Dec 15, 2009

US Bishops Approve Missal Texts

Online Edition:
December 2009 – January 2010
Vol. XV, No. 9

US Bishops Approve Missal Texts
Next Challenges: Catechesis for Missal, New Lectionary

by Helen Hull Hitchcock

With their overwhelming approval of the final segments of the English translation of the Roman Missal, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) cleared a major hurdle at their 2009 fall meeting, held November 16-19 in Baltimore. The required approval (recognitio) from the Vatican is anticipated very soon. A year will be allowed for instruction and for publishing the new books.

It has been nearly a decade since the Missale Romanum, editio typica tertia (Roman Missal, third typical edition) was first announced in 2000. During these years, several major changes occurred concerning the methods and procedures for translation of liturgical texts that had been in use since the Second Vatican Council. The changes were initiated by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (CDW).

The most significant of these changes were, 1. an official instruction on translation, Liturgiam authenticam (April 2001); 2. the creation of Vox Clara, a committee of bishops and experts from English-speaking countries to aid the Holy See in reviewing translations (July 2001); and 3. the complete restructuring of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL), the “mixed commission” organized in 1963 to provide translations. ICEL’s new statutes were approved on October 17, 2003, the 40th anniversary of its creation.

The first part of the new Roman Missal that the US bishops approved was its General Instruction (GIRM), which contains regulations for the celebration of Mass. The GIRM, with its American Adaptations, has been in effect since March 2003. Three years later, in June 2006, the USCCB approved the Order of Mass, which received recognitio from the Holy See in June 2008.

The Proper of Seasons was approved by the USCCB in November 2008, after it had failed to receive the necessary 2/3-majority vote the preceding June. Last June four Missal segments fell short of a 2/3 vote at the meeting, though a strong majority of bishops had voted in favor of the texts. An absentee ballot was sent to the 50 absent bishops, and the favorable vote on these texts was announced in July 2009.

Now, nearly ten years after the new edition of the Roman Missal was first announced, the USCCB has completed its approval of the English translation. Four sets of texts were presented for vote at this meeting along with some US adaptations of rubrics. All were approved by huge majorities:

• Proper of Saints: Yes 195 (88%), No 12, Abstain 4
• Roman Missal Supplement: Yes 203 (92%), No 15, Abstain 3
• Commons: Yes 200 (91%), No 19
• US Propers: Yes 199 (90%), No 20,
Abstain 1
• US Adaptations to Missal: Yes 199 (92%), No 17, Abstain 1

Three remaining segments of the Missal — the Introductory Material, the Appendices, and the Antiphons1 — are to be finalized by the CDW.

Last December, a letter from the Congregation for Divine Worship suggested that the bishops omit debate and vote on these three texts, as they are “rather technical in nature”, and consider only the remaining texts. The CDW letter also asked that the bishops submit all actions on the ICEL texts by November 30, 2009. The letter was explained at the June USCCB meeting, and reported in detail in the February 2009 issue of the Bishops Committee on Divine Worship (BCDW) Newsletter.2

The same issue of the Newsletter published a chart detailing the projected schedule for approval of the Missal texts. The chart clearly stated that three sections of the Missal are “to be completed by the Congregation for Divine Worship in consultation with ICEL and Vox Clara, based on the green book consultations”. (The first text presented for consultation is called the “green book”; the revised draft is the “gray book”.)

At the Vox Clara meeting in August 2009, the bishops and experts reviewed the four segments that had been approved earlier by the English-speaking conferences, and submitted recommendations to the CDW concerning recognitio, or definitive confirmation and approval, of these texts. At the meeting, Archbishop Augustine Di Noia, newly appointed Secretary of the CDW, thanked Vox Clara for applying “the critical distinction between translating a text and translating a sacred text in the vernacular”, and for assuring the technical quality and internal consistency of the new Missal. (Archbishop Di Noia, an American Dominican, was secretary of the USCCB Committee on Doctrine before his appointment as undersecretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2001.)

The Vox Clara committee will meet again in January 2010.

The four American bishop members of Vox Clara, Cardinal Francis George, Cardinal Justin Rigali, Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb, and

Archbishop Alfred Hughes, attended the November USCCB meeting.

At the conclusion of voting on the texts Bishop Arthur Serratelli, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Divine Worship, commented on the significance of the action, calling it “a historic moment”.

