Book of the Chair: Today’s USCCB Vote Explained

When the new English Missal of 2011 was in preparation, there were concerns that it would be unduly large and hard for altar servers to hold, which has proven to be the case. There were proposals to create a “book of the chair” with just the opening rites and the closing rites – mostly the opening Collect and the Postcommunion Prayer – which are proclaimed from the presidential chair rather than the altar. This excerpted book would be much lighter and manageable.

But no. Rome made it known that no one had any business creating new genres of liturgical books. Any publishers’ plans in this direction were stomped out. This is the Roman Rite. Mass has a missal, period.

More recently, things have eased. Now one can use common sense. Word got out that Rome would approve such a book, and in fact already had for other places. So the BCDW put the “book of the chair” proposal to the body of bishops today.

The discussion showed that there are reasons coming from all sides for favoring or opposing this thing.

First up to speak was retired Bishop Donald Trautman, former BCDW chair who made himself famous as an opponent of the new missal and its underlying translation theory (from Liturgiam authenticam, 2001). He was opposed to this sensible, practical proposal. There is no need for this book; one can use the smaller chapel edition at the chair (and a bigger edition at the altar).

Then Archbishop Wilton Gregory, also a former USCCB liturgy committee chair, rose to echo Trautman’s concerns. Before printing up more books with the current translation, we ought to look at the problems with the translation. There should be a review of the problems with the new Missal.

So there was reason to favor the “book of the chair”: because it is sensible decentralization, a commonsense adaption not found in the official Latin edition but useful in local liturgical celebrations. This sounds like the “spirit of Pope Francis.”

But there was also reason to oppose the “book of the chair”: let’s not institutionalize a problematic translation and give it more standing and perhaps permanence.

Bishop Serratelli, current BCDW chair, responded negatively to Gregory’s suggestion to start reviewing the problems in the new translation. Liturgiam authenticam is policy, it is being used for ongoing translations, and one must hold to this. Rome has not issued any document revising LA.

A bishop rose to ask whether the US adaptations for the third form of the Penitential Act, tropes preceding each Kyrie/Christe, would be right there in the front. He sounded just a bit irritated that the new Missal inconveniently places them in the appendix. (This was at Rome’s insistence: we don’t go by what works in the liturgical celebration. We go by Roman centralism. We make clear by inconvenient placement that national adaptations aren’t based on the Latin original.) The bishop was reassured that it would be laid out for convenience, with the Kyrie tropes right there where you need them.

The most unfortunate thing is that no bishop rose to say the following:

We shouldn’t let ourselves think that the current Missal translation is the only way to do things according to Liturgiam authenticam. Translation is never that exacting. What we US bishops submitted to Rome would also have been a faithful to LA, and the 10,000+ changes Rome made to our submission (after they had micromanaged the production of our draft) were in many cases a violation of LA. More importantly, if one looks at what Rome has approved for other conferences – the German text in their recently approved Gotteslob hymnal, for example – one sees that LA could readily be interpreted with more flexibility. Better texts than ours are possible, and that is what we should work for. And in fact, LA explicitly allows for original vernacular texts, so it would make sense for us to re-submit to Rome the lectionary-based Collects matching the 3-year cycle of readings which we approved for the 1997/1998 Sacramentary. There is reason to believe that the Roman authorities would now look favorably upon such a request.

But nothing like that was said. The discussion, and the vote handily approving the proposal, suggest that the bishops are eminently pragmatic. This is the translation we have, so let’s make things work a bit better with a lighter book with big print for use at the chair. This is mostly good news, I think.

And it is noteworthy that the bishop who spoke most negatively about the new translation, Archbishop Wilton Gregory, was a candidate to be chair of the USCCB liturgy committee. He was elected. His term will begin in 2016. He and the liturgy committee will have many, many issues to deal with. It will be interesting to see whether a change in translation approach will be among them.





  1. Ever so slowly, sanity begins to seep back in:

    Archbishop Wilton Gregory: Before printing up more books with the current translation, we ought to look at the problems with the translation. There should be a review of the problems with the new Missal… Let’s not institutionalize a problematic translation and give it more standing and perhaps permanence.

    I suspect that quite a few bishops are rueing their pigheadedness of a few years ago when they shouted down the very awareness that Abp Gregory is beginning to articulate.

  2. A Book of the Chair with the Collects, Closing Prayers and whatever minimum else is needed would be a welcome liturgical book.

    1. @Lee Bacchi:
      There is a (pre-Vatican II) liturgical precedent for such a book. We Dominicans called it the “Collectarium”, though it was for use in the Office rather than Mass, as I understand it. See for an example from 1607. Notice that it contained a lot of chant. It would be nice if the collects in the “Book of the Chair” were pointed for singing!

  3. Don’t throw away those Sacramentary copies yet! Hollow out and glue together the pages of a good-quality old edition. Tuck a tablet in. That way, the weight is really light and the device is infinitely upgradeable for new texts. I’ve done a total 180 on this idea. It’s enviromentally sound and liturgically versatile.


    * dramatic finger swipes
    * recharging while praying (power cord on display is gauche)

    1. @Jordan Zarembo:

      Like George Washington, I cannot tell a lie. Other regular PTB contributors have suggested similar techniques for hiding a tablet for use during worship. I wish to give them credit.

      The desire to hide current technology in older technology has some merit. Some in the assembly might be uncomfortable with an unobstructed use of an electronic device instead of a book. Tablets are more fragile than books, and can’t withstand drops like books. Maybe our Protestant brothers and sisters, or even adherents in other religions, have thought of more innovative solutions than merely refashioning books as covers.

      I am (I’d like to think) very computer proficient, but I don’t have a tablet. I’m still wedded to the codex. It’s interesting how some will embrace certain current technologies but not embrace others.

  4. This is a ‘catch 22’ situation. We need a Presidential book yet we need to examine the current 2011 Sacramentary (yes, its a Sacramentary, not a Missal) and push for a revision or re submit the 1999 ICEL edition that was rejected by Rome at the time.

    We had a Book of the Chair for the 1973 Sacramentary and it worked very well. There is no reason why OCP or Catholic Publishing can not produce one (both paper and digital) for parish use again.

    Papa Francis is letting the Church breath again and is not micro-managing his flock. Thankyou Jesus and thank you Fritz for your report.

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