Weekly reflections on the Scriptures of the sacred Liturgy and the Catechism of the Catholic Church

The July 1997 issue of Credo newsletter courtesy of MCITL

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July 1997

A Society of Catholic Priests Dedicated to the Faithful Translation of the Liturgy

NCCB Votes on Lectionary, Sacramentary

During the June 19-21 meeting of National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) in Kansas City, the American bishops were asked to approve Volume I of the Lectionary for Mass for use in the Dioceses of the United States (Second Typical Edition). Due to low attendance and opposition by some bishops who demanded a more radical use of "inclusive language", the Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy (BCL) was unable to obtain the necessary two-thirds majority of the 260 Latin rite bishops eligible to vote. The final vote will be obtained by mail in July.
If the bishops reject the new Lectionary, apparently the three existing Lectionary translations will remain available for use at Mass. The 1970 New American Bible (NAB) is the most widely used; but the Revised Standard Version is regarded as the most accurate and elegant translation; and the Jerusalem Bible is seldom used.
As expected, the U.S. bishops also substantially approved the final prayers of the new 3,000- prayer Sacramentary originally scheduled for submission to Rome for confirmation in 1994. The Sacramentary is the book of prayers used by the priest at Mass. Only one prayer remains in question. The bishops will soon decide by a mail vote whether to retain the 1973 ICEL version of the prayer "This is the Lamb of God..." before Communion or to improve the text to "Behold the Lamb of God...".
Controversy among the bishops over the quality of translations delayed the approval of the Sacramentary until this year. But if the history of the new Lectionary and Catechism of the Catholic Church is any indication, it may take years before the Vatican revises and confirms the texts submitted to Rome for confirmation. In recent years, the Holy See has been far more attentive to the translations of liturgical and doctrinal texts.

Other News: Plans for New Principles of Translation

Comme le Prevoit is a 1969 document approved by the Vatican and frequently invoked by ICEL and the liturgy committee to justify many of the new liturgical translations. But we understand that the Vatican is working on new comprehen- sive principles of translation for liturgical texts. Just as the Vatican's "secret" norms of Scripture translation conflicted with the U.S. bishops' Criteria for the Evaluation of Inclusive Language Translations of Scriptural Texts (see below), the new principles presumably will render Comme le Prevoit obsolete.
If the principles of translation change, it's reasonable to expect the translation of the Sacramentary to be changed by the Vatican when it arrives this year for confirmation. That is our hope, anyway.

"Inclusive Language" Lectionary Poised for Vatican Confirmation

The Catholic News Service described the new Lectionary voted on by the bishops in June as "a compromise hashed out this spring after a five-year standoff between Vatican officials and the U.S. bishops over the inclusive-language version the bishops had approved for use in 1992."
In spring 1997, a "Working Group" consisting of representatives from the NCCB, the Vatican's Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), approved the Lectionary manuscript which the BCL reported as using "a moderate degree of horizontal inclusive language" which was acceptable to all parties. The translation was said to comply with the Vatican's "secret" norms of translation. These norms, after publication in the National Catholic Reporter in June, are reported below. The NCCB representatives were given assurances that should the NCCB submit this manu- script the Vatican would confirm the texts immediately. In March, the Administrative Com- mittee of the NCCB unanimously recommended consideration of such a submission by the Plenary Assembly of the NCCB at its June 1997 meeting.

Unexpected American Opposition to the Lectionary

During the plenary meeting in June, Bishop Donald W. Trautman of Erie, Pa. opposed the Lectionary. He said that the Lectionary text sent to Rome in 1992 "has been substantially and radically altered [by the Working Group], rendering it no longer an inclusive-language text. The text now before us is not pastorally helpful." As an example, he objected to the Gospel pas- sage from St. Matthew: "Whoever receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man's reward." Auxiliary Bishop Richard J. Sklba of Milwaukee, also urged rejection of the text, criticizing the Vatican's norms of translation: "The fact that these confidential norms were developed by the Holy See in dialogue with our representatives, but not really with our approval, after the work is complete, and then, at least as it seems, imposed upon us that they were then used to judge serious efforts undertaken in compliance with different norms, is a serious human relations problem of no small proportion..." Bishop Matthew H. Clark of Rochester expressed concern over "the weight the Holy See gives to those ... who lobby against the work of our conference."

Condoning the Alteration of Texts?

Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland of Milwaukee said that the compromise Lectionary encourages pastors, parish liturgy committees or individual readers to make unauthorized changes to Lectionary passages they regard as not sufficiently gender-inclusive. He did not mention whether there was a risk that other priests would "cut and paste" standard English for those passages which use "inclusive language". But changing liturgical texts in favor of standard English seems to be the more serious risk. A recent Catholic World Report/Roper poll reveals that a resounding majority of American Catholics reject "inclusive language" (cf. Catholic World Report, March 1997).

