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High anxiety.

Liturgists angry, confused over new directives for Mass; Archbishop Lipscomb counsels calm

Don't be angry, said Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb. But the diocesan liturgical director at the microphone was clearly among the walking wounded, victims of an explosion detonated by the Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy, which Lipscomb chairs.

So heightened were the anxieties of 200-plus liturgists' attending an Oct. 3-7 meeting of the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions here that the federation suspended its normal order of business to deal with delegates' "resolutions of concern."

Among other things, resolutions urged the U.S. bishops to quickly limit the damage caused to liturgical renewal by the July 28 release of an English-language "study translation" of the General Instruction for the forthcoming revised third edition of the Roman Missal. The Latin and English texts of the instruction were released simultaneously.

The resolutions and the debate around them spoke to the considerable damage and pain already inflicted on diocesan liturgical directors, pastors and people along the rarely tranquil road to post-Vatican II (1962-65) liturgical reform.

Among the more controversial passages in the study translation, it prohibits lay eucharistic ministers from breaking bread or cleansing vessels and directs that the Lectionary should not be carried in procession. Another directive states that priests must remain in the sanctuary during the sign of peace rather than go out into the congregation to greet worshipers.

"I think what happened," St. Joseph Sr. Eleanor Bernstein told NCR, "is there was spotty information. Catholics have seen quick summaries and highlights" of the text "that are attention grabbing." Bernstein is executive director of the Notre Dame Center for Pastoral Liturgy.

"Because those things are very close to the grassroots, these are where the laity connects," said Bernstein. "So many Catholics have a high involvement in parish ministries that these things really touched them right away. We need to have clarity about the status of this document and when it is to be implemented."

Fr. John Burton, new chair of the federation, said, "Many come to this meeting concerned, confused, apprehensive and angry. And because the text became so widely available, there's [been] implementation on the basis of newspaper articles."

Liturgy director Gerard Hall of Norwich, Conn., said he had learned of the new directives from reading The New York Times before receiving them in the mail. "When I got to my office, there was a message from my bishop asking me what was going on," he said.

Both Lipscomb, archbishop of Mobile, Ala., and Fr. James Moroney, executive director of U.S. bishops' Secretariat for the Liturgy, defended issuance of the study translation by the bishops' committee. Lipscomb told NCR, "A lot of people I think quite honestly are exaggerating" the extent of the "confusion."

In an interview, though, Moroney said the "frontline troops," that is, diocesan liturgical directors, "were not kept in the loop as much as they should have been.

The Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy "made a good decision to publish the study translation so there would not be a flood of competing translations out there," Moroney said -- translations developed "through the lens of people's particular interests or prejudices."

"At the same time, I would have done it differently," he said. "I would have delayed releasing the text to the press." Moroney said he would have given bishops and liturgy directors two weeks to review the study translation first.

In no way were the federation's resolutions an attack on U.S. bishops or their conference. Indeed, the delegates were so anxious not to appear anti-bishop, so willing to build bridges to the Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy, that many would not allow their photographs to be taken in what was an open meeting.

The problem, one delegate said privately, was a pervading sense of betrayal among delegates struggling over how to deal with the new directives.

Many delegates brought with them horror stories of liturgical confrontations provoked by the new directives as reactionaries and liturgical zealots took advantage of the confusion over the directives to press their individual or claque points of view.

Away from the microphone, one liturgical director told of two parishioners weeping on the telephone because their pastor had immediately used the "study translation" to "turn back the clock to pre-Vatican II."

The parishioners have left their parish and now drive 35 miles to attend church elsewhere.

Pastors have been verbally attacked by liturgy factionalists in their parish for not immediately putting into practice the new rules.

Pre-meeting buzz in cyberspace included an account of a priest compelling a deacon to kneel during the consecration "in obedience to the Holy Father."

The zealots are premature, Lipscomb assured delegates. The General Instruction, he said, will not be implemented until two things happen. First, he said, U.S. bishops must receive their own official English-language translation. Secondly, U.S. bishops must write their own appendix to the General Instruction, detailing what in fact will be implemented in the United States.

Moroney in a Sept. 8 letter to liturgical directors said that the Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy is not likely to receive the official revised texts of the new directives "for at least a year, if not longer." That means U.S. bishops would not receive them "much before Nov. 2001 or even June 2002." And then they'd go back to Rome for confirmation.

Meanwhile, many delegates present appeared to agree with Linda Gaupin of Orlando, Fla., who said that to her the General Instruction on the Roman Missal "represented a significant change in ecclesiology."

