Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The End of ICEL

Friday's funeral of liturgical movement giant Fred McManus will bring together the past and present of luminaries in the worship field. Even Msgr. Harbert has deigned to attend.

The timing is almost fortuitous. Buzz has been spreading in the last week about a "blockbuster" piece on the International Commission for English in the Liturgy -- which McManus helped found -- in the pages of Commonweal Magazine, to be published in this weekend's edition.

Written by John Wilkins, the eminent former editor of my paper, it has appeared in resplendent glory.....

Some snips to whet your appetites:
Repeatedly the council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy stressed that what the church desired was “full, conscious, and active participation in the liturgical celebrations” by “all the faithful.” This aim was “to be considered before all else”; here was “the primary and indispensable source from which the faithful are to derive the true Christian spirit.” Full participation was “their right and duty by reason of their baptism”; it was this that showed them to be “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a purchased people.”

On December 4, 1963, at the end of the council’s second session, the constitution was passed by a massive majority: there were only four dissenting votes. Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who would later lead a schismatic movement against the council’s work, is said to have been in favor of it.

The overwhelming consensus was achieved in part because the opening to the vernacular was endorsed in guarded terms. “The use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites,” the document cautioned, before opening up the way ahead: “But since the use of the mother tongue, whether in the Mass, the administration of the sacraments, or other parts of the liturgy, may frequently be of great advantage to the people, the limits of its employment may be extended.” This passage was followed immediately by the commissioning of bishops’ conferences to put the council’s wishes into practice. It was the local bishops who had the responsibility “to decide whether, and to what extent, the vernacular language is to be used.” Their decrees must then be confirmed by Rome, the document said.

So from the first, local bishops were clearly understood to be in control of the liturgical translations. This approach was in line with one of Vatican II’s key achievements, confirmed by a vote of the whole council on October 30, 1963. On that day, by a huge majority, the bishops affirmed that the church must be seen to be governed on the model of Peter and the Eleven. Leadership therefore belongs to the whole college of bishops, with and under the pope. Each bishop is a vicar of Christ in his own diocese. Sharing of authority, within Catholic unity, is proper to the church. As with the liturgy, though, this necessary counterbalance to Vatican I’s emphasis on papal and Roman power was a reform easier to approve in principle than to implement in practice....

By 1978, ICEL had produced English translations of all the texts issued by Rome. The first versions had been published in a cheaper, provisional format for experimental use. Next, as had always been envisaged, came the time for revision. Everyone concerned with the translations recognized the need for improvement. ICEL began this stage in 1981, aiming at a fuller, richer, more poetic and exalted tone. Behind the scenes, intense discussion continued about how best to achieve faithful translations that would enable English-speaking congregations to feel they were really praying in the living language-as requested by Paul VI.

ICEL was now at a zenith. There was time and space in the early 1980s to revise, amend, and refine, and the commission was proud of what it was producing. The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults was taken out of storage and made available to the whole church. Before embarking on the mammoth task of revising the entire 1973 missal, ICEL had decided to begin with the Order of Christian Funerals, a comparatively manageable project. In accordance with the mandate given by bishops’ conferences in 1964 and by the Vatican in 1969 that the commission’s work should extend to the provision of original texts, ICEL included some forty new prayers for situations not covered in the Roman books, such as suicides and the deaths of children. This was creative pastoral work. The reform was beginning to settle down and take root.

But the climate in Rome was changing. In 1978, Karol Wojtyla was elected pope, and he saw it as part of his mission to reimpose theological order and central control. In line with perceptions that a “restoration” was under way, John Paul II consulted all the bishops about allowing the former Tridentine rite to be more widely celebrated again. Almost the entire episcopate of the world opposed the proposal, on the ground that two forms of the Roman or Latin rite within the one church would bring disunity. This had been the concern of Paul VI when he ruled in 1969 that the Tridentine rite must be regarded as having been replaced. He was acutely aware that for the Lefebvrist dissidents, the rite was a badge of rebellion against the Second Vatican Council-for them, he said, it was like the white flag of the French monarchists with its fleurs-de-lis.

John Paul II went ahead regardless. In 1984 he issued an indult permitting the Tridentine rite to be publicly celebrated in certain circumstances. Just as the bishops had feared, groups hostile to the Second Vatican Council’s reforms took heart from the decision. The tide bearing ICEL along had now passed its peak, though at the time this was not apparent. Seeing the way things were going, bishops became more nervous. There was controversy over the question of inclusive language, which ICEL was already grappling with in the late 1970s....

