Together the Sacramentary and the Lectionary comprise The Roman Missal. Both parts have been the subject of debate, vote and revision in the NCCB in recent years.)

Effect on the Sacramentary?

During the bishops’ discussions of the ICEL revision of the Sacramentary, many amendments proposed by the US bishops were rejected by the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy [BCL], or by ICEL itself.

That changes were required for the ICEL Introduction to the Lectionary suggests that similar changes in the Sacramentary may also be required.



reported that the Chairman of the Episcopal Board of ICEL,

Bishop Maurice Taylor

of Galloway, Scotland, wrote in a letter to Bishop Pilla,

The implications for the revised edition of the Sacramentary, soon to be presented to the [Congregation for Divine Worship] as approved by all the conferences, are especially critical.

An unnamed source worried that "Perhaps our fears are exaggerated, but it sure looks like we’re coming to a crisis over the Sacramentary".

However, the NCR also cited Administrative Committee minutes quoting Cincinnati Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk:

All things considered, it is better that [Rome’s] consultants focus on the praenotanda than on the revised Sacramentary to which the NCCB has devoted so much time and energy.

Archbishop Pilarczyk, for many years Chairman of the ICEL Episcopal Board and past president of the NCCB, is the current chairman of the Doctrine Committee.

According to the NCR, the Liturgy Committee staff recommended that the Vatican changes to the ICEL Introduction be accepted by the bishops, as did the Administrative Committee.

Although the matter of Vatican changes was not raised during public sessions of the June meeting, it did surface during a press conference.

A reporter, referring to the NCR story, asked Archbishop Jerome Hanus if it were true that many changes were proposed by the Vatican and whether the bishops voted on them.

Archbishop Hanus, chairman of the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy, confirmed that changes had been required by Rome, but said that this did not require the bishops’ vote. He explained:

Almost any liturgical book that is submitted to Rome will include changes in the process of the recognitio, so this is nothing extraordinary. Sometimes they’re more extensive, sometimes they’re smaller…. That’s part of the nature of what a recognitio is. The body that gives the recognitio has the responsibility of ensuring that the text is appropriate for its use in a particular country. Part of the reason for the recognitio is also an exercise of the service that the pope gives to foster unity and charity in the worldwide Church. It’s important to understand the theology behind the recognitio, that the pope has the responsibility of seeing that there is unity and charity throughout the universal Church. 

ICEL Psalter & Children’s Lectionary: A Moratorium on New Translations?

In addition to the changes in the Lectionary Introduction, the Vatican reportedly asked for withdrawal of the imprimatur for a text the NCR identified only as "a 1995 translation of the Psalter".

This clearly refers to the highly controversial ICEL Psalter, which was given an imprimatur in 1995 by Cardinal William Keeler of Baltimore, then president of the NCCB.

The ICEL Psalter was published in 1995 by Liturgy Training Publications of Chicago, with a note that it was "offered for study and comment".

The Psalter’s foreword by Gabe Huck said that when it was submitted to the Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine for the imprimatur, "the text was entirely free of gender-exclusive pronouns for God. Before the imprimatur was granted, however, the committee insisted that the translators use male pronouns for God in a very few places."

Although the ICEL Psalter was never approved for liturgical use, it is now being used by some religious communities for the Divine Office. The Dominicans, for example, published a new Office book using ICEL Psalter and Canticles.

The minutes of the March meeting of the Administrative Committee, said the NCR, stated that, "the US bishops may impose a moratorium on imprimaturs for all translations until they receive clarification from Rome on how to avoid future conflicts".

If such a moratorium were imposed, this would probably delay an imprimatur for a newly revised Contemporary English Version [CEV], produced by the American Bible Society, a Protestant body that has translated the Bible into many languages. Originally known as the Translation for Early Youth, the CEV was used for the Children’s Lectionary.

In 1991 the NCCB approved the Children’s Lectionary for a period of five years, but in 1996 the experimental period was extended. The CEV was revised that year, making the Children’s Lectionary different from the current edition of the CEV.

No Bible Matches the Lectionary

Since few Catholics will use the CEV, the incompatibility of the 1991 Children’s Lectionary with the 1996 CEV is not nearly so anomalous as the present situation concerning the New American Bible, which is the source text of the Lectionary for Mass in the US. Neither the Lectionary presently in use nor the proposed new Lectionary conform to any edition of the NAB now in print.

The present Lectionary used the 1970 edition of the NAB, which is no longer in print. The Revised NAB New Testament and Psalms have now been incorporated into all published versions of the NAB (The revision of the Old Testament is in progress, but has not yet been completed.)

The proposed new Lectionary uses the RNAB New Testament; but the Holy See found the heavily inclusivized RNAB Psalter unacceptable for liturgical use. The source texts for the Psalms in the new Lectionary is the 1970 version, slightly amended.

So Catholics in the US will have no Bible that conforms to the new Lectionary.

This situation, though ironic, is not surprising, given the multiplicity of contemporary English translations of Scripture. Some religious communities use the Jerusalem Bible for Lectionary readings, a version now out of print, replaced by an inclusivized New Jerusalem Bible.

In Canada, a Lectionary based on the New Revised Standard Version was published without the required advance Vatican approval. Although the NRSV had been rejected for liturgical use by the Vatican, temporary permission to continue to use the defective NRSV-based Lectionary in Canada only was granted by the Holy See.


To summarize the current state of the revised texts of the Roman Missal:

* The ICEL Sacramentary has recently been sent to the Holy See for review

*Volume I of the Lectionary for Mass for the US has been approved (with amended ICEL Introduction) and is expected to be in print late this year

*Volume II of the Lectionary is now ready to undergo Vatican review

Thus, the matter of liturgical translations — and the integrity of Catholic doctrine as expressed in and through the liturgy — though not discussed publicly at the bishops’ June meeting, is far from settled. The matter continues to be of great concern to many bishops and to the Holy See.

At a press conference during the June meeting, Archbishop Hanus, commenting on the difficulty of maintaining unity in the midst of diverse languages and cultures, quipped:

"I suspect that we will all be singing whatever language in Heaven before we get principles of translation which reflect totally these situations".


Helen Hull Hitchcock is the Editor of Adormus Bulletin and Founder of Women for Faith and Family. Susan Benofy is on the staff of Adoremus and is a founding member of Women for Faith and Family.



Helen Hull Hitchcock Susan F. Benofy