Other delegates -- mulling over concerns in their hotel rooms -- had deeper suspicions. Among them:

* That U.S. bishops had been deliberately "set up for a major embarrassment" by well-funded U.S. liturgical reactionaries with influence in Rome;

* That the secretariat's Moroney was functioning more as a representative of the Vatican's Congregation for Divine Worship (to which he is a consultor appointed by the pope) than as liturgical spokesperson for the U.S. bishops, and that he was involved in policymaking reserved to the president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. Moroney strongly denies playing such a role. The only way he would be involved in policy, he said, would be to serve as a representative of policies already put in place by the U.S. Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy and the National Conference of Catholic Bishops;

* That the new liturgical directives smack of a return to clericalism and rubricism in a church where Rome and "many bishops -- especially the younger ones -- are afraid of the laity's role in taking ownership of the church";

* And, most worrisome, that, because of the new directives, a liturgical movement seeking unity now sees liturgies vary not just from diocese to diocese, but from parish to parish and from Mass to Mass.

While not one word of criticism of the Vatican, including the Congregation for Divine Worship, was heard from the speaker's platform, liturgical directors privately expressed concern that the Vatican, in the declining years of Pope John Paul II's papacy, was attacking the reform.

Fr. Ron Krisman, former executive director of the secretariat, addressed some of the confusing points, clarifying some:

Quite simply, he said, the new directives became effective the moment they were promulgated, and that was June 11, 2000 -- prior to the issuance of the Roman Missal and prior to the final Latin text being available. General Instruction is in circulation ahead even of the Roman Missal it is supposed to instruct on. Yet, because the final Latin text is unavailable, federation delegates and others were debating a text practically no one has seen.

At the same time, the directives do not actually apply in any country until the local conference implements the revised General Instruction on the Roman Missal.

The most polite news releases and communications to the U.S. bishops from other English-language conferences have called the "study translation's" release "unofficial," "unauthorized" and "hasty."

"Perhaps the decisions were not perfect," admitted Lipscomb. "In particular I regret whatever actions or omissions resulted from publication. But please know that the decisions made in regard to the `study translation' were made by the [Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy] itself, and we take full responsibility for it.

"I would exhort you," he continued, "do not let those who would abandon liturgical reform or seek to reverse the great accomplishments, discourage or distract you from your important work. Nor should you let them dictate the tenor or the agenda of liturgical reform. I chair the Common Ground Initiative ia meeting of a wide range of Catholics of varied progressive to conservative viewpoints] and questions on the liturgy always raise up the very worst and most aggressive responses. I try to calm people by saying if you will just step back from where we are now in worship to where the whole church was when the council began, you have to admit how much progress we have made."

Lipscomb, the new chair of the Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy, stepped into the liturgical melee here and made himself personally popular not simply because he directly dealt with the issues, however defensively, but because he announced his willingness to take questions. That was something his predecessor, Bishop Jerome Hanus of Dubuque, Iowa, last year avoided.

Lipscomb further encouraged hope for some by saying the Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy intended to recommend to the U.S. bishops that they request an indult, or exception, from Rome in order that U.S. eucharistic ministers be permitted to wash the eucharistic vessels. Further, he assured the gathering, the federation's collaboration would be sought as the bishops' committee discusses indults and issues germane to U.S. implementation.

Not everyone was mollified.

In private discussion, the announcement about an indult brought a sigh of dismay from one delegate. He saw the current situation as an indication of the extent to which the Vatican is managing local churches.

Said one woman liturgist, "The reform has worked. We have developed Catholics who own their faith.... [Now], in our diocese, damage has been done to the people in the church, to the people on the altar and to people like ourselves. The main question is whether it was deliberate."

She was not angry. She was grieving.

RELATED ARTICLE: Issues at a glance

On July 28, the Vatican released a General Instruction for the revised third edition of the Roman Missal, which contains directives for celebrating Mass. They released it before the Roman Missal itself is ready. Simultaneously, the U.S. bishops' Secretariat for the Liturgy released an in-house "study translation" (NCR, Aug. 25).

As the media picked up the study translation, a furor developed over several of its points, among them an item recommending that only ordained ministers wash the eucharistic vessels.

According to some attending the Oct. 3-7 Federation of the Diocesan Liturgical meeting in Costa Mesa, Calif., liturgical reactionaries, people who would turn back post-Vatican II (1962-65) liturgical reform, used the "study translation" -- which has no binding force -- to make their cases, in some instances forcefully, with their pastors or, if they are priests, with their congregations.

At an Oct. 3-7 meeting of the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions, Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb, chair of the Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy, tried to calm anxieties while promising that federation members would have opportunities for input as bishops continue to discuss the new directives and their application in the United States.

-- Arthur Jones

Arthur Jones' e-mail address is
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Title Annotation:interpretation of the General Instruction on the Roman Missal
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 20, 2000
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