Dec 31, 2007

Why Scripture was ICELated And who has been "Shaping English Liturgy"

Online Edition – Vol. VI, No. 9
December 2000 – January 2001

Why Scripture was ICELated
And who has been "Shaping English Liturgy"

Questions persist about the restructure of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy [ICEL] and about the role this "mixed commission" of translators can or should play in shaping the liturgy.

Clouds of rhetoric often seem to obscure the fundamental issue in translation of biblical and liturgical texts: fidelity, or lack of same not only fidelity to the languages, but to the beliefs the words express. This fidelity has been the only concern of critics of the ICEL texts.

The ICEL Psalter is a key example of how some ICEL members have attempted to change beliefs by changing words in translations of Scripture. Throughout the ten years of work on the Psalter, the editorial committee had employed strategies reflecting a "typology for refashioning English speech about personal and social reality", as one ICEL member put it.

The ICEL Psalter, copyrighted in 1993 and published in 1994 by Liturgy Training Publications [LTP] of the Archdiocese of Chicago, had its imprimatur from the US bishops formally removed in 1998 by Bishop Anthony Pilla, then president of the bishops’ conference. His decree removing the imprimatur was issued two years after he had received an order to do so from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. No reason was given for the long delay.

This did not prevent the defective Psalter from continuing in use, however. So early this year, the Congregation for Divine Worship directed that the Psalter should not be distributed at all.

But the effort to change the meaning of a text by changing the words and even of eliminating "offensive" passages from Lectionaries unhappily, continues. The following quotations suggest the reason why.

Sister Mary Collins was chairman of ICEL’s Editorial Committee for the Psalter project and chairman of the Religious Studies department at the Catholic University of America (she is now superior of her Benedictine community in Atchison, Kansas). Writing about the ICEL Psalter, she observed that ICEL’s style took shape under the influence of discussions of linguistic gender.

"The issue was never whether the matter of gender would receive attention in this translation for use in the praying Church, only how it was to be approached critically. Who could deny the impression of many translations that the poetry of the psalms gives overt voice to male devotees interacting with a putatively male God?"

Sister Mary Collins
Worship, July 1992

Sister Eileen Schuller, and Elizabeth-Anne Vanek were both members of ICEL’s subcommittee on the Psalter project. Miss Vanek was also a member of the Liturgy Training Publications (LTP) editorial committee, and composed original introductory lines to the Psalms.

"At a time of heightened concern for the presence and role of women both in society as a whole and in the Church, serious questions are being asked about why certain biblical texts about women are included in the Lectionary and others are omitted. What should be our attitude toward the reading, particularly in the context of the Sunday assembly, of passages like Ephesians 5:21, ‘Wives should regard their husbands as they regard the Lord’ or Colossians 3:18, ‘Wives, give way to your husbands, as you should in the Lord’? What about texts which emphasize the father over the mother (Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14), or omit all references to mothers as we ‘praise our illustrious men’ in ‘a list of generous men whose good works have not been forgotten’ (Sirach 44:1-10, 13-14 read on the Feast of Joachim and Anne!)? Are there grounds for omitting such texts as these which are either misogynist in and of themselves or liable to be interpreted as such?" (p. 401)

Sister Eileen Schuller, OSU

"Some Criteria for the Choice of Scripture Texts in the Roman Lectionary."

Shaping English Liturgy, eds. Peter C. Finn and James M. Schellman, Washington, DC, The Pastoral Press, 1990, pp. 385-404.


"Expanding an image is more difficult than finding clothes to fit a new body or playing with nesting dolls. Because of our love of security, our image of God can become idolatrous: we cling so closely to the image that we don’t allow God to be anything else for us. We define God in terms that seem safe and predictable, respectable and ‘orthodox’. We try to control God by not allowing God to be Godself…. We may see God so firmly as ‘Father’ that we never stop to think that God has motherly aspects too, or that we may possibly be imposing on God some of our own negative feelings about our biological parents".

Elizabeth-Anne Vanek

Image Guidance: A Tool for Spiritual Direction. New York/Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1992. p. 57.


Gabe Huck was LTP’s production editor of the Psalter, which is described in the Library of Congress catalogue as "a faithful and inclusive rendering."

"The work of the translators was completed in 1993. Following that, the text was submitted to the [US] Bishops Committee on Doctrine for the imprimatur. At that point 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."

Gabe Huck

Editor’s Forward to The Psalter p. ix


Father Christopher Walsh, chairman of the ICEL Advisory Committee, gave an address at a festival on Christian liturgy at Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, in June (2000), which appears in the current issue of Worship, published the monks of St. John’s Abbey, Collegeville, Minnesota. Excerpts follow:

"Not just ICEL’s constitution, personnel and procedures, but almost every aspect of our work has been called into question or even declared illegitimate. [The Congregation for Divine Worship] has claimed to find the translations insufficiently faithful and even doctrinally flawed. It has ruled out all original compositions.

"What exactly is going on? What is the agenda in all this?

"Not just specialist vaticanologists but bishops, men and women in the pew, the secular press, and even the dogs in the street are now aware of the turbulence which customarily attends the dying days of a papacy. Some will discern personalities, others power games. Many are increasingly worried about signs of a restorationist agenda. Whatever one may think of the validity of their [policy makers in Rome] concerns, we are experiencing a manifest breakdown of two fundamental ecclesiological principles, collegiality and subsidiarity. Discernment of the needs of local churches and of the best pastoral strategies must belong in the first place to the bishops and the Bishops’ Conferences, and not to a civil service in Rome. [J]udgments of appropriate language, literary style cannot be in the competence of a Vatican bureaucracy. We can happily recognize the necessary role of the Holy See in guaranteeing the orthodoxy of faith and unity in communion of the Catholic Church. It is the function of the Petrine ministry to confirm the faith of the brethren and preside over the churches in love but surely not to dictate to us how we speak our own language".

Father Christopher J. Walsh

"Minding Our Language: Issues of Liturgical Language Arising in Revision "

Worship, November 2000, p 482-503.

(See related story, "Gabe Huck receives liturgists’ award to LTP")



The Editors