Liturgical matters at the US Bishops’ Fall Meeting

The U.S. bishops are scheduled to spend 30 minutes evaluating the implementation of the new Roman Missal at their annual fall assembly this November 12-15 in Baltimore. Discussion is intended to assist in re-translation of other liturgical books to be implemented in the future. ICEL (the International Commission on English in the Liturgy) has begun revising parts of the Liturgy of the Hours such as hymns, orations, and some antiphons.

The bishops will elect a new chairman of the Committee on Divine Worship, as the term of Bishop Gregory Aymond expires in November, 2013. Nominees are Cardinal DiNardo of Galveston-Houston and Archbishop Vigneron of Detroit.

The bishops will consider the document “Preaching the Mystery of Faith: The Sunday Homily.” It would replace “Fulfilled in Your Hearing,” the bishops’ document from 1982.

Archbishop Carlson of the Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations led the drafting of the new document. It has been reviewed by eight other USCCB committees. “Everyone gets a chance to put their oar in the water. That’s what makes it a better document,” the archbishop said. Per the bishops’ policy, the text has not been made public.

Source: CNS.





  1. Is it necessariliy a replacement of FIYH? Or a supplement? Or something else entirely?

    Although it hasn’t been made public, Abp. Carlson described the preliminary draft during the Marten Center’s “We Preach Christ Crucified” conference in June:

    His remarks on the new document begin at 32:20, where he states that it is a response to Verbum Domini 60, “The fittingness of a Directory on Homiletics.” Thus, again, my question: is this a replacement of FIYH, a supplement to it, or is it (as “Directory”) another type of document altogether?

  2. Both nominees are welcomed news for the chair of CDW, IMHO. I’m somewhat partial towards Abp. Vigneron as he is virtually the first prelate I ever witnessed trying to put into a conference agenda a resolution concerning the roll of the processional and other propers, alas a futile effort a few falls ago. I don’t know if others had quietly elsewhere also begged that question privately or on the public record; it was during a time when “text orthodoxy” was a sort of straw man debate among the plenum. But that a metropolitan would even mention something that affects directly what “we” do as musicians at worship, he gets my support.

  3. Presumably the irony is intended; “everyone gets a chance to put their oar in the water” to create a better outcome, but no drafts have been made public.

    1. @Bill deHaas – comment #4:
      Bill, some bishops, such as mine, have distributed the document to select heads of diocesan offices and their committees for comment. So the process on the floor at the USCCB meeting might officially include only episcopal comments, but that doesn’t necessarily mean those comments aren’t influenced and shaped by comments from others. The process may not be as public as it had been in the 1980s and 90s, but there are some bishops who still value consultation from non-episcopal and non-ordained members of the Church. I’m lucky to be in a diocese with one such bishop.

      FWIW, I think the work done on the proposed revised translations of the Rite of Marriage and the Rite of Confirmation are pretty good and, at times, striking and lovely.

  4. I am one who is deeply thankful for the many blessings and benefits that are the legacy of Vatican II. But, regarding the above metaphor about all our oars in the water: there is also much that followed the council which could be characterised as everyone putting his & her oar in the water and paddling insistently in different directions. We need a steady helmsman.

  5. The image of that lone bishop using an extra long gondola oar to navigate an ocean liner comes to mind. Good luck with that.

    The bishops have to convince their clergy. The clergy have to persuade the laity. That seems like two significant, but important hurdles to overcome.

    It would seem that if one wants to preach effectively, one can consult experts–people with demonstrable excellence in parishes. Or one can chum with other committee chairs over cocktails at the Hotel USCCB once or twice a year.

  6. Thanks, Diana – but let’s be honest. How many bishops have acted as yours – a very small minority.

    As others have stated in other posts, this process is one of the reform of the reform changes that is negative – as you say, it has gone backwards since the 1980s. John Page of ICEL has repeatedly compared and contrasted todays secret, very controlled, limited, and non-transparent process with the above board, widely distributed, and thoroughly transparent and documented liturgical processes of an earlier time period.
    Even if the two examples you provide are *pretty good* – most of us will have to *trust* that this happened and turned out well. What about the next issue or translation? And for most of us – we are expected to just gladly welcome these new translations from on high. Suggest that this is the opposite of what the council fathers tried to do.

    1. @Bill deHaas – comment #8:
      Totally agree, Bill. We’ve gone backwards in that openness, collegiality, and collaboration. Just wanted to share that some bishops still try to operate that way, perhaps more than we hear about. All hope is not lost for a return to such trust in the Church. I think the pendulum may swing just yet, or something utterly new will come about in the next 50 years.

  7. “ICEL (the International Commission on English in the Liturgy) has begun revising parts of the Liturgy of the Hours such as hymns, orations, and some antiphons.”

