December 2008 – January 2009
Vol. XIV, No. 9
USCCB REPORT – November 2008
During Intense Meeting, Bishops Act on Three Liturgy Items
by Helen Hull Hitchcock
The US Conference of Catholic Bishops faced a densely packed agenda at their Fall General Assembly held in Baltimore November 10-13, the week after the US presidential election capped months of intense and controversial campaigning. Critical issues raised during the campaign involved fundamental moral teaching — in particular, abortion and related “life issues” — and the political responsibility of Catholics, whether candidates, elected officials, or voters.
Cardinal Francis George focused on this in his Presidential Address at the opening session of the meeting. The Chicago cardinal set the tone for the meeting in his address to the bishops, underscoring the fundamental obligation of the bishops — and all Catholics — to uphold the truth of Christ in the face of “enormous challenges”. “The common good can never be adequately incarnated in any society when those waiting to be born can be legally killed at choice”, he said. “The Church and her life and teaching do not fit easily into the prior narratives that shape our public discussions. As bishops, we can only insist that those who would impose their own agenda on the Church, those who believe and act self-righteously, answerable only to themselves, whether ideologically on the left or the right, betray the Lord Jesus”.
The bishops voted on three important liturgy items at this meeting, presented by Bishop Arthur Serratelli of Paterson, chairman of the Bishops’ Committee on Divine Worship (BCDW): 1) a liturgy for Blessing of a Child in the Womb; 2) the Proper of Seasons, the second of 12 segments of the English translation of the Roman Missal by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL); 3) the Conception Abbey Revised Grail Psalter for liturgical use.
All these liturgy items required a 2/3 majority vote of the 264 Latin rite bishops, and must receive Vatican approval (recognitio) before they may be used. (Absentee ballots are needed only if a 2/3 majority is not achieved during the conference. This was required last June, when the bishops voted on the Proper of Seasons.)
1. Blessing of a Child in the Womb
Significantly, a proposed Order for Blessing of a Child in the Womb was the first item of business the bishops discussed at the meeting. Bishop Serratelli said this new blessing service responds to a lack in the current Book of Blessings, and represents cooperative efforts of the Pro-Life Committee and the BCDW. He noted that especially in the light of current events, “It is important to reaffirm and focus our attention on the life of the unborn”.
During the discussion, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville seemed to express the mind of his fellow bishops when he said that this Order of Blessing “is obviously a very tangible way for us to witness pastorally and sacramentally to the life of the unborn child.… It is important to reaffirm and focus our attention on the life of the unborn”, and said, “It’s very consistent with the priorities we’ve raised”.
There are two forms of this Order of Blessing: within Mass and outside of Mass, and both English and Spanish versions are provided.
The Order of Blessing was overwhelmingly approved (only one dissenting vote on the English version). Vatican approval is expected soon, and this new liturgical service for the United States will be published in the Book of Blessings.
2. Proper of Seasons Approved
The bishops also overwhelmingly approved the Proper of Seasons, the parts of the Mass special to Advent, Lent, Christmas, etc.
The Proper of Seasons had failed to garner the required 2/3 positive vote last June. Bishop Serratelli said that nearly 300 amendments had been requested by eight bishops. The committee accepted, or partially accepted, nearly 2/3 of these requests, which were incorporated into the text the bishops voted on. (The vote was 180 yes, 30 no.) This modified version of the Proper of Seasons will be submitted to the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship, where it will be reviewed (and perhaps further altered) before it receives final approval, or recognitio. (The Order of Mass received the recognitio in July, though it will not be used until the entire Missal is completed.)
ICEL has now completed the translations of the entire Missal, which await the approval of the member English-speaking conferences of bishops. Bishop Serratelli said that all the “gray books” (the final state to be presented for vote) would be sent to the bishops’ conferences in 2009. He estimates that the work on the Missal will be completed and published in 2012.
Several bishops commented that the necessary preparation for people to receive the books is already in progress.
The complete translation of the Order of Mass, along with Cardinal Francis Arinze’s letter from the Congregation for Divine Worship granting recognitio, is available on the USCCB web site: http://www.usccb.org/liturgy/missalformation/index.shtml.
3. A New Liturgical Psalter
The final liturgy “action item” on the bishops’ agenda was voting on a new translation of psalms for liturgical use, the Conception Abbey Revised Grail (CARG) Psalter, recommended by the BCDW.
A recent revision of the Revised New American Bible (RNAB) had also been considered by the BCDW this summer. For comparison, texts of both the CARG and a newly revised version of the Psalter were provided to the bishops. The CARG Psalter has already been adopted by all English-speaking episcopal conferences except the United States and Canada. (See report in AB, November 2008, “A New Liturgical Psalter for the United States Would Signal Progress in Reform”).
The following rationale for recommending the CARG Psalter appeared in the introductory material to this “Action Item”:
The Committee on Divine Worship recommends that the Revised Grail Psalter by the Monks of Conception Abbey be adopted for liturgical use in the United States for the following reasons:
(a) It has been recommended by musicians for its musicality and is open to the use of various musical forms. It can be easily sung, chanted or recited.
(b) It is faithful to the Hebrew text and paraphrases have been corrected. The text has been revised to keep true to the Hebrew sense of strophes for each line.
(c) It is a text that is somewhat familiar to those who pray the Breviary even with the improvements.
(d) While being faithful to Hebrew imagery and anthropology it is critically aware of the Christological references.
The bishops’ vote in favor of the proposed Psalter was 203-5. If approved by the Holy See, this version of the psalms would be used in the Lectionary, the Mass texts, and the Liturgy of the Hours (Divine Office or Breviary). At present, the Congregation for Divine Worship is reviewing a request from the bishops of Kenya to use this version of the Psalter for its revised Lectionary for Mass, Bishop Serratelli said. After Vatican approval is received, the details of permissions will be arranged for publishers and composers of musical settings of the psalms for liturgical use.
A sample comparison of the Conception Abbey Revised Grail Psalter with the 2006 Revised New American Bible Psalter is below.
Revised New American Bible (2006)
8 Understand, you stupid people!
Conception Abbey Revised Grail
8 Mark thís, you sénseless péople;
9 Can he who plánted the éar not héar?
12 Blessed the mán whom you díscipline, O LÓRD,