It's not clear whether the bishops consider the alteration of texts an abuse or something to be condoned for "pastoral" purposes. Shortly before the meeting, in the June 7, 1997 issue of the Jesuit magazine, America, Archbishop Weakland wrote "I can honestly and truthfully say that the aberrations that arose in the late 1960's from excessive zeal and exuberance had begun to run their course and to disappear by the early 1980's." Apparently, Archbishop Weakland does not consider the alteration of lectionary texts as an "aberration".

Support for the Lectionary

The bishops who supported the compromise Lectionary made no reference to the results of the Roper poll revealing that most Catholics reject "inclusive language". The demand for "inclusive language" was presumed. Cardinal William H. Keeler of Baltimore described the new text as an improvement. Archbishop William J. Levada of San Francisco, a member of the spring Working Group in Rome, described the Lectionary as "an updated, inclusive language text."
Other bishops reluctantly supported the proposed Lectionary. Bishop Robert N. Lynch of St. Petersburg, Fla., said he was "disappointed" with the Lectionary, "but the option of doing nothing is not at all attractive to me," because "it sets up a dynamic of confrontation." He urged passage of the Lectionary as "a first step, especially with the Rigali amendment."
Archbishop Justin P. Rigali of St. Louis, who was one of the archbishops in the spring Working Group, modified an amendment originally proposed by Archbishop Weakland. As a matter of voting protocol the bishops were unable to submit detailed amendments to the text. But the Rigali amendment authorized "a full review of the Lectionary with a view to its possible updating" after five years.
Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick of Newark, N.J., and Cardinal Bernard F. Law of Boston spoke in favor of approving the Lectionary and the amendment. In the meantime, Cardinal Law said that he would like to reach "some meeting of minds" with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger's CDF so that "the dilemma will not recur" a few years from now. In a voice vote, the bishops adopted the amendment. In five years, it is likely that Cardinal Ratzinger's term as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith will be expired. But in five years, it's likely that the NCCB will also undergo a facelift. A considerable number of American bishops, including Archbishop Weakland, are approaching the age of retirement. With a new cast of characters supported by a growing younger clergy more amena- ble to traditional Catholic theology and practice, the bishops may recognize "inclusive language" for the ideological fad that it is. If the Lectionary is approved by a mail ballot, the five-year trial period is a gamble for those bishops advocating a more radical use of "inclusive language."

Documentation: Norms for the Translation of Biblical Texts for Use in the Liturgy

The Vatican's delay (since 1992) in confirming the Lectionary can be explained by significant differences between the previously secret Vatican norms and the bishops' Criteria for the Evaluation of Inclusive Language Translations of Scriptural Texts Proposed for Liturgical Use. The Criteria was adopted by the U.S. bishops in November 1990 in preparation for the revision of the Lectionary for Mass. The Vatican norms were issued later by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The norms, only recently made public, were used to evaluate the translation of the Lectionary approved by the U.S. bish- ops in 1992. The norms appear below in their entirety:
1. The Church must always seek to convey accurately in translation the texts she has inherited from the biblical, liturgical, and patristic tradition and instruct the faithful in their proper meaning.
2. The first principle with respect to biblical texts is that of fidelity, maximum possible fidelity to the words of the text. Biblical translations should be faithful to the original language and to the internal truth of the inspired text, in such a way as to respect the language used by the human author in order to be understood by his intended reader. Every concept in the original text should be translated in its context. Above all, translations must be faithful to the sense of Sacred Scripture understood as a unity and totality, which finds its center in Christ, the Son of God incarnate (cf. Dei Verbum III and IV), as confessed in the Creeds of the Church.
3. The translation of Scripture should faithfully reflect the Word of God in the original human languages. It must be listened to in its time-conditioned, at times even inelegant, mode of human expression without correction or improvement in service of modern sensitivities.
a) In liturgical translations or readings where the text is very uncertain or in which the meaning is very much disputed, the translation should be made with due regard to the Neo-Vulgate.
b) If explanations are deemed to be pastorally necessary or appropriate, they should be given in editorial notes, commentaries, homilies, etc.
4/1. The natural gender of personae in the Bible, including the human author of various texts where evident, must not be changed insofar as this is possible in the receptor language.
4/2. The grammatical gender of God, pagan deities, and angels according to the original texts must not be changed insofar as this is possible in the receptor language.
4/3. In fidelity to the inspired Word of God, the traditional biblical usage for naming the persons of the Trinity as Father, Son and Holy Spirit is to be retained.
4/4. Similarly, in keeping with the Churchs tradition, the feminine and neuter pronouns are not to be used to refer to the person of the Holy Spirit.
4/5. There shall be no systematic substitution of the masculine pronoun or possessive adjective to refer to God in correspondence to the original text.
4/6. Kinship terms that are clearly gender specific, as indicated by the context, should be respect- ed in translation.
5. Grammatical number and person of the original texts ordinarily should be maintained.
6/1. Translation should strive to preserve the connotations as well as the denotations of words or expressions in the original and thus not preclude possible layers of meaning.
6/2. For example, where the New Testament or the Churchs tradition have interpreted certain texts of the Old Testament in a Christological fashion, special care should be observed in the translation of these texts so that a Christological meaning is not precluded.
6/3. Thus, the word man in English should as a rule translate adam and anthropos ( ), since there is no one synonym which effectively conveys the play between the individual, the collectivity and the unity of the human family so important, for example, to expression of Chris- tian doctrine and anthropology.