    May I ask a couple of questions about this?

    * Is this the first round of a more comprehensive ICEL project to retranslate the entire Liturgy of the Hours?

    * Regarding the antiphons in particular: it has always struck me as strange that an antiphon in the Liturgy of the Hours, which usually is a verse from the psalm or canticle that it precedes and follows, is a different translation than the psalm or canticle. Is this because the translations of the antiphons are a separate translation work stream from the translation of the scriptural texts? Is this disparity between antiphon and psalm/canticle a feature in other vernacular languages? If this announcement is the first round of a comprehensive retranslation, should we expect that the translations of antiphons and psalms/canticles will be aligned in the future? And am I wrong to think that the non-alignment is strange? Perhaps there is a kind of enrichment to seeing two different renderings of the same verse.

    I guess that’s more than a couple of questions.

    1. @Jim Pauwels – comment #10:

      Given that the antiphons in RM3, wherever they are directly psalmic, already use the RGP, it would seem logical to do the same with the antiphons in the Office. We are also told that when a new Lectionary eventually appears (10 years’ time?) the psalm responses will tie in with the translation of the psalms used (RGP instead of NAB), instead of using ICEL’s cobbled-together 1970 version which has no relationship to any translation. One would hope, incidentally, that the captions to the Lectionary readings would also make use of the translation instead of being independent (with sometimes hilarious results).

  8. From the CNS story at the link:

    Archbishop Carlson, as head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations, shepherded the writing of the document, which he said had reviews by eight other USCCB committees. “Everyone gets a chance to put their oar in the water. That’s what makes it a better document,” he told Catholic News Service in an Oct. 18 telephone interview from St. Louis.

    “Everyone” is indeed bishops only.

    An excerpt from the USCCB Oct 10 press release:

    The document cites numerous examples from the Scriptures, including the preaching of Jesus Himself, and encourages preachers to connect the Sunday homily with people’s daily lives. It said, for example, that “the homilist of today must realize that he is addressing a congregation that is more culturally diverse than previously, one that is profoundly affected by the surrounding secular context, and, in many instances, inadequately catechized.”

    Imagine how much better the document might be if “everyone” included those who preach not in cathedrals and surrounded with great pomp wherever they go, but with those who preach in ordinary parishes, during regular masses, with run-of-the-mill parishioners in the pews.

    This is not a slam on bishops, but a description of their liturgical realities. When the church holds a grand celebration, the bishop is the preacher. Special guests have reserved seating, perhaps there are tickets for the limited seating, and maybe there are cameras to broadcast the mass to those who cannot get in. When bishops preach in ordinary parishes, it is generally either a happy occasion (parish/ordination anniversary, new building, etc.) or a sad occasion (intervention in the midst of conflict, closing/merging of a parish, death of a priest, etc.). They preach, and then move on.

    Ordinary priests, however, preach in the same place, week after week, year after year. Such on-the-ground wisdom would enhance the document also.

    1. @Peter Rehwaldt – comment #11:
      Peter Rehwaldt: I agree that bishops don’t have the same day-to-day ministry experiences that a parish priest does, but even so, I don’t think bishops’ experiences and points of view are quite as limited as you suggest. Most of them spent years as a priest before being ordained a bishop. Even priests whose ministry hasn’t been a series of parish assignments may find themselves celebrating masses in parishes and preaching to parish congregations on a fairly regular basis. And the great majority of bishops led lives as Catholic laypersons before their seminary days, where they were exposed to the same variety of preaching that the rest of us are.

      Nor is the bishop always the preacher at his appearances. One recent example was the funeral mass of a retired priest who lived in our rectory for a number of years. Our pastor preached the homily, even though several bishops were in attendance. A priest’s funeral isn’t a typical mass or a typical homily in some ways – but in some ways, it is. On that occasion, those bishops were exposed to the preaching style and content of a priest who preaches very frequently in this parish.

      It would be wonderful if bishops could hear their priests and deacons preach much more than they do. It would be good for the priests and deacons, too, and probably good for the people of God, if preachers were given some feedback by their bishop and, dare I say, if their content were critiqued a bit from time to time. Even so, the quote from the forthcoming document you provided from the press release seems like an on-point observation , which suggests that the bishops as a whole may have a clue about the contemporary pastoral situation.

      1. @Jim Pauwels – comment #12:
        Preaching to a congregation is different from dwelling with a congregation. In the course of my ministry, I have been a resident pastor in three parishes, I have served as an interim pastor (helping with the transition from one permanent pastor to another) in other parishes, and I have been the guest preacher at dozens more parishes. From the standpoint of preaching, each of these is very, very different. Indeed, my comment above came out of a conversation with two bishops, who agreed that their preaching is primarily that of an guest (or somewhat distant relative) who comes to a community, rather than a resident member of that community.

