US opposition to ICEL changes intensifies

US opposition to ICEL changes intensifies

AD2000 Report

The International Committee on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) is due soon to submit its revised translation of the Catholic Liturgy for the approval of the Vatican and English-speaking hierarchies. As 'AD2000' has already reported, some U.S. Bishops have expressed misgivings at the use of 'inclusive' wordings in the current ICEL draft. Now two U.S. priests' organisations are trying to persuade Rome and the U.S. Bishops to halt the ICEL revisions.

Opposition among some American priests and bishops to the workings of the International Committee on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) has come to a head in recent weeks over the content of revised liturgical texts.

ICEL was established by the Catholic Bishops' Conferences of English-speaking countries which provided initial funds. It now operates with an annual budget of $700,000 and a staff of seven, helped by royalty revenues from approved liturgical books. However, before an ICEL translation or any newly composed text can be used in the liturgy, it must have the approval of the bishops and the Holy See. The present revised Mass translation is due for review and approval in 1994.

In the meantime, two organisations of U.S. clergy have been making their views felt on what they see as serious deficiencies in the ICEL translation. One of the groups, Credo, is an association of priests "committed to English translations of the Liturgy" which "faithfully represent the official Latin". It is "alarmed" by the prospect of "another poorly revised translation of the Roman Missal". Credo recently issued a statement of criticisms identifying "several mistakes in fact, as well as theological errors and faulty translation":

  • Deleting some prayers that refer to the priest's role as the one who offers sacrifice 'in persona Christi' to God. For example, the response to the "Orate, fratres" eliminates "May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands."
  • Deleting many uses of personal pronouns ("he", "his", "and "him") when applied to God. Changing "God, the almighty Father" to "God."
  • Translating the Nicene Creed's "homo factus est" (translated literally in 1973 as Jesus "became man") as Jesus "became truly human." As well, ICEL conflates the passion with the death of Christ: "... he suffered death."
  • Providing "pastoral notes" which are not subject to approval by the Holy See but may be read as if they are rubrics. For example, one note suggests that "In Masses with smaller groups it may be desirable for people to leave their seats and regroup around the altar." Another note reads, "It would normally be quite inappropriate for a priest or minister to appear solely at the moment of communion (to assist with distribution of the hosts)."
  • Stressing the "table-fellowship" of the Eucharist so much as to neglect the sacrificial character of the Mass and the distinct role of the priest: "The regular use of larger breads will foster an awareness in priests and people of the fundamental Eucharistic symbolism of sharing. There is no reason to continue the distinction between "priest's" and "people's" hosts, and "where practicable the use of individual hosts should be avoided."
  • Changing the Our Father: adding the doxology, "For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and forever," to the scriptural prayer; replacing the phrase "and lead us not into temptation," with "save us from the time of trial;" and, replacing "trespasses" with "sins".

A second priests' organisation, the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy (CCC), a "fraternal organisation representing some 900 American priests" from all parts of the U.S.A., voiced, via its May 1993 Newsletter, the "strongest possible rejection of the new liturgical texts proposed by the International Committee on English in the Liturgy to the Bishops of the United States". This proposal included the lectionary (now pending approval of Rome) and the sacramentary.

Grave deficiencies

CCC expressed its support to the letter of Roger Cardinal Mahony of Los Angeles to Archbishop Pilarczyk of Cincinnati, a letter which "comprehensively documents" what CCC calls "the grave deficiencies of the sacramentary text", and lent its weight to the aforementioned Credo, a "fast-growing movement initiated by younger priests who are rallying their confreres to beg our bishops and the Holy See to carefully weigh the consequences of these texts upon the future liturgical life of the American faithful".

CCC presented a three-point "position statement" and called on the U.S. Bishops to give the ICEL texts "the most serious and conscientious scrutiny, alerted to the impact on the spiritual well-being of their priests, religious and laity.

"The American Catholic faithful," said CCC, "have become restive and confused ... The constant agitation of liturgists to introduce ritual novelties has met with hostility by some, momentary excitement by others often followed by indifference or a demand for more stimulation. In this psychological climate to introduce a drastic change in the text would be a rash experiment, not to mention the theological problems of the proposed text." CCC then added: "We ask our bishops to consider the pastoral chaos which will ensue in our common Catholic life of prayer among children, youth and adults, as well as between 'conservative' and more 'progressive' elements, already in conflict".

Secondly, said CCC, the passage of the ICEL proposals would "impose a grave crisis of conscience on those faithful priests who are cognisant of the defects of the text and yet will be mandated to impose it upon their people."

And finally, CCC predicted that the constant recycling of liturgical texts to conform to "the evolutionary and revolutionary tides of popular opinion" would be the most compelling argument for many Catholics to have recourse to the 'Ecclesia Dei' indult, a prospect many bishops who favour ICEL projects will not warmly welcome".

It remains to be seen whether Rome will intervene before the damage is done to the faith of English-speaking Catholics. But time is short.

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