USCCB New Missal Debate: Divine worship update By Archbishop John Vlazny

By Archbishop John Vlazny 

          As a member of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, I usually am a member or a consultant on some of our conference committees. This past year we downsized our operation considerably and bishops are encouraged to belong to no more than two committees. Presently I serve as Chairman of the Committee on National Collections and a Consultant on the Committee for Divine Worship. Even though I assumed these responsibilities only this past winter, it has been an interesting experience, especially on the Divine Worship Committee.

          Those of you who touch base with the Catholic press probably learned that we bishops had a rather public disagreement during our June meeting about the Committee’s recommendation that a proposed translation for the new Roman Missal be given our approval. In fact, it was not approved! The text at issue was the second of twelve units of material into which the content of the Roman Missal had been divided for the purposes of translation. The bishops approved the first section, the Order of the Mass, back in June of 2006. If all goes well, and it didn’t go very well this past June, we won’t even complete the new process until the fall of 2010. I encourage pastors to keep patching the aging Sacramentaries they are presently using, because the new Roman Missal, which is supposed to replace the present Sacramentary, won’t be ready for quite a while.

          In many ways we bishops are involved in a dispute that has plagued church governance almost from the very beginning. The same struggle was engaged after the Decree on Liturgy was approved during the Second Vatican Council. Who would oversee its implementation? Would this be the work of the Holy See? Or would local bishops have more of a say with respect to worship in their own territory?

          The process we are presently pursuing is fully consultative on the part of diocesan bishops and the Holy See. But it is also quite tedious because we are attempting to produce a text that will be used in eleven different nations. The United States is obviously the biggest and most influential, but we still must collaborate with our brothers in other English-speaking territories. The particular section we discussed in June had been sent in early 2006 by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) to the English-speaking conferences of bishops, including the USCCB. We bishops reviewed the first draft of the Proper of Seasons and offered 550 particular suggestions for revisions. Our Committee on Divine Worship organized and summarized all of this and sent a report about our concerns to ICEL.

          What were some of the concerns? Well, questions were raised about the form of English-language conclusions to prayers, the use of certain words and phrases that we considered arcane, and also difficulties we foresaw in the proclamation and the memorability of some Latin prayers that had been translated into English by ICEL. ICEL then provided a second draft trying to maintain a balance between fidelity to the original Latin text and some of the problems that we noted in syntax and vocabulary in the translations presented to us. This second draft was then sent to the bishops this spring and only seven chose to offer further amendments. Hence it was a surprise that strong protests were raised on the floor of our recent meeting.

           In order for this second of the proposed twelve sections of the new Roman Missal to be approved, two thirds of the Latin church members of our USCCB must approve the recommendation and this must then be confirmed by the Holy See. Some of the bishops were already considering the possibility of asking for a translation that would be uniquely American and thereby separate ourselves from the ten other English-speaking countries of ICEL.

          In all fairness, I would say that two years ago I might have sided with those who were leading the protest. I was fearful that the expertise found in the local churches outside Rome was not being heeded. I knew that ICEL and the Congregation for Divine Worship in Rome had had its differences. But I also learned a lot more about the work of ICEL and the wonderful collaboration now taking place between the members of ICEL and a special committee which the Roman congregation has established to facilitate and expedite this important work of translating the Roman Missal from the approved Latin version into acceptable English. Our own Father Jeremy Driscoll, OSB, a monk at Mount Angel Abbey, works with Vox Clara, the Roman committee established by the Congregation for Divine Worship to deal with these matters. In addition to Father Driscoll, four American bishops have also been members of Vox Clara.

           All of these efforts continue in the church today because of a sincere desire to be faithful to the implementation of the liturgical renewal called for back on December 4, 1963 by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council. In fact, there have been five subsequent instructions from the Roman Congregation to assist the local churches in the correct application of the teachings of the Council. The fifth instruction, promulgated on April 25, 2001, entitled Liturgiam Authenticam, prompted this present retranslation of the Missal and offered specific guidelines for these translations, somewhat different from guidelines that had governed the work of ICEL since 1969.

          In all of these matters it is important for us to remember that the celebration of the Eucharist is the central action of our Catholic community. When Jesus was to celebrate the Passover meal with his disciples wherein he instituted the sacrifice of his own body and blood, he gave some very specific instructions. The church has always considered his command as something she should take to heart when she gives directions about the many and varied details that are part and parcel of our Eucharistic celebrations. It is a true grace to be a member of a Catholic, “worldwide” church, but it is also a challenge at times, especially when we are called to collaborate with all our sisters and brothers in that which is most important to us, in spite of our differences.

          We all love the Eucharist. We feel its absence in priestless parishes across the globe. In today’s instamatic culture, we have little patience for prolonged deliberations. But the church and the Eucharist belong to all of us, those who have gone before us, Christians today and those who will come after us. Please pray that the Holy Spirit will continue to guide us in all these deliberations about the Eucharist which is the principal source of our nourishment and guidance on our faith-filled journey to heaven’s glory.

Source: Catholic Sentinel


One thought on “USCCB New Missal Debate: Divine worship update By Archbishop John Vlazny”

  1. I love Latin, I have spent years of my life studying and reading Latin.However, I do not understand why so much fuss is being made about the Mass in Latin. Latin was not the language Jesus used when he celebrated the Passover. To be truly shared the Eucharist ought to be confected in a language which is understood by those taking part in the celebration. A meaningful liturgy requires no mythology.

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