Documentation: The Contents of the New Lectionary

The proposed Lectionary voted on by the Bishops (Volume I) is a hybrid of scriptural texts. Before modifications by the Working Group, the New Testament uses the Revised New American Bible (RNAB) (1986) as its base; the Old Testament uses the NAB (1970) as its base; and the Responsorial Psalms use the NAB (1970) Psalter as its base.
The Working Group consisted of representatives of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments and representatives of the NCCB. The Working Group met in Rome from February 24 through March 8, 1997.
The base texts were modified as documented below for the reasons indicated. (This statistical information was prepared from an analysis of the BCL Documentation for the June 1997 meeting of bishops, Action Item #4. As an unofficial analysis, there may be minor errors). o Gospel Readings: Apparently, there were no Working Group modifications to the Gospels of the RNAB (1986). But the RNAB (1986), now widely available in bookstores, uses "inclusive language" as it stands.
o New Testament Epistles: There were 44 modifications made to the RNAB (1986) involving 32 passages. There were 30 modifications made to accommodate "inclusive language" (For example, changing "brothers" to "brothers and sisters"). But 8 modifications were made from "inclusive language" to standard English.
o Old Testament Readings: There were 241 modifications made to the NAB (1970) Old Testament involving 107 passages. There were 130 modifications made to accommodate "inclusive language". (For example, changing: "man/men" to "people" or "one" or "whoever" or "anyone" or "someone" or "others".) o Responsorial Psalms: There were 77 modifications made to the NAB (1970) Psalter involving 59 passages. There were 20 modifications made to accommodate "inclusive language". (For example, changing: "he" to "one"; "he" to "whoever"; "man" to "one"; "afflicted man" to "poor one"; "men" to "children of Adam"; or eliminating a male pronoun by a phrase change.)


In many ways, the proposed Lectionary is an improvement over the 1970 NAB Lectionary presently in use. A good deal of the sacral vocabulary has been restored to the biblical texts. For example, in the 1986 RNAB base text, "kingdom of God" replaces "reign of God" in the "Kingdom Parables"; and "blessed" replaces the inelegant "happy" in many instances.
But in view of the fact that the proposed Lectionary has been subject to political negotiation and compromise, we fear further damage to the language of worship and evangelization, especially if alternative lectionaries using standard English are suppressed. By approving the proposed Lectionary or by hinting that in five years the Lectionary will be further revised to accommodate "inclusive language", the bishops risk continued erosion of their authority over the Church:
1) Approval of the proposed Lectionary in effect rewards individual priests who have taken initiatives to alter existing official texts for "pastoral purposes". The suppression of lectionaries using standard English would in effect penalize the vast majority of priests who remained faithful to existing liturgical texts.
2) The ability of the bishops to exercise their authority will be weakened when they allow ideology to justify departures from traditional usage. In this regard, it doesn't help matters to have the liturgy committee boast in the June 1997 NCCB documentation that the proposed Lectionary is "trend-setting" and "praised by Ms. magazine" (Documentation, p. 116).
Yet, the proposed Lectionary which, according to liturgy committee officials, uses "moderate inclusive language" promises to alienate the very feminists the NCCB is trying to placate. If approved and confirmed, the proposed Lectionary will only increase the demands of feminists.
For opposite reasons, the bishops risk confusing and alienating Catholics by uncritically accepting "inclusive language" in principle. Further, far from criticizing the abuses common among certain groups in the past and these abuses were not confined to textual changes the bish- ops seem to encourage the continuation of these practices by their decision to revisit the texts in five years. If the bishops permit changes to the translations for "inclusive language" purposes before the translations are confirmed by the Vatican, it would seem that the same permission is tacitly extended for other purposes.
A failure to appease the feminists and the further marginalization of faithful Catholics can only discourage fidelity to the bishops of the NCCB in an all-inclusive way.

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