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Thursday, 18 June 2009

Get on the stick, your Eminences and Excellencies!

The U.S. bishops will have to poll members missing from their meeting in San Antonio before it's known whether they are approving liturgical prayers, special Masses and key sections of an English translation of the order of the Mass.

Five texts being prepared for use in English-speaking countries failed to get the necessary two-thirds votes of the Latin-rite U.S. bishops during the June 18 session of the bishops' summer meeting.

With 244 Latin-rite bishops in the United States eligible to vote on the questions, the required two-thirds votes in favor of each of the sections would be 163. With 189 eligible bishops attending the meeting, only 134 voted to accept the first section, Masses and prayers for various needs and intentions.

On four subsequent translations, the votes also failed to reach two-thirds, meaning the 55 bishops not in attendance will be polled by mail for their votes on all five parts. That process was expected to take about two weeks.

The items that failed to pass contain prefaces for the Mass for various occasions; votive Masses and Masses for the dead; solemn blessings for the end of Mass; prayers over the people and eucharistic prayers for particular occasions, such as for evangelization or holy orders.

The closest of the votes was on the Order of the Mass II, with its prefaces, blessings and eucharistic prayers, with 159 yes, 19 no and three abstentions.

The bishops did have enough votes to approve a sixth action item from the Committee on Divine Worship, a Spanish-language lectionary. After that vote of 181 to 2, with three abstentions, the bishops' president, Cardinal Francis E George of Chicago joked: "Ahora, vamos a continuar en espanol" ("Now we will continue in Spanish.")

Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli of Paterson, N.J., chairman of the Committee on Divine Worship, warned that delaying approval or failing to send the Vatican guidance by the end of November will risk shutting the U.S. bishops out of the translation approval process.

Bishop Donald W. Trautman of Erie, Pa., had several times raised questions about the timetable for submitting the liturgical texts and voiced frustration with their grammar, sentence structure and word choices that he said were not suited to contemporary worship.

"I say yes to more accurate Latin translation ... yes to a more elevated tone," Bishop Trautman said from the floor. "But a resounding no to incomplete sentences, to two and three clauses in sentences, no to 13 lines in one sentence, no to archaic phrases, no to texts that are not proclaimable, not intelligible and not pastorally sensitive to our people."

In an interview with Catholic News Service, Bishop Trautman singled out for example a phrase included in the translations for votive Masses and Masses for the dead: "May the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, Lord, cleanse our hearts and make them fruitful within by the sprinkling of his dew."

"What does that even mean?" he asked. Another particular frustration for Bishop Trautman were phrases such as "the sweetness of your grace."

"I don't think the word 'sweetness' relates to people today," at least not in the way the translation intends, he told CNS.

Bishop Serratelli, who sits on the International Committee on English in the Liturgy, known as ICEL, told the meeting that ICEL members pray the texts aloud as they draft the English versions.

He also emphasized that after an eight-year process to get to this point, the Vatican is waiting on the U.S. bishops to weigh in with their approval.

"We're at the end of the process," Bishop Serratelli said. Of the missal text, he said it's "a very, very good text It's not perfect, but we're at the end of a longer, healthy process."

In June 2008 the Vatican granted its "recognitio," or confirmation, to the translation of the main parts of the Mass. The U.S. bishops had in June 2006 voted to approve the material.

Bishop Serratelli explained to reporters at a press conference after the meeting that he expected enough votes among the bishops being polled by mail to result in approval all of the texts. If any fail to get two-thirds support, those sections will come back to the bishops as a whole at their November meeting.

Typically, attendance is higher at the November meeting, which is where the USCCB conducts most of its conference business.

In November 2008 the U.S. bishops signed off on another section, the Proper of the Seasons, which includes the proper prayers for Sundays and feast days during the liturgical year.

Yet to come for approval by the U.S. bishops are new translations of the Proper of the Saints, propers for the dioceses, antiphons, eucharistic prayers for Masses with children, introductory material and appendices. The propers are expected to be taken up by the U.S. bishops at their regular business meeting in the fall.

As the material was introduced a day earlier, among a handful of questions raised about the process was Bishop Trautman's question about the timetable for sending the finished missal changes off to the Vatican and what he found to be too short a time for review.

Noting that the text came to the bishops at a very busy time of year, close to Holy Week and Easter, he said its 812 pages -- 406 each of English and Latin -- meant few bishops had time to do detailed reviews, Bishop Trautman said.

Bishop Serratelli disagreed that time was too short, saying the material went to the bishops for review in March.

"The Holy See wants it in November," he said.

The new translations originate with ICEL, made up of representatives of 11 main English-speaking bishops' conferences.

The bishops conferences of each English-speaking nation receive the same material for review and have the chance to weigh in on the text. Once each national conference has submitted their recommendations, the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments takes the material for confirmation before issuing a "recognitio."

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