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Voices Online Edition
Summer 1997 : Volume XII, No. 2
 

NCCB Spring '97 Meeting - Special Report:
Conference,
Catechetics, Liturgy, Lead Agenda

At the NCCB semi-annual meeting held in Kansas City June 19-21, debates and votes on a plan to restructure the Conference and on proposals to revise the liturgy took place, and an important report on catechetical texts was presented.

The liturgical revisions have been a principal focus of the bishops' meetings for the past several years, and the June meeting was no exception. Proposed revisions of both the Lectionary for Mass and the Sacramentary were ready for another round of debates and votes before the texts are submitted to Rome for approval.

Other action at the June meeting included a "pastoral plan for communications" and a letter on youth ministry.

Conference Restructuring
The first real votes were taken on the "Mission and Structure" reorganization plan for the NCCB introduced five years ago by the late Cardinal Bernardin.

First the bishops decided to combine the United States Catholic Conference (USCC), the social action arm of the national conference, with the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB). The body would then be known as the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The vote was 211 yes, 3 no, and 2 abstentions.

A second vote concerned who could be members of the Conference. Currently non-bishops, clergy, religious and lay, may be members of USCC committees.

According to the original plan, non-bishops could also be members of the reorganized USCCB committees: some committees would have only bishop members, but others (the current USCC committees) would also have non-bishop members.

Advocates of having non-bishops as full members of the Conference committees had viewed combining the two "wings" of the Conference as a means of achieving this objective.

But the bishops rejected that plan. After vigorous debate, they voted that while non-bishops may serve as consultors and advisers to the committees, only bishops may be actual members of the committees of the Bishops' Conference. Those who favored "two types of committees" 104, those who favored bishops only as members of Conference committees, 113 (there was 1 abstention).

A change in the Conference by-laws will be required to effect the new plan.

Catechetical Texts: "Serious Deficiencies"
A candid report on the current state of catechetical materials used in elementary school classrooms, drew much of the bishops' attention at this meeting.

The report of the bishops' Ad Hoc Committee to Oversee the Use of the Catechism of the Catholic Church was presented by committee chairman, Indianap-olis Archbishop Daniel Buechlein, as an introduction and progress report on a long-range plan to assure the full implementation of the Catechism into all books used to teach religion.

Archbishop Buechlein described the procedures for examining the catechetical series. Each publisher may voluntarily submit the series to the committee for evaluation. Then the books are re-examined after the publisher has made necessary corrections in the texts. Finally, if the corrected texts are approved, the committee will issue a statement that the religion books "conform to the Catechism of the Catholic Church", a statement which the publishers may print in the books.

This "approval" given by the bishops' committee does not refer to the methodology of any series but is intended solely to give assurance that the contents of these books used for religious instruction of Catholic elementary school students satisfactorily incorporate the Church teachings contained in the Catechism. Publishers of religion books who do not submit their series for evaluation, of course, will not receive the "conformity" approval.

Other members of the Ad Hoc Committee include Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, Chicago Archbishop Francis George, San Francisco Archbishop William Levada, Baton Rouge Bishop Alfred Hughes, and Pittsburgh Bishop Donald Wuerl. Executive director of the committee secretariat is Father John Pollard.

"Deficiencies Appalling"
The committee's report included a revealing list of deficiences found by the bishop members of the committee in the religion books of several unnamed publishers they examined.

"I was appalled", said Bishop Edward P. Cullen, auxiliary bishop of Philadelphia, speaking of the deficiencies found in the texts examined. Bishop Cullen was one of the panel of twelve additional bishops the committee selected to help with the reviews, in anticipation that many texts will be submitted seeking "conformity" over the next several years.

Following is the list of deficiencies as included in the documentation given to bishops and the press at the June meeting.