Indeed — and not only for the Church in the United States and the countries where English is the mother tongue. Today English has become an international language; and English-language texts for Mass are commonly used as a base-text for translations into other languages, especially in Africa and Asia.

For this reason alone the accuracy and fidelity of the English texts to the original languages are of central importance. The language of the Mass must transcend borders, national idioms, and must rise above socio-political limitations or ideological influences of any time or place.


The USCCB’s approval process at the November meeting was not as straightforward as the votes might suggest, however. It was complicated by Erie Bishop Donald Trautman’s questioning the Holy See’s producing the final version of the Antiphons. Bishop Trautman objected that this would unjustly deprive the US bishops of their right to approve every liturgical translation, a right he said is guaranteed by the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Liturgy.

The US bishops had already reviewed the initial ICEL translation of the Antiphons (the green book), but Bishop Trautman insisted that their right to examine and vote on a revised version of the texts (gray book) was illegitimately usurped by the Holy See.

Bishop Serratelli pointed out that there had been “very, very, very little comment” from the bishops when the green book was sent back to ICEL. The gray book of the Antiphons, incorporating the few responses to the green book, was sent to the conferences by ICEL on October 27, 2008, though it was not scheduled for review and vote.

Bishop Trautman did not reveal why he raised this issue only now — or why he did not bring up the matter at the June 2009 USCCB meeting. The decision had been public since last February, when the BCDW Newsletter thoroughly reported and explained it.

To support his argument that the Holy See is undermining the rights of the US bishops’ conference, Bishop Trautman repeatedly cited the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium. But he never alluded to actions by the Holy See that have significantly strengthened the role of the territorial bishops’ conferences in providing vernacular translations of scriptural and liturgical texts: 1. the creation of Vox Clara, with significant membership of American bishops and advisers to oversee the translation in its final stages; and 2. the restructuring of ICEL, which made this “mixed commission” answerable to its member conferences and to the Holy See. Nor did the bishop mention that the new Missal’s General Instruction, as modified by American adaptations, has been in use in this country since 2003.

Bishop Trautman’s public objection at the November meeting to what he considers untoward interference by the Holy See in the liturgy was not surprising.

Only weeks before the meeting, Bishop Trautman had sharply criticized what he called the “slavishly literal” translation into English of the new Roman Missal from the original Latin. In a speech at Catholic University of America on October 22, he said the “sacred language” used by translators “tends to be elitist and remote from everyday speech and frequently not understandable” and could lead to a “pastoral disaster”.

He explicitly criticized the pope’s decision to translate literally the words “pro multis” as “for many”, rather than “for all” as in the current translation. Bishop Trautman stated that this signals “a major and radical change” in doctrine, and “a major pastoral, catechetical problem erupts”. He said that the Church’s original Latin text “is a human text, reflecting a certain mindset, theology and worldview” (Mark Pattison, “Bishop criticizes ‘slavishly literal’ English translation of missal”, Catholic News Service, October 23, 2009).

Just days before the meeting Bishop Trautman told an interviewer that he hoped the bishops would reject at least one section of the Missal. He said that he thinks the only procedural way the bishops can halt the process and gain a new review of texts they have already approved (including Vatican reversals of many of their amendments to earlier texts) is to vote down at least one of the final segments up for review and to form a committee to go to Rome and consult with the Vatican on what he considers the questionable texts approved by the Holy See (Jerry Filteau, “Last-ditch effort to dump Mass translations”, National Catholic Reporter, November 6, 2009).

Root problem: principles of translation

Bishop Trautman’s open opposition to the new Missal translations is longstanding. He was chairman of the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy from 1993-96, during the protracted debates over a revised translation of the “Sacramentary”, and again from 2004-2007, during the first review of the new Missal translations. He has consistently advocated the method of translation known as “dynamic equivalency” (or “free translation”), a method that regards the original text primarily as a source of ideas to be conveyed in a contemporary idiom, and does not consider the actual words, images or style of the original to be essential.