ICEL’s major work, the revision of the Roman missal, began in 1983. In 1988, the first of three extensive progress reports was issued, to be followed, suddenly and unexpectedly, by the appearance of a threatening cloud on ICEL’s horizon. The prefect of the CDW was now the German cardinal Paul Augustin Mayer, OSB, a brilliant linguist who had previously been secretary of the Congregation for Religious. There he had reined in American women religious who in his view had gone too far in rewriting their constitutions in accordance with the instructions of Vatican II. At one gathering, Mayer observed that the bishops approved some original prayers for the missal simply “because they were on the market.” The episcopal vote, he alleged, had become a rubber stamp. A religious sister who was present raised her hand. “Your Eminence,” she asked, “do I understand you to say that the bishops haven’t really prepared beforehand how to vote on these texts?” Mayer slammed his fist on the table. “I said nothing of the kind!” But he had. And in 1988, just before he stepped down at the age of seventy-seven, Mayer sent a letter to the conferences of bishops saying that ICEL needed to be reformed, restructured, and redirected....

The clouds were now dark across the sky. In June 1998, the storm broke. ICEL’s episcopal board was holding its annual meeting in Washington. They were anticipating the arrival of Cardinal Francis George, archbishop of Chicago, who was now the American representative on the board. Cardinal George was coming from Rome.

There was as usual a full agenda. The bishops had finished morning prayer and had just started their discussions when George arrived. As soon as the then-ICEL chairman, Bishop Maurice Taylor of Galloway, Scotland, had finished welcoming him, George asked that the order of the agenda be changed. He wanted immediate discussion of the relations between ICEL and the Vatican congregation. The bishops froze.

Bishop Taylor brokered a compromise. The agenda should be adhered to, he said, but provision would be made for the cardinal to address the meeting toward the end of the day. When the time came for Cardinal George to speak, in the late afternoon, he warned the participants that the commission was in danger. They were at a turning point. The principles that had governed ICEL’s approach to translation had been rethought. Rome wanted a vernacular, he said, that was different from the vernacular of the contemporary marketplace, so as to lead worshipers into the nuances and deepest meanings of the texts.

The project as ICEL understood it was no longer considered legitimate. According to George, the commission’s thoroughgoing use of inclusive language in its translation of the Psalter had been one of the reasons for disillusionment among the American bishops. There was a pent-up impatience with the commission. If ICEL gave the impression that it owned the Second Vatican Council or the liturgy, it would make bad matters worse, he said. It had to change both its attitude and, in some cases, its personnel. Otherwise it was finished. If necessary, the American bishops would strike out on their own. George spoke vehemently.

Aware that a fundamental principle-the governance given the bishops by Vatican II-was now at stake, Maurice Taylor as chairman of ICEL sought in every way to fend off this demand while mollifying the congregation. In an exchange of letters, he continued to speak of revising ICEL’s “constitution.” But Cardinal Medina was relentless. He spoke of “statutes” and he was going to get them....

But the CDW was moving toward its knockout blow. On March 28, 2001, it published a new instruction on the use of the vernacular, titled Liturgiam authenticam (Authentic Liturgy), which overturned the entire basis on which ICEL’s work had rested for nearly forty years. And in July a supervisory committee of cardinals and bishops known as Vox clara (Clear Voice) was established to ensure that the Vatican would get exactly what it wanted. The English-speaking language group is the only one to have had such a committee imposed on it.

Liturgiam authenticam did not recommend, it commanded. It insisted that translations follow an extreme literalism, extending even to syntax and rhythm, punctuation, and capital letters. The clear implication was that in this way it would be possible to achieve a sort of “timeless” English above the change of fashion, a claim reminiscent of that made for the Ronald Knox translation of the Bible, which today is so dated that it is not read except as a period piece.

A stipulation that appeared to mark a further retreat from Vatican II perspectives ruled out ecumenical cooperation over liturgical translations. This meant the end of pioneering links begun in 1967 between ICEL and the North American Consultation on Common Texts and the International Consultation on English Texts. Moreover, according to Liturgiam authenticam, “great caution is to be taken to avoid a wording or style that the Catholic faithful would confuse with the manner of speech of non-Catholic ecclesial communities or other religions, so that such a factor will not cause them confusion or discomfort.”

Could the framers of the Vatican instruction really be suggesting that translations of the Gloria and Creed agreed upon with other churches were causing “confusion” and “discomfort” to Catholic parishioners who had heard them used in non-Catholic liturgies? As recently as 1995, in his ecumenical encyclical Ut unum sint, Pope John Paul himself had encouraged the preparation of agreed-upon texts for the prayers of the liturgy that the Christian churches have in common.

When he first heard the news of Liturgiam authenticam’s prescriptions, one American Presbyterian who for thirty-five years had worked to foster liturgical dialogue with the Catholic Church was so distressed that he slumped into a chair and wept. “I realized,” wrote Professor Horace Allen, Emeritus Professor of Worship at Boston University, “that something terrible had happened which in my own worst imaginings I had never anticipated. A trusted and beloved ecumenical partner had suddenly and effectively walked away from the table.”

It's a powerful read -- and if you've just been reading these snippets, you ain't seen the half of it.