Recurring Deficiencies in Catechetical Texts
As the Ad Hoc Committee continues to review more and more catechetical texts as to their conformity with the Catechism, we have discovered that there seem to be a number of doctrinal deficiencies common to many of them. We have tried to correct this in requiring that certain additions and/or changes be made in the texts before we find them to be in conformity with the Catechism. We thought the bishops would be interested in knowing the nature of these rather consistent deficiencies in the catechetical texts.

l) Insufficient attention to the Trinity and the Trinitarian structure of Catholic beliefs and teachings
Relative to the Trinity, the texts fail most often in presenting it as the central mystery of the Christian faith. The intimate relationship and work of the Persons of the Trinity are not always presented clearly and consistently throughout the texts. The language used in referring to the Persons of the Trinity contributes at times to this lack of clarity. This is most evident in a recognized reluctance to use "Father" for the first person of the Trinity and, at times, to substitute "Parent God" for God the Father. Particularly, the relationship between Jesus and the Father is often weak. There are times where the word "God" is placed in a sentence where one would expect to find "Father" or "God, the Father" since the reference is precisely to the relationship between first and second persons of the Trinity. Although the doctrine of the Trinity may be dutifully repeated throughout a series, it does not become the "inner life" or organizing principle of the texts.


2) Obscured presentation of the centrality of Christ in salvation history and insufficient emphasis on the divinity of Christ
Texts fall short, at times, in presenting Jesus as the culmination of the Old Testament and the fulfillment of God's plan for our salvation. The indispensable place of the Incarnation in the plan of salvation is not always sufficiently presented. Jesus as Savior is often overshadowed by Jesus as teacher, model, friend and brother.

Texts do not present the mystery of the Incarnation in its fullness. Often there appears to be an imbalance in the instruction on the divinity and humanity of Jesus Christ. There is present, at times, a negative undertone in speaking of the divine nature of Christ, as if divinity is equated with being "distant and unreal." The operative Christology "from below" which is evident in catechetical materials needs balance in an equally positive reverence for divinity.


3) Indistinct treatment of the ecclesial context of Catholic beliefs and magisterial teachings
Catechetical materials do not always clearly present the Church as established by Christ to continue both his presence and his work in the world. The teaching function of the Church and its apostolic nature, as well as the role of the hierarchy and the concept of the leadership of bishops and priests in teaching the Word of God are often under-treated. The mark of unity in the Church is at times lost in a singular emphasis on the Church's catholicity and diversity.


4) Inadequate sense of a distinctively Christian anthropology
By and large the catechetical texts do not seem to integrate the fundamental notions that man is by nature a religious being, that the desire for God is written in the human heart, that the human person is inherently spiritual and that man is irreducible to the merely material. Neither are the texts generally clear that it is precisely in Christ that man has been created in the image and likeness of God. Nor do they emphasize that Christ has restored to man the divine image of God, an image disfigured by sin. Rather, too often the impression is left that man is the first principle and final end of his own existence.


5) Insufficient emphasis on God's initiative in the world with a corresponding overemphasis on human action
Texts do not always emphasize adequately that human action is intended to follow upon the priority of God's action and initiative in the world. When the methodological starting point is predominately human experience, the texts at times easily leave the impression that human initiative is the prerequisite for divine action. God's initiative appears subordinate to human experience and human action.


6) Insufficient recognition of the transforming effects of grace
The catechetical texts do not seem to present a comprehensive understanding of grace. Once grace is described as God's love, usually not much more is said about it. That the preparation of man for the reception of grace is already a work of grace is not clearly presented. Grace is not generally treated as God's initiative which introduces humanity into the intimacy of Trinitarian life and makes us his adopted children and participants in his life. The texts are generally weak in treating the particular efficacy of the grace proper to the different sacraments.


7) Inadequate presentation of the sacraments
Catechetical texts most often do not treat the sacraments within the Paschal Mystery. They are not explicitly presented as the means by which the faithful share in the new life of Christ through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Sacraments are often presented as representative of events in human life of which God becomes a part, rather than signs and reality of divine life of which man becomes a part. This leads to a deficient understanding of the divine action and graced transformation that is at the heart of each of the sacraments. Particularly, the sacraments of Eucharist and Holy Orders evidence deficiency because the catechetical texts do not adequately present the character and role of the ordained minister in the life and ministry of the community.


