U.S. Bishops Prepare to Vote on New Translation of the RCIA

Archbishop Leonard Blair, speaking on behalf of the Worship Commission of the conference, at the USCCB meeting this morning proposed a two-stage process to approve a new translation of the RCIA. The text will be renamed the Order of Christian Initiation of Adults, which is the literal rendering of the Latin, Ordo Initiationis Christianae Adultorum. (He referred to the text thereafter as “the OCIA.”)

The first vote, to be taken at the present meeting, is to approve the new ICEL translation from the Latin, which is in hand. Proposed amendments to that text have been received, he reported, and more can be submitted until the end of the business day, today.

The second stage would be at a future meeting, at which time the bishops would vote on an arrangement of the book that would (A) organize the material in a way that is more user-friendly, as the current edition does; and (B) include more material on the reception of baptized Christians into the full communion of the Catholic church, as the current U.S. edition does. At this time (perhaps a year or two hence), the bishops would also vote on a new set of National Statutes. Then, and only then, would the new translation be sent to Rome for recognition.

Archbishop Blair reported that Archbishop Wilton Gregory inquired about whether such adaptations of the text as they are considering would be acceptable to Rome, and found out that they would be.

The floor was opened to questions, but there were no questions.


With respect to the Christian Initiation of Adults, we are seeing an approach to translation of liturgical texts that is strikingly different from the path taken in the translation of the Missal.

Liturgiam authenticam instructed that the order of materials in the Latin text (even the notes) is not to be rearranged, yet the bishops fully intend to rearrange the material. And they are doing it not in the dark, but after having checked into the feasibility of this by seeking Rome’s approval.

The use of expanded texts to address pastoral situations concerning baptized candidates also departs from the rigid requirements of Liturgiam authenticam in a striking way. This too contrasts with the approach taken with the Missal.

All of this is appropriate, in my view, because the initiation texts were always intended to be adapted to the pastoral needs of the regions in which they would be employed. Yet it would have been unthinkable during the period in which the Missal was translated.

The decision of the American bishops to proceed in this manner also illustrates something more: The use of this freedom to adapt the Latin text has worked well in the past, and was perceived to work in favor of the goals of the ritual of initiation. Otherwise the bishops would not be pursuing it now.

In other words, the American bishops are, in principle, standing behind the solid success of the indigenization of the Latin text of the Christian Initiation document into English, in the North American context — a success they can reaffirm now in practical, pastoral terms.

What does this mean for liturgical translation overall? Does it mean that we are gradually returning to a more commonsense approach to translation of liturgical texts, one that prioritizes active participation and pastoral judgment over a rigid adherence to the Latin text of the editio typica? I have not seen the new texts, but with respect to the overall strategy of adaptation, it would appear that the pendulum is swinging back to the center.

The proposed new translation of the “OCIA,” as highlighted in Archbishop Blair’s comments, assures that these texts will correspond to those other texts that occur in the Missal and the Rite of Confirmation, etc. A very basic, practical outcome.

Yet overall a greater freedom is being taken in the application of the translation principles than we have seen since 2001, when Liturgiam authenticam was introduced.

Pope Francis’s motu proprio on translation, Magnum principium, surely stands in the background of this shift and supports the bishops in taking an appropriate initiative to make the book locally useful and faithfully used.

One final comment: The use of acronyms for liturgical rites has always been unfortunate. It suggests “program language” and it is at odds with our other vocabulary for liturgy: We would never say “I went to my uncle’s OCF” last week — we say “I went to his funeral.” The substitution of OCIA for RCIA remains awkward, and does not improve our practice. What this shows, however, is that we are still comparatively in the early stages of inculturating these rites. And so it is perhaps inevitable that we should use semi-bureaucratic sounding terms, acronyms, until these rites are more deeply owned. It takes a couple of generations.


  1. Thanks, Rita, for your insights on translation. I watched the livestream, and I’m wondering what the “Group 1” and “Group 2” amendments were that were handout out to the bishops before the vote. Group 1 were those that the CDW recommended to approve, and Group 2 were those that the CDW recommended to reject.

    Also, it seems that stage two, the revision of the National Statutes and other supplementary texts, will be conducted by two other committees: Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance and the Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis. Any thoughts on this, and if the CDW will be part of this work as well? Or are we re-enforcing the sense that this is a catechetical documents with some rites sprinkled in?

    1. The amendments were submitted to the US Bishops’ Committee on Divine Worship not by the Roman Congregation, CDWDS, but by individual bishops of the US conference. These amendments, accepted and rejected, concerned only the the translation of the liturgical texts, the prayers, admonitions, addresses, as found in the Latin edition typica. They did not deal with adaptations, layout, pastoral arrangement.

      1. Thanks, John Francis. I knew that. I was interested in seeing what the CDW (US Bishops Committee) recommended to accept and reject from the suggestions submitted by the bishops.

  2. Once again splendid isolation strikes! The US Bishops have voted on OCIA, but have not taken into account that there are many other English-speaking countries that will also use it and vote on it (and will also use the “combined rites”). One would have thought that dealing with an ICEL text these days would be done in consultation with other episcopal conferences, some of whom have a lot of useful experience and wisdom in this area, particularly as regards user-friendly arranging of the material. What will happen if some of those conferences have different proposed amendments, for example. or decide to reject some of the US amendments? Whose amendments will hold sway?

    Perhaps no one cares if, following Magnum Principium, different incarnations of the same rites might arise in different countries, though I have the feeling that SCDWDS wants everyone in a language area to use the same thing wherever possible.

    1. Hi, Paul! Isn’t it already the case that different countries have different versions of the RCIA? I’ve seen the books for Canada and Australia, and there are major differences from the US edition and smaller differences between the Canadian and Australian editions.

      1. Sorry. The alphabet soup can be a tad murky. I took CDW to be Congregation for Divine Worship. It never occurred to me that it stands for Committee on Divine Worship. Probably because during nearly all of my own long years on the scene that office was styled the “Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy” (BCL). That was good enough for Msgr. Fredrick McManus, Father John Rotelle, OSA, Father Thomas Krosnicki, SVD, Father John Gurrieri, Father Ronald Krisman, Msgr. Alan Detscher. And then, BCL just wasn’t Roman enough.

        As for the accepted and rejected amendments, perhaps your bishop kept his copy. Or, you could write to the BCDW.

  3. I think the renaming of RCIA to OCIA will be a backward step given how well known and well received RCIA has been over recent decades. I can understand the desire to reconfigure the rites to the Latin originals but feel there should be some consideration of the current circumstances when discerning the way forward.

    Since RCIA is actually a collection of rites to be used during the initiation of adults in various circumstances, perhaps it should be called Rites of Christian Initiation of Adults – thus avoiding any change of acronym.

  4. RCIA….you mean RICA, don’t you? For the last 46 years every parish I have been associated with refers to a process called Journey of Faith. This Journey leads inquirers to and through the rites by which adults (including children of catechetical age) are fully initiated as Christians.

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