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Posted Friday June 16, 2006 at 12:36 p.m. CDT

Bishops approve liturgy language
Proposed conference consolidation raises concerns

By Joe Feuerherd
Los Angeles

It will be at least a year, and likely longer, before priests in the pulpit and Catholics in the pews begin to implement the most significant modifications to the English-language Mass since the innovations introduced following the Second Vatican Council.

Meeting in Los Angeles June 15, the U.S. bishops overwhelmingly approved changes to the "Order of the Mass," resulting in what some hope will be a more faithful translation of the liturgy's Latin and scriptural roots. Skeptics fear that the alterations are linguistically awkward and pastorally insensitive.

The changes will now be considered by the Vatican's Congregation for Divine Worship, which can accept, amend or reject the work of the U.S. bishops. A Vatican determination is unlikely before the next U.S. bishops meeting in November, meaning that final consideration by the U.S. bishops is at least a year away, said Erie, Pa., Bishop Donald Trautman, chairman of the committee that drafted the changes.

The Vatican congregation will likely amend what the bishops approved, said Trautman.

Moreover, said Trautman, the bishops have yet to consider a range of issues related to other common texts used at Mass, including prefaces and solemn blessings.

Trautman said that it is likely that the bishops will issue the changes as a package rather than promulgating them piecemeal, which could result in additional implementation delays.

Still, said Trautman following the 173-29 vote, the action represents "a new liturgical moment for the church in the United States." He acknowledged that the bishops' Liturgy Committee was "not always unanimous" in its approach but that the end-product represents "a balance" between those who favor a more user-friendly approach to liturgical translation (loosely defined as proponents of "dynamic equivalence") and the Vatican-favored school of "formal equivalence," which stresses adherence to the Mass's scriptural and Latin roots.

Among the common responses and iterations that will be altered if the bishops' translation is approved:

  • During the Mass's introductory rite the priest will say, "The Lord be with you," to which the congregation will respond "And with your spirit." Currently, the response is "And also with you."
  • The Profession of Faith will no longer invoke a creator "of all things seen and unseen," but of "all things visible and invisible."
  • Various changes to the Eucharistic Prayers ("It is right and just" as opposed to "It is right to give him thanks and praise") are included.
  • During the Communion rite the congregation will no longer respond "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed." Instead, the response will be, "Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed."

The bishops rejected an amendment to the Liturgy Committee text that would have replaced the phrase "begotten, not made, one in Being with the Father" in the Profession of Faith with "begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father." Supporters of the change said "consubstantial" conveyed more accurately the theology behind the doctrine of the Trinity, while those opposed to the change said the word would not be readily understood by those in the pews.

-CNS /Greg Tarczynski
Bishop Donald Trautman speaks about a new English translation of the Order of Mass
Though "one in Being with the Father" does not fall outside Vatican translation guidelines, said Trautman, retention of the phrase could be a basis for Vatican amendments. Of the 11 English-speaking countries considering translation issues, the U.S. church is the only one that does not use "consubstantial" in the Creed. The bishops of England, Wales, Scotland and Australia have reportedly approved changes to the Order of the Mass more in-line with Vatican guidance, including retention of the word "consubstantial."

The civility of the debate and the consensus evidenced by the overwhelming margin of support for the changes means that the bishops avoided a significant skirmish in what observers have termed the "liturgy wars." Speaking to the American bishops, the chairman of the International Committee for English in the Liturgy (ICEL), Bishop Arthur Roche of Leeds, England, noted that "I had no idea at all when I was elected chairman of ICEL, four years ago, that what, at first seemed to me to be a reasonably straightforward task would be a forum for such controversy."

That controversy was most recently ignited last month when Cardinal Francis Arinze, prefect for the Congregation for Divine Worship, informed the president of the U.S. bishops conference, Spokane Bishop William Skylstad, that the bishops "are bound to follow the directives" of the Vatican's 2001 document on liturgical translations, Liturgiam Authenticam. Further, said Arinze, it is "not acceptable" to use concerns about acceptance of the translations among the faithful as a basis to reject them.

Other Issues
The bishops, meanwhile, had more than liturgical translation issues on their agenda during their one-day public session.

Several bishops expressed concerns that a proposal to restructure the conference of bishops (37 standing committees would be reduced to 18) could result in neglecting key missions of the U.S. church. Under the proposal, for example, committees dedicated to Hispanic and African American Catholics would be subsumed within a "Committee on Culturally Diverse Communities" and the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, now a separate department, would exist under a newly constituted "Committee on Human Development and World Peace."

Las Cruces Bishop Ricardo Ramirez expressed concern that such a reorganization could "weaken our pastoral and advocacy efforts."

Under the plan, the bishops -- "acknowledging that the conference cannot effectively or efficiently respond to each and every concern" -- would give priority to marriage and family life issues, human life and dignity, vocations, and faith formation. The bishops will consider the reorganization plan at their Nov. 2006.

With one exception, a speech by Apostolic Nuncio Pietro Sambi, no public mention was made of the clergy sex abuse crisis. Sambi said that the U.S. church should be known not "only for the sex scandals" but for the other work it does. The U.S. church should make this "difficulty a moment of resurrection," said Sambi.

Meanwhile, outgoing Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, chairman of the bishop's task force dealing with Catholic politicians, warned, "the bitter battles of partisan politics may be seeping into broader ecclesial life of our Catholic people and maybe even of our conference." In the 2004 election year, McCarrick was criticized by some conservative Catholics, including some of his fellow bishops, for what they considered a lack of toughness in dealing with pro-choice Catholic politicians, such as Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry.

Said McCarrick: "…there should be no place in the Body of Christ for the brutality of partisan politics, the impugning of motives, or turning differences in pastoral judgment into fundamental disagreements on principle. Civility and mutual respect, which we must witness, are not signs of weakness or lack of commitment, but solid virtues which reflect confidence and faith."

In another area, the bishops agreed to continue their "retirement fund for religious," which has raised more than $500 million to meet the retirement needs of elderly religious since its inception 18 years ago.

[Joe Feuerherd is NCR Washington correspondent. His e-mail address is

June 16, 2006, National Catholic Reporter

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