8) Deficient teaching on original sin and sin in
general
The texts do not clearly teach that original sin is the loss of original holiness and justice, transmitted by our first parents, and which wounds human nature in all people. How the doctrine of original sin informs our understanding of grace, baptism, human participation in sin, a world which continues to be broken and imperfect, redemption and salvation is not often addressed. The texts need to speak of sin in a thematic way that presents the great struggle going on in the world and within each human heart a struggle in which God's grace works within us to help us live more fully the new life we have received in the sacraments of initiation.


9) Meager exposition of Christian moral life
At times there is an over-emphasis on personal identity and self-respect as if these are primary "sources" of morality. The source of morality found in God's revealed law, as taught by the Church and grounded in natural law, needs to be strengthened. Where texts could present the binding force of the Church's moral teaching in certain areas, they often do not. In addition, instruction on what is necessary for the formation of a correct conscience is at times inadequately, and even mistakenly, presented.


l0) Inadequate presentation of
eschatology
The eschatological aspect of Catholic doctrine is often underemphasized. At times there is a negative lack of emphasis on the culmination of man's life in the eternal Kingdom of God coupled with a positive emphasis on the Kingdom of God as realizable in this world. The transcendent, trans-temporal and trans-historical nature of the Kingdom is not always present. The general judgment, the concept of hell and the eschatological dimensions of the Beatitudes as well as the moral and sacramental orders are not always adequately taught.


Official Latin Edition of Catechism Introduced
Archbishop Buechlein also reported that minor changes in the original English edition of the Catechism will be provided in the form of a brochure to be made available to those who already have the Catechism. Subsequent editions will incorporate these minor changes, he said.

Some who had objected that the approved English translation of the Catechism was not sufficiently "inclusive" had expected a new translation would be opportune after the Latin editio typica (the official text) appeared. Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk raised the question of a re-translation, and Archbishop Buechlein repeated that the changes would fit in a brochure. The Vatican had provided the original English translation of the Catechism.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger is President of the Vatican's Interdicasterial Commission on the Catechism responsible for the oversight of translations into other languages of the Latin typical edition, which was released June 29. The original version of the Catechism, released in 1994 was in French.


Liturgy Votes "Inconclusive"
Both parts of the revision of the Roman Missal the Sacramentary (prayers for Mass), and the Lectionary (Scripture readings) were presented for final vote before the books are submitted to the Vatican for required approval.

This session concluded a years-long process of discussion of the revisions. But at the end of the meeting, votes on both the Sacramentary and the Lectionary were "inconclusive"; that is, neither had secured the 2/3 majority vote of eligible bishops necessary for approval. A mail-in vote polling absent bishops was required, and the results are expected in August.

This may have disappointed those who expected a neat conclusion to the lengthy, complicated and sometimes confusing process of approving the massive revision of the Roman Missal. But a certain untidiness at the end should not be surprising, considering the importance and the complexity of this project. This was the most weighty liturgical undertaking since the first "vernacularization" of the liturgy after the Second Vatican Council. The current English-language Roman Missal has been in use since 1974.

Controversy over the new translations delayed their approval. The problem centered on fidelity to the original texts in particular, the use of "inclusive language".


Lectionary and Sacramentary Differences
Although together the Lectionary and the Sacramentary comprise the Roman Missal, separate processes were involved in revising, amending and approving each. This system made the procedures cumbersome and confusing.

Lectionaries are developed by each individual national conference, whereas the Sacramentary involves ICEL (International Commission on English in the Liturgy), a "mixed commission" of eleven English-speaking national conferences (plus fifteen associate member countries).

The American Lectionary is solely the responsibility of the NCCB, whereas the Sacramentary texts are, according to the present system, controlled by ICEL.

The separate jurisdictions over the two halves of the English translation of the Roman Missal explain why there were separate procedures for handling both, including different translating teams and even different principles of translation.

The Lectionary and the Sacramentary are at different stages, too, in their status regarding Vatican approval, where they must also be considered separately. Both texts must be approved by the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship in consultation with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith before they may be used in the liturgy.


Lectionary
The Lectionary for Mass was revised by biblical scholars and translators selected by the US bishops, and the entire project was handled by the Conference committees.

