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Liturgy hijackers’ campaign continues

When Cardinal Francis George of Chicago fired longtime liturgical publisher Gabe Huck from his job as head of Liturgy Training Publications, he sent a letter stating his belief that the church had entered “a new moment in liturgical catechesis, one that requires new policy and new direction.”

It was no secret that Huck and George did not get along. So the firing -- sad as it may be because one of the nation’s premier dioceses will be losing the services of someone who has given a lifetime of energy and talent to the church -- was hardly a surprise (NCR, Aug. 10).

No one disputes the point that bishops need to put people in key posts who reflect their philosophy. The question is not George’s right to hire and fire, but the ends to which he is exercising that right.

The effects of what happens at Liturgy Training Publications will be felt well beyond the borders of the Chicago archdiocese. Our worry resides in that larger context, for a sustained campaign against liturgical renewal has been underway in recent years. To some extent, George has been part of that activity. The firing of Huck sends a message that another big step has been taken.

Some history is in order. The liturgical innovations some now want to reverse grew out of the understanding many bishops had of the documents promulgated during the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).

The innovations found expression through the work of countless scholars, in alignment with bishops’ conferences around the world and with the approval of Pope Paul VI, who oversaw the council. His personal oversight of a document on translation principles, Comme le prévoit, was among the developments that helped launch the liturgical reforms of the last 35 years.

In the past three years, NCR has documented the march of the revisionists, who have the ear of Rome these days.

What once was the work of an ecumenical council that grew into the collaborative labor of international bodies, scholars and bishops’ conferences became, in one recent case, the province of a select cabal of revisionists (NCR Sept, 25, 1998).

NCR learned that 11 men met in the Vatican in 1997 to overhaul the American lectionary -- a work that had already been approved by the U.S. bishops’ conference. Of that group, only one held a graduate degree in scripture studies.

Two members were not even native English-speakers. At least one of the advisers was a graduate student at the time. Several members had a history of objecting to inclusive-language translations, including two of the American archbishops involved and the lone scripture scholar.

No one of any reputation who had been involved in liturgical renewal during the past three-and-a-half decades was invited to the secret gathering.

Since then, the “reform the reform” campaign has gathered further steam. Under the direction of Cardinal Jorge Medina Estévez, the Vatican Office on Liturgy has carried out a steady assault on the International Commission on English in the Liturgy, a translation body formed by English-speaking bishops at Vatican II.

Faulted by conservatives for over-enthusiasm for inclusive language, the commission was first targeted by Medina in 1999, when he demanded to take control. Spirited resistance from a majority of English-speaking bishops -- the American representative to the commission, George, is the outstanding exception -- has staved off total collapse, but the commission today finds itself in a weakened and uncertain state.

A recent Vatican document on translation principles, Liturgiam Authenticam, marked another nail in the commission’s coffin, mandating a traditional language that critics believe will leave many texts remote from the language and experience of the people in the pews.

The design of liturgical space is another battlefront, as NCR readers know from coverage of Rome’s attempt to dictate terms to Archbishop Rembert Weakland regarding the renovation of Milwaukee’s Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist.

Those who have participated in this assault speak as if they are saving the church from some terrible affliction. They characterize the liturgical developments of recent years as an ideology-soaked campaign, often blaming ultra-feminists. Such exaggerations should be embarrassing. They are necessary, however, to justify the undoing of work that has been approved at the highest level of the church for years.

In reality, liturgical renewal has been hijacked by a group of political operatives. They often insist they are “taking back” the liturgy from liberal elites. Yet the truth is that what they couldn’t gain by consensus of their peers, they now are gaining through secret meetings and authoritarian pronouncements. This is their church, they believe, and they will have it their way, even if it means overturning the wisdom of the world’s bishops gathered in a council, the decisions of numerous national bishops’ conferences over more than three decades and the understanding of countless scholars and experts.

Hardly a noble enterprise. Where will the campaign turn next?

National Catholic Reporter, August 24, 2001