        My point, more broadly, is that bishops preach — or experience the preaching of others — primarily at significant one-time occasions, and that a document such as this could benefit from having the input of those who preach — or experience the preaching of others — primarily in the every-week life of the everyday parish.

        I am very anxious to see the document the bishops will be considering (or, if it is to remain secret until it is adopted, once they approve it).

      2. @Peter Rehwaldt – comment #13:
        Peter – re: the difference between preaching to a community in which one is immersed vs. preaching as a guest preacher – it’s a fair point. To the extent that theology intersects with day-to-day reality, it might be noted that a bishop, preaching in his own diocese, isn’t precisely a guest; he is, in a sense, preaching to his own people. He may not intimately know his congregation the way that congregation’s pastor would. But on the other hand, he should know his own people, of which this congregation is a small subset.

        Beyond that, I sometimes wonder how well I know my own people. At the risk of being tautological, I know the ones whom I know, but that is a relatively small sample of the total population of my parish, and I should wonder whether it is a representative sample. I expect I share the bias with most of the human race of tending to gravitate to people with whom I agree and with whom I am similar in a variety of ways. Our parish has something like 8,000 registered members, and who really knows what the relationship is between registered members and people who show up to a particular service on a particular Sunday?

        Having said and wondered about all that – I do agree that Bishops Lucker and Untener provided examples that it would be good for more bishops to follow.

  9. There is another model – Bishop Lucker of New Ulm, MN used to actually go and spend a few weeks with every parish pastor – preaching, getting to know the parish, the pastor, sharing homily preparation, doing ars celebrandi, praying together, etc.

    Thus, Lucker actually modelled good liturgy with his pastors via lived experience – not just through letters, etc.

    Something to think about?

    1. @Bill deHaas – comment #14:

      That is indeed something to think about. It is also, I would venture to bet, something extremely rare among bishops, whether we are speaking of Roman Catholic, Episcopalian, or Lutheran.

      1. @Paul Inwood – comment #18:
        Thanks, Paul…..realized later that Untener actually was the one who did this throughout his life as bishop. Lucker did some of this via mentorship but his accomplishments and successes were in other areas.

        Untener was greatly admired and respected by his pastors and seems to have been able to actually implement a way to teach and model liturgy, preaching that SC/VII had laid out. Too bad that administration seems to triumph over Untener’s example for way too many bishops.

  10. While I commend the bishops’ call for more multicultural sensitivity, at the same time I am concerned about the lack of homiletic preparation between a number of priests and deacons in particular. Not infrequently I have heard homilies which had completely missed the main exegetical points in the reading. Although this is perhaps elitist for me to say, I suspect that more clergy need a firmer footing in exegesis and elementary Greek in order to truly plumb the profundity of scripture.

    1. @Jordan Zarembo – comment #17:

      My original comment was a bit brief, considering that I typed the message into a smartphone. I’ve learned that combox entry via smartphone is an unwise idea, as touch typing is, well, difficult (for want of other words which are not PTB appropriate).

      Fulfilled in your Hearing [FIYH] , under the subheading “Interpreting the Scriptures”, indeed notes that “professional” exegesis requires not only primary language sources but also a thorough academic training in “textual criticism”, “extensive historical and archaeological background”, among other skills. (11) FITH also contends that “[o]bviously few preachers have the training or access to the resources for exegesis of this kind.” (11) [my addition]

      Perhaps FIYH has a point with the latter quotation. Some, but not all priests are exegetes, and that is certainly without judgment. I will also agree with FIYH’s contention on page 12 that commentaries, concordances, parallel translations, and the like can be of great help. Still, some language education greatly enhances homiletics. My three favorite preachers all hold advanced exegetical and ancient language training. Their ability to speak to me through these abilities might not speak to others, but all these priests reserve the ability to introduce advanced exegetical concepts into their homilies.

      As for my comment about “missing exegetical points” in #7: I should never imply that any preacher is not aware of an exegetical point simply because it is not mentioned. Rather a priest might prefer to not present an exegetical homily but one which relates to the congregation’s difficulty. This is the main message of FIYH. Indeed, even my favorite preachers do not climb the stairs to the pulpit only to deliver a university lecture. All effectively weave in stories and experiences which relate to their congregations of diverse backgrounds. A balance must be struck, even if I wouldn’t mind a homily-lecture on exegesis sometimes.

  11. Still, with all the above being read and digested, I can’t help but wonder how different bishops would or could be if we went back to the tradition (and canon law) of bishops being elected from their own diocese, with no interference from Rome. Would bishops have a greater sense of ownership rather than just being an admin sent from above? If they were elected from their brother priests, they’d know who put them there and why.

    Doesn’t keep me awake at night, but it does make me wonder.

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