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Voices Online Edition
VOICES - Vol. XX No. 3
Christmas 2005 - Epiphany 2006

USCCB November Meeting -- Brief Summary

At their plenary meeting in Washington, November 14-17, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) action on three items involving the liturgy was the primary focus of debate. They held their first formal discussion of a translation of the Order of Mass of the new Roman Missal; they accepted a revision of a Lectionary for Masses with Children; and they approved a document on professional lay Church workers, entitled “Co-workers in the Vineyard of the Lord: Resource for Guiding Development of Lay Ecclesial Lay Ministry”.

In a departure from standard practice at the fall plenary meetings, the only sessions open to the press were the first day and a half of the five-day conference. The rest took place in “executive session”.

Other business during the public sessions included approving a statement opposing capital punishment, proclaiming a special observance for mariners, and a preliminary presentation on “priorities and plans” of the USCCB, including reorganizing conference committees and budget problems.

Susan Benofy and Helen Hull Hitchcock attended the meeting, and a transcription of the debate on the Missal translation appeared in the Adoremus Bulletin (Dec-Jan 05-06), and is accessible online on the Adoremus web site:

Laity “Co-workers”
This document intends to provide a “resource” for the formation of professional and/or full-time Church workers, whom it calls “Lay Ecclesial Ministers” -- a term that sparked controversy during the bishops’ discussion.

This was the seventh draft of a problematic project that has been in progress for years, the work of the Subcommittee on Lay Ministry, established in 1994. (Only days after the USCCB meeting, Dr. Zeni Fox of Seton Hall, a sub-committee consultant since 1994, was named to the board of the liberal National Catholic Reporter.)

Various professional lay organizations collaborated in producing this “resource document”, which passed with barely over the required 2/3 majority vote.

Children’s Lectionary
The bishops’ debate and vote on the Lectionary for Masses with Children were brief; and a revised version -- a simplified version of the New American Bible-based standard US Lectionary -- was approved with little opposition. Approval by the Holy See is required, and expected. Concern about the wisdom of using a different Lectionary for children’s Masses, as well as about “dumbing-down” the Bible for youngsters, has surfaced in the past, but these issues were not revisited in any depth in the debate.

Missal Translation
The bishops’ discussion of the second draft translation of the Order of Mass from the 2002 Roman Missal took place on Monday morning. This draft was produced by the recently re-organized International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL), the group that has provided English translations for its eleven member countries (and 15 others) since 1964.

A copy of this second draft was sent to bishops before the meeting. Bishop Donald Trautman, chairman of the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy (BCL), introduced the discussion, and reported on an informal mail survey on selected texts. Reports were also given by Mobile Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb, representing Vox Clara (the commission of English-speaking bishops appointed by the Holy See to expedite and oversee the new liturgical translations) and by Monsignor Bruce Harbert, executive secretary of ICEL.

Their discussion, limited to a few proposals by the BCL, revealed that the bishops are far from reaching a consensus on the subject; yet it is also clear that most bishops regard the translation of the Mass as so fundamental to the life of the Church that it is worth taking the time to get it right.

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