The proposed Lectionary is based on the New American Bible (a translation "owned" by the NCCB) . This bible translation has undergone revision (1986 New Testament and 1991 Psalms).

In 1992 a proposed revision of the Lectionary based on the revised NAB New Testament and Psalms and the 1970 NAB Old Testament, received the positive vote of the bishops, and was submitted to Rome for approval. But it was not approved.

Meetings with the American team and Vatican officials and scholars ensued, but the translation problems were not resolved.

Norms for Scripture Translation
In 1994, the Vatican reviewed and rejected two recent Scripture translations proposed for liturgical use: the Revised NAB Psalter and the New Revised Standard Version. (The three English Bibles approved for liturgy are the NAB, the Jerusalem Bible, and the Revised Standard Version Catholic edition. Of these, only the RSV is now in print.)

In 1995, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued Norms for Translation of Scriptural Texts Used for the Liturgy. Still the American team was unable to produce a satisfactory text.

Meetings early this year with Vatican officials and three American archbishops resulted in amending Volume I of the new Lectionary in accordance with the Vatican Norms. A "revised revised" version of Volume I of the two-volume Lectionary was prepared.

Two weeks before the June meeting, the bishops saw the Vatican Norms for the first time. This affected their discussion. Although the Norms do not use the term "inclusive language", they demand fidelity to the original texts, and do not permit altering the text to avoid such words as "man", "he", "his", etc.

After a very vigorous, sometimes sharp, debate, the bishops voted to include a provision for review in five years.

The vote on Volume I was inconclusive, and required a mail ballot of absent bishops. Results will be known in August.

If Volume I is approved, and if the "five-year plan" is acceptable to the Vatican, Volume II will be prepared, and might be ready for vote this fall. New books might be printed by early 1998. If it fails, the present Lectionary would remain in use.

Sacramentary
Unlike the US Lectionary, the procedures for revising the Sacramentary are established by ICEL, and all eleven national conferences who are members of ICEL must approve the texts before they can be submitted to the Holy See for final review and recognition. Each conference may also make "adaptations" of ICEL texts which affect only that country. (The Vatican must approve all changes.)

Also unlike the Lectionary, which was first sent to Rome five years ago, the Sacramentary has not yet been examined by Vatican officials.

The Sacramentary translators are selected by ICEL, not by the bishops, and the translation principles employed for the revised Sacramentary are in the 1969 "Instruction on Translation" known as Comme le prévoit, which advocates a "free" approach to translation.

Early in the process, the American bishops asked that the nearly 3000 prayers of the Sacramentary be divided into several segments (e.g. the Order of Mass, the Propers for Saints, the special prayers for Saint's Days and major Feasts, etc.). These segments were considered individually at several consecutive bishops' meetings.

Every English speaking conference had to approve all the ICEL revisions. In the US in particular, ICEL encountered difficulty. Again, use of "inclusive language" caused problems.

During the years of discussions of the Sacramentary, individual bishops proposed hundreds of amendments to the ICEL texts. Most were rejected by the Liturgy Committee. Finally, of about 500 amendments, only 160 were returned ("remanded") to ICEL by the conference asking for changes in the text.

If ICEL had accepted the bishops' amendments, approval of the Sacramen-tary would have been automatic. But ICEL did not. Before the June meeting, the Conference received ICEL's decision. Of the 160 remanded texts, ICEL accepted 85 and rejected 75.

Without debate the bishops approved all 85 accepted amendments by a vote of 194-11, and 73 of the 75 ICEL were rejected by a vote of 188-20.

The Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy proposed alternate language for the two remaining texts. The bishops voted against one, and the vote was inconclusive on the other.

However the vote turns out on this last text, the revised Sacramentary will now be submitted to the Vatican for the first time. It will undergo a thorough review by Vatican officials.

Meanwhile, no liturgical changes are permitted "in anticipation" of approval.

New Translation Guidelines
New translation norms are reportedly being developed by the Holy See to replace the translation principles now in use. They are expected before the end of this year.

Vatican-authorized translation principles would presumably affect not only the revisions of liturgical texts in English, but in other languages as well now and in the future.

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