WASHINGTON—Although it has been six months since the Holy See issued new guidelines for the translation of the Mass into the vernacular, any major changes in what people hear and say during the liturgy are still a long way off, experts involved in liturgical matters said.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, meeting here Nov. 12-15, will hear a formal presentation of Liturgiam Authenticam (“Authentic Liturgy”), which was still too fresh when they last met in June.
Issued May 7 by the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, the instruction calls for a more literal translation of the Latin version of the Mass. For example, it would likely have parishioners responding, “And with your spirit,” when the priest says, “The Lord be with you.”
Father James Moroney, executive director of the bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy, declined to be specific about plans for the meeting. But based on disagreements bishops had at their June meeting about the document, the debate following next week's presentation by four bishops will get a great deal of attention.
The American hierarchy also will vote to accept three major documents at their meeting: a call to solidarity with Africa, an updated pro-life activities plan and a statement on the growing Asian and Pacific presence in the Church in the United States. They also will elect a new president and vice president for the next three years, as well as a treasurer and 22 new committee chairmen.
They will vote on a budget, plans and priorities for their national offices, and complementary norms applying general Church law in the U.S. Church in the areas of lay preaching and the discussion of Catholic teaching on radio and television.
In liturgical matters, the bishops will vote on a motion to remand an English translation of the new General Instruction of the Roman Missal to the International Commission on English in the Liturgy, known as ICEL, for reworking in light of the new translation norms.
Remanding the translation to ICEL would be a “big step” in implementing Liturgiam Authenticam, observed Helen Hull Hitchcock, editor of the Adoremus Bulletin, which promotes a more traditional style of liturgy. She predicted that the bishops will review a set of American adaptations to the General Instruction, the Church's norms for the execution of the liturgy.
Still, Hitchcock forecasts that Catholics in the United States will have the present texts of the Mass “for a good long time.” That is not necessarily a good thing in her view.
The translation done by ICEL has been criticized by Adoremus and other groups for not sticking to the exact meaning of the original texts and for using a pedestrian, everyday language that is not suited to the Mass.
“Optimally, the bishops will say [at the November meeting], ‘We'll have to have an entire retranslation by different people,’” said Robert Edgeworth, a longtime critic of ICEL who teaches the classics at Louisiana State University. “But that's too much to hope for.”
“Something along the lines of ICEL will continue to exist,” said Msgr. M. Francis Mannion, director of the Liturgical Institute at Chicago's Mundelein Seminary and a recently appointed member of ICEL's advisory committee. “It may have a different configuration, but episcopal conferences [of each language group] will be working together. That's the way Rome wants it.”
In the wake of Liturgiam Authenticam, anything ICEL is working on now “will have to be looked at,” said John Page, the international commission's executive secretary. As well, the Sacramentary (the book of prayers of the Mass) which has been under review in Rome since 1998, could be sent back to the 12 English-speaking bishops’ conferences that use ICEL's services if Liturgiam's principles are applied retroactively, Page said.
But first, the bishops need to undertake a “sustained overview” of Liturgiam, said Msgr. Mannion. Said the liturgical expert, “It's a document of considerable complexity.”