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Mixed signals worsen liturgy divisions

Aomething very strange and topsy-turvy is happening en route to the third revised edition of the Roman Missal.

No wonder the several hundred U.S. liturgists gathered in Costa Mesa are bewildered -- as well as battle-scarred -- by the July release of the General Instruction on the Roman Missal (NCR, Aug 25). Not without reason do they ponder whether someone has been using this instruction to make mischief.

Currently two documents are circulating -- the General Instruction on the Roman Missal, which is the law regarding the Roman Missal, and the Pastoral Introduction to the Order of Mass.

The latter simply is a resource guide to what’s in the General Instruction. The General Instruction itself is something that will be folded into the Roman Missal.

So, step-by-step: Rome released the General Instruction, which governs use of a Roman Missal that hasn’t yet been issued.

Next, it released the General Instruction in a Latin text, which itself still has to be corrected. (A Latin text, morever, say critics, that makes “substantial” changes to the text without consulting anyone.)

Further, Rome unveiled this General Instruction aware that local episcopal conferences do not implement these instructions until after they have first studied their own official language translation and then written their own appendix for implementation to the General Instruction.

So, any final version is a year or two away.

To make matters more confused, the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for the Liturgy released its own “study translation” of the Vatican’s Latin text. U.S. scholars have pointed to 200 errors in the U.S. study translation’s 400 paragraphs, plus errors in the Vatican’s own Latin text.

Finally, an unprepared U.S. Catholic church was suddenly besieged with very mixed signals coming at them from their media before U.S. bishops, liturgists or pastors had a clue what was happening. Liturgical extremists suddenly had an opening to take matters into their own hands, and there have been nasty incidents and exchanges emanating from both altar and pew.

Whatever the intent of all these steps, the results are disastrously unsettling.

Now U.S. liturgists themselves -- kept out of the discussion loop -- have to tell the U.S. bishops what to do next to salvage some reason from a mess dumped on them simultaneously by their own bishops’ liturgy committee and by Rome.

This episode is but one more sign of the growing arrogance of some Vatican congregations in the twilight of this papacy. Rome’s bureaucrats have once again placed bishops in an awkward situation in which they act as if nothing has changed while privately seething that their leadership has been usurped.

The liturgists want the bishops to withhold release of the Pastoral Introduction resource guide “in any form” until diocesan liturgical commissions and offices of worship have had time to study it.

They want the U.S. bishops to appoint an interdisciplinary ad hoc committee of bishops from the liturgy, canonical affairs, and pastoral research and practices committees to study the General Instruction and make recommendations.

They also urge that in the future the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy adheres to established processes by which the bishops study, approve and confirm the texts to ensure “a fruitful and orderly reception.”

These are the minimum requirements.

The liturgists particularly, and Catholics generally, deserve an apology, not just an admission of mistakes, from the conference for its inept handling of contentious liturgical issues.

We know the bishops are tired of the liturgical haggling. We know they hope the divisions will heal. We know working with Rome has become an almost impossible balancing act.

But the divisions have worsened. It will help if the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy issues a clear statement on how the committee functions. The bishops have a clear and serious responsibility for cooperating in the creation of a liturgy for the world’s premier multicultural church in the light of post-Vatican II liturgical reform. If they are co-responsible with Rome for developing liturgy, they must also discharge their duties without allowing the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship to dictate its view.

The bishops must keep in mind that they are also co-responsible with their own liturgists. And co-responsible with the 62 million Catholics who currently don’t know what’s happening to their liturgy. Or why.

National Catholic Reporter, October 20, 2000