Printer Friendly

Vatican ices I.C.E.L.

In our January-February, 2000, edition, under News in Brief, p. 22, we noted that the Vatican has called for an overhaul of the International Commission for English in the Liturgy. The following is a commentary on the relevant letter from Cardinal Medina dated October 26, 1999. The text of the letter may be found in Origins (Jan. 13, 2000) and on the Internet at under On Line documents.

Readers may recall the recent series of letters to the editor on the subject of a Canadian proposed liturgy which has been put to experimental use in selected parishes once again without approval for either the translations or the innovations in the forms of worship themselves.

For 36 years, since the actual days of Vatican Council II, the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (I.C.E.L.) has largely controlled the English translation of the Latin (or Roman) Liturgy. This period of control by ICEL is now over. The Vatican has written letters to ICEL's Bishop President, demanding a "thoroughgoing reform" with revised statutes for ICEL.

Why reform ICEL? Because of serious faults found, so that ICEL is judged "not in a position to adequate level of service," a diplomatic expression for incompetence and disservice.

Who has written whom? Cardinal Medina, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship (CDW), wrote Bishop Maurice Taylor, of Galloway, Scotland, some 2,200 words, on 26 October last, in an unusually stern mode. Taylor is commended for having recently requested a Vatican meeting to discuss ICEL affairs. But the meeting must wait for "certain steps which should no longer be deferred," that is, the reform of ICEL.

What faults are found with ICEL? The first instance touches the new ICEL draft of the rite for Ordination. In 1997, CDW had sent a detailed critique, with numerous corrections, to ICEL, who attempted to refute these. CDW was not pleased, and noted that these criticisms (diplomatically called "observations") were "not intended to be subject to discussion." Moreover, they were not exhaustive but "illustrative," that is, examples of errors pervading all of ICEL's translations.

Certain liberties

The CDW letter then regrets "certain liberties" taken by the executive secretary, John Page and cites the need of "more satisfactory membership of the (Advisory Committee)." The latter (AC) is a group of some ten persons, supposedly "experts," whose competence and fidelity may well be doubted by the Vatican.

A further Vatican concern is the need for translations that "accurately and fully convey the content of the (Latin) texts," for resisting "undue autonomy" in the ICEL translators, and for quelling "unfounded charges of personal grudges and hostility" on the part of CDW staff towards ICEL. Indeed ICEL is faulted for failure "to respond to the Holy See's stated concerns," thus hampering and burdening the work of CDW. It does seem that, after decades of meek, unquestioning tolerance of ICEL by CDW, the Vatican is becoming firm and stern (as it always should have been), and ICEL personnel were not ready for this tightening of discipline.

Even "not a few Bishops" are said to have been offended by ICEL, when (vainly) questioning the quality of its translations and facing obstruction when they wanted corrections and improvements. The Latin rubrics (red-print instructions to the ministers in a rite) were so drastically changed by ICEL as to nullify comparison with the Latin, and whole rites were "altered in substance" without Vatican authorization or even the request for it.

There follows a veiled but significant allusion to "the instructions received by (CDW) for the preparation of new norms of liturgical translation." This suggests that Vatican higher-ups, probably Cardinal Ratzinger's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), were requesting CDW to demand more faithful translations. This happened also in 1994, when CDF instructed CDW to withdraw the approval it had unwisely given for the feminist NRSV Bible translation, the one still painfully embarrassing our Canadian parish lectionaries.

Substituting new prayers

Cardinal Medina next turns his attention to the ICEL itch to write new prayers for the liturgy, in effect, suppressing the equivalent prayer from the Vatican. Such is the "alternative opening prayer" for every Sunday in the Canadian (and other anglophone) altar missals and missalettes. Such also, as Medina notes, is the ICEL Psalter, a radical feminist horror disapproved by the USA Bishops, but used nonetheless in many a convent. Such also are new ICEL forms of the Mass that were on the verge of publication by Protestant agencies for trial use. All this composing of new texts (instead of translating official Latin texts) is simply "not the province of (ICEL)," says Medina.

The CDW letter concludes: "(ICEL) in its present form is unable to render adequate service, or to produce with appropriate promptness, acceptable translations" of the rite of Exorcism and the Martryrology (List of Saints). The present writer knows for a fact, from long ICEL involvement, that ICEL, years ago, deliberately delayed the translation of the Breviary, the Consecration of Virgins, the Votive Masses of Our Lady, and probably other rites unpopular with "progressive" Catholics such as dominate ICEL. Such suppress ion of good prayers is certainly harmful to the Church. CDW appears to perceive that ICEL is ignoring the new Exorcism and Martyrology.

English is important in the world

The Vatican letter rightly notes the central importance today of English in the world. Consequently, small countries with few scholars will look to the English Missal first when preparing a missal (and other liturgical books) in their local language. All the more urgency that the English translation be a model, not of worldly accommodation, but of Catholic fidelity. CDW concludes: "The constitution, regulation, and oversight of an international commission for liturgical translation (such as ICEL) are rightfully the competence of the Holy See," not merely of some body of bishops, still less of an office of priests and lay persons (such as ICEL).


As reported at the start of this article, a "thoroughgoing reform" of ICEL is now demanded. Its statutes are to be revised "in active consultation with CDW," and "submitted within six months" for approval by all English-speaking bishops' conferences. The statutes are to incorporate seven major "considerations" (a diplomatic term for rules or principles), which are actually given with the letter. This Vatican is playing hardball, and thank God for it, after 36 years of confusion and corruption of the Liturgy by ICEL.

An article in the American Catholic weekly The Wanderer (30 Dec 99) quotes a bishop as telling the weekly National Catholic Reporter, which first revealed the letter, "Medina is dismantling the (ICEL) Commission as it's existed up to now," and the NCR a Catholic progressive paper, calls Medina's action "a bare-knuckles power grab." Fair enough!

The seven rules

It's only right to include now a summary of the seven "considerations" or rules for the new ICEL statutes.

1. ICEL's job is to translate the "typical" Latin liturgical books in their integrity. There is to be no "cultural adaptation or modification or writing new texts." These remain the province of individual hierarchies, and requiring, as before, Vatican approval. There is to be no collaboration with non-Catholic churches. This, if needed, will be done by other agencies duly approved.

2. The "executive secretary" of ICEL must be "reconfigured" so as to be more accountable to Rome. Perhaps one of the ICEL Bishops should assume this role.

3. Employees of ICEL shall work for a limited term, renewable by CDW when necessary.

4. The "Advisory Committee" of ICEL and collaborators shall require the approval (nihil obstat) of CDW, to have and to hold their posts. Their bishops must testify in writing to CDW as to their fitness.

5. All ICEL work is to be anonymous and confidential.

6. No ICEL version is to be given clearance for any public use before it has approval (recognitio) by CDW.

7. The ICEL bishops themselves, and not their ICEL employees or collaborators, are to do the redrafting of the ICEL statutes, and this sub secreto until the draft is ready to send to all the bishops for voted approval. The dateline is Easter 2000.

So ends the bomb letter dropped on ICEL by the Holy See. If its instructions are faithfully and willingly implemented, the English-speaking Catholic Church (and subsequently many others) will have a much holier, more truthful, more Catholic Liturgy, within a few years. If these liturgical books are religiously and gladly received, we shall all be a holier Church. So may it be.

Fr. Stephen Somerville was appointed to the Advisory Committee of ICEL (representing Canada) in early 1964. Thereafter followed ICEL meetings one to three times per year in Rome or London and elsewhere