Along with other members of the Catholic Biblical Association (CBA), he had strongly objected to the Holy See’s 2001 Instruction on translation, Liturgiam authenticam. (Bishop Trautman’s personal critique, originally published in America magazine May 21,2007, appears on the CBA website,, and on the website of the Diocese of Erie,

The CBA’s critique, dated August 10, 2001, principally written by Jesuit Richard Clifford and signed by board members, charged that “The claim [in Liturgiam authenticam] that ‘the Church herself must freely decide upon the system of language that will serve her doctrinal mission most effectively’ is breathtaking in its disdain for the actual speech of specific peoples…. This administrative fiat would doom all Catholics to the use of a Bible that fails to live up to the normal requirements of modern biblical scholarship”. (Complete text on CBA web site:

It was CBA members who translated the New American Bible (and its revisions), which is used for the Lectionary in the United States, and its copyright is held by the USCCB. The Revised NAB Psalms (1991) were rejected by the Holy See for use in the liturgy, and the RNAB New Testament (1986) required amendment before it could be used for the Lectionary. The Lectionary is also undergoing revision at the present time, and the CBA has now produced a revised version of the Old Testament. Thus the CBA’s persistent rejection of the principles of Liturgiam authenticam suggests that the translation controversy in the US Church is likely to continue.

Bishop Richard Sklba, auxiliary bishop of Milwaukee and past president of CBA, also strongly objected to Liturgiam authenticam’s insistence on fidelity to the original text: “I’ve been very clear about my own conviction that the use of inclusive language translations, both in Scripture and in liturgical books, particularly when resulting in more faithful renditions of the original author’s intent, is an obligation for the Church. I do not see this as merely a question of option” (Milwaukee Catholic Herald, May 21, 2001).

During the November meeting, Bishop Trautman’s effort to delay approval of the Missal received vocal support from Bishop Sklba, who said, “In my judgment the text is still unfinished, filled with awkward grammatical phrases, over which I stumble every time I attempt to pray the text aloud”. Commenting on the Holy See’s recent gesture to Anglicans (the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus) Bishop Sklba said,

This will certainly have some consequences. One of which, I submit, will be the more public presence of the Book of Common Prayer in our midst as a living reality. The language of the Book of Common Prayer is elegant. It’s elegant in its phraseology and its cadence. So fine that it influenced and shaped our English language for almost five hundred years. Our proposed liturgical texts will be compared to that historic one, critically, I’m afraid, and with less than positive result. I still believe we need more time to produce and refine a text worthy of worship of our Church. So I ask that we continue to take the time we need.

(Anglican Use parishes in the US use the approved Book of Divine Worship based on the Book of Common Prayer. Its Preface for the Feast of St. Joseph is a single grammatically complex sentence consisting of 99 words. Its “elegant language” frequently includes words such as “beseech”, “vouchsafe”, “incarnate”, “remission”, “manifold”, “grievously” — words that some bishops reject as antiquated and incomprehensible.)

Bishop Trautman’s arguments against the Missal translation and examples (unfamiliar vocabulary, long sentences) are by now familiar. Two years ago, he received strong support for his views from the politically leftist National Coalition of American Nuns (NCAN). Their October 21, 2007 letter to all the bishops said, in part:

…The proposed text, “he who was born ineffably of the inviolate Virgin”, is not easily understandable to Christian people, much less to the youth who are leaving the Church because of its irrelevancy. Bishop Donald Trautman of Erie, PA, chair of the U.S. Bishops Committee on the Liturgy, has said the proposed changes by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy are “not acceptable”. We agree. We ask you to make the translations appropriate, meaningful, and significant for today’s Catholic.

(Signed) Jeannine Gramick SL, Donna Quinn OP, Beth Rindler SFP, for the Board of the National Coalition of American Nuns.

The complete letter is accessible on the NCAN web site,

Dominican Sister Donna Quinn, coordinator of NCAN, is an outspoken abortion supporter who was revealed in October 2009 to be volunteering as an escort for an abortion clinic in Illinois. Jeannine Gramick was co-founder of the homosexualist advocacy group New Ways Ministry. In 1999 she was ordered by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to cease public speaking and writing on the subject and was permanently prohibited from any pastoral work involving homosexual persons or holding office in her religious community. Formerly a School Sister of Notre Dame, in 2001 Gramick joined the Sisters of Loretto, who reportedly supported her activist “ministry to sexual minorities”. Beth Rindler, a Sister of St. Francis of the Poor, is a longstanding member of Women Church Convergence, and in 1991 organized a “Women’s Eucharist” group that meets monthly to celebrate “mass” in Detroit.

Bishop Trautman can hardly have welcomed their support. He is a firm opponent of abortion, and for that reason he was among the 80+ bishops who publicly protested Notre Dame University’s honoring President Obama at commencement this year.

