The new Roman Missal came up at the meeting of the US bishops yesterday morning. The question on the agenda was whether to approve the “Scope of Work” for the revision of the Liturgy of the Hours. Protocol is that bishops’ conferences give the go-ahead, and then work on the translation can proceed, eventually to be brought back to the conference for approval and submission to Rome. (Actually, work begins when Rome tells ICEL to work on a project, but the conference still has to give its go-ahead.)

Cardinal Dolan, president of the US Bishops, put it to a vote, and the motion to proceed with the Liturgy of the Hours passed 203-14, with one abstention. Then a point of order was brought up: the floor should have been opened for discussion before voting. Cardinal Dolan assured the body that the vote would be re-taken after discussion.

Then Bishop Brom of San Diego, California, rose to say this:

May I take a few moments to explain my opposition to moving forward at this time with this action on the part of the Committee on Divine Worship? And the reason for my opposition includes a bit of background.

I have listened to the priests in the Diocese of San Diego, and consequent to that, I communicated with Archbishop Aymond and the Committee. After that I was part of a meeting by RECOPS – Region XI representatives of priests’ councils and senates. And I again communicated the results of that listening to Archbishop Aymond and the Committee.

The long and short is this: that I’m hearing, especially from the priests, and from lay people as well, real reservations regarding the English translation of the new Missal, and consequently, reservation that the collects from the new Missal be taken into the Liturgy of the Hours as we presently have them.

The representatives of the various presbyteral councils throughout Region XI said they have special difficulty with many of the collects and prefaces and parts of the Eucharistic prayers as we have them now in the new English translation. They added, too many prayers, or parts of them, begin with a dependent clause, which is not the way we usually pray. There is complicated and awkward phrasing, and a strange vocabulary sometime, and that this does not make these prayers sacral, but on the contrary, aggravating.

The new Missal, the priests expressed in something of unison, is more of a burden than a blessing, and should not be the basis for other liturgical rites or rituals, or for translation into other languages such as Tagalog. They’re particularly interested or concerned, once again, that the new Missal with its English language deficiencies be the basis for the revision of other liturgical texts such as the Liturgy of the Hours.

One priest said clearly: “We are anxious that we will not be heard by our bishops. We need good tools to do a good job, and this is not a good tool,” – that is to say, the translation in toto. It needs to be perfected. And according to the listening sessions I’ve had, this should be the priority of the Conference, and in particular, of the Committee on Divine Worship.

We should be asking, how is the new translation, the English translation of the Roman Missal, being received? And how might it be approved [sic]? Does formal equivalence, one priest asked, necessarily lead to bad English, poor choice of words at times, questionable grammar, complicated sentence structure, and paragraphic sentences?

The invitation that I’m hearing from the priests to whom I listen is that we not rush headlong into further translations and using the Roman Missal that we have now in its English version as the basis for it all. We should not deny the flaws. We should not procrastinate in improving the Missal. We should be asking the question, how might it be improved?

Then Bishop Matano of Burlington, Vermont rose to say this:

I appreciate my brother bishop’s observations, but I do think it is a bit counter-productive to go back in time and give a critique of the new Roman Missal, when so many of us are doing everything possible to nurture support for the new Missal, and to create a unity in our dioceses, particularly with our presbyterates, many presbyterates, which have been supportive, and are working very hard with their people to elevate and to communicate again the awesome and the transcendent nature of the liturgy.

Naturally, being human beings with human language, we will not reach the perfection for which we are striving. But to go back, after such a long, long process to produce the third edition of the Roman Missal, and continue to give critiques on it, only opens the door for further criticism and disunity. I think we really do have to accept, this is the third edition, work very hard to support it, and encourage it, and encourage our priests prior to the celebration of Holy Mass to read the orations, try to look ahead and prepare yourself for the Mass, and be able to pray them, as they can be prayed, in a very beautiful manner.

There is a marked contrast between the two bishops’ statements: two quite different visions of leadership, two quite different visions of the relationship between the bishop and his priests, two quite different visions of how to unify the Church, two quite different visions of what to do with input from priests and people.

After Bishop Trautman expressed his agreement with Bishop Brom, the re-vote was taken. The motion to go ahead with the Liturgy of the Hours project again passed, this time 189 to 41 with one abstention.

Going forward, it will be interesting to see how Bishop Matano’s vision of authority and leadership works for the bishops: regarding translation but also regarding every issue and challenge facing the Catholic Church.