It is difficult not to conclude that Bishops Trautman and Sklba and those who agree with them misconstrue the actions of the Holy See in the matter of translation. Some seem to consider the Holy See’s efforts and actions as an attempt at a hostile takeover of the national conferences’ legitimate responsibility for the Church’s worship, rather than as a prudent intervention to restore sacredness and beauty, and to preserve, protect and defend the truth that her worship conveys. And some are evidently very deeply convinced that the idea that language can convey reverence, sacredness appropriate to worship, through a more elevated linguistic style than everyday speech is misbegotten — and must be resisted. Others, however, recognize fully the power of language to shape ideas, and view the ideological manipulation of language as necessary to achieve social change — for example, the use of so-called inclusive language to achieve “justice” for women.

Conflict resolution — for now

Following the very strong majority vote in favor of all the action items at the November meeting, Bishop Trautman’s motion, which he had first introduced before any of the texts were presented for vote, was reintroduced.

Bishop Trautman’s motion:

[T]hat it would be the stated position of this Conference that we desire to have a gray book on the Antiphons from ICEL before any recognitio be issued for the new Missal. Our position is based on the clear statement of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy that, quote, “Translations from the Latin texts into the mother tongue intended for use in the liturgy must be approved by the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority”.

After considerable discussion, the vote was taken. The motion was defeated by a very strong majority: Yes 45, No 166 (78%).

Cincinnati Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk then moved that the bishops vote to approve Cardinal George’s acceptance of the request of Cardinal Cañizares to let the Vatican handle the Antiphons, and to complete their work on the Missal translation at this meeting. The vote on Archbishop Pilarczyk’s motion to remand the Antiphons to the CDW: Yes 194 (91%), No 20.

“We have come to a historic moment”

At end of the voting on the four segments — but before Bishop Trautman’s motion was re-introduced for discussion and vote — Bishop Serratelli addressed the group:

We have come to a historic moment. [There is applause and Cardinal George can be heard saying: “Not yet; it’s not done”.] After much collaboration on the international, national and diocesan levels, with clergy and laity, with experts and the faithful, after hours of discussion and debate, we have completed our work as a national Conference on the translation. I wish to thank, not only our present Committee on Divine Worship, both bishops and staff, but also our previous two Committees on the Liturgy under His Eminence Cardinal George and Bishop Trautman for all their careful and competent work.

With honesty and diversity, with enthusiasm and passion, we have debated vocabulary, syntax, sentence structure and the ability to be proclaimed.

Even the best of all possible translations of the new Missal will not suit every individual’s preference. But there is something much more at stake.

Liturgical language is important for the life of the Church — lex orandi, lex credendi. In liturgy the words addressed to God and the words spoken to the people voice the faith of the whole Church. They are not simply expressions of one individual in one particular place at one time in history. The words used in liturgy pass on the faith of the Church from one generation to the next.

For this reason, we bishops take seriously our responsibility to provide for the faithful translations of liturgical texts that are accurate and inspiring — hence the sometimes rather passionate discussion of words, syntax and phrases.

Following the instruction of Liturgiam authenticam the new translation does provide us with prayers that are theologically accurate in a language that can be understood, with dignity and beauty. When put into effect the new Missal will come as a result of years of growth and understanding. It will improve our liturgical prayer, but it will not be perfect. No translation is. But the new translation is good and worthy of our use. Perfection will come when the liturgy on earth gives way to that of heaven, where all the saints praise God with one voice. As Pope John Paul II said on the 25th occasion of the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Liturgy, “This is the moment to renew the spirit which inspired the Church at the moment when Sacrosanctum Concilium was published”.

In the days ahead, as the discussion and the debates recede into the background, we should be united as bishops in inspiring our clergy and laity to receive the new texts with enthusiasm, and with them to accept the new Missal. To quote our Holy Father of happy memory, to accept the new Missal is “a moment to sink our roots deeper into the soil of Tradition handed on in the Roman Rite”.

Bishop Serratelli then outlined the preparation for using the new Missal translation, a process that will take about a year, and he mentioned several catechetical initiatives undertaken by the BCDW and others. (For example, the USCCB Roman Missal Formation site:

Cardinal George also offered comments and observations at the end of the favorable vote on the texts:

I may add a word quite personally because I’ve been involved in ICEL and now I’m on Vox Clara. The Missale Romanum, the Roman Missal, is a book that not only expresses the faith as the people come to understand it, but it constantly challenges people to move that faith into what is the heavenly liturgy. And it is a book that has been defended by martyrs.

The English martyrs at the time of Elizabeth died for the sake of the Roman Missal and the Mass that was incorporated in it. We have a liturgical tradition that is a necessary part of the Magisterium, of handing on the Faith. It is the Missal along with Scripture that indeed tells us how God wants to intertwine, to interwork, in the affairs of the human race. So there is a tremendous moment of religious renewal that is possible now, and that I really hope, with the help of our own committee, we will be able to take advantage of, as Bishop Serratelli said.

We still do have to address the question — the very important question — that Bishop Trautman raised because we have not approved the Antiphons. And there are at least three ways, I think — and we’ll return to that, if not now, then tomorrow. The argument has been made that the Congregation has the right to determine the process as the successor of the Consilium and, therefore, the interpreter of Sacrosanctum Concilium under the authority of the Holy Father. That has still to be examined.

Now does it mean that the Code [of Canon Law] has to be looked at again? We could, if we think that the Code has been infracted, take the Congregation to the Signatura. That is, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops would sue the Congregation for Divine Worship in the Apostolic Signatura. [Some laughter.] That’s a canonical possibility.

We could simply tell the Congregation that we approve their overseeing the translation of the Antiphons into American English. There are perhaps some other possibilities. We will bring that question back because it is an important question, and it raises other issues of governance, which as you know we’re all very concerned about right now. I think right now, however, we should take a coffee break.

More hurdles ahead…

Thus endeth the saga of our bishops’ approval of the translation of the Missale Romanum, editio typica tertia. But their work is by no means over. First, there is the crucial period of formation, education, etc., to prepare priests and people for the actual use of the new Missal, as well as the publication of the new books.

ICEL’s work is also far from finished. There are a good many liturgical texts that have never been translated (e.g., the Rite of Marriage, revised in 1990); and others that await revision according to the principles of Liturgiam authenticam.

The re-translation of the Lectionary has already begun, though that not-inconsiderable challenge has been largely sidelined while the Missal translation was in process. The US bishops approved the re-revised Conception Abbey Grail Psalter in 2008 for use in the Lectionary as well as the Liturgy of the Hours. It awaits the Holy See’s recognitio. The question of which version — or revision — of the Bible to use for Lectionaries is not yet settled.

Nevertheless, that this protracted period of intense labor — and many prayers — for a worthy translation of the Missal is now virtually complete is a momentous achievement. And one for which countless Anglophone Catholics are — and should be — deeply grateful.

For the future work to make the Church’s liturgy beautiful, sacred, and intelligible: Ora et labora.

1 Antiphons are short passages, usually consisting of one or more psalm verses or sentences from Holy Scripture, that are sung or recited during Mass (Entrance and Communion) or the Liturgy of the Hours.

2 The following was published in the BCDW Newsletter, February 2009, Vol. XVI, p. 1:

“On December 15, Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I., USCCB President, received a letter from Antonio Cardinal Cañizares Llovera, Prefect of the Congregation, in which he expressed a desire to facilitate a more expeditious completion of the approval process for the English translation of the Missale Romanum, editio typica tertia, and see the publication of the Roman Missal in English by the end of 2010.

“In particular, Cardinal Cañizares recognized the valuable work of consultation and input from the various conferences of bishops, but noted that at least one conference has completed its process of approval and has submitted its request for recognitio. He suggested that to expedite the approval of the remaining sections of the Missal, conferences could place a lesser priority on the gray books for the Introductory Material, the Appendices, and the Antiphons prepared by the ICEL, given that, for the most part, they are rather technical in nature. Cardinal Cañizares suggested that priority be given to voting on other remaining sections and submitting them to the Congregation by November 30, 2009.

“Cardinal George, in consultation with Bishop Arthur Serratelli and the members of the Committee on Divine Worship, sent an affirmative reply to Cardinal Cañizares’s request, noting that the USCCB desired to maintain the US Adaptations to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (which is contained in the Introductory Material). He noted that would take publishers one year from the reception of the recognitio to produce the liturgical book of the Roman Missal”.


[The bishops’ interventions quoted above were recorded at the November 2009 USCCB meeting and transcribed by Susan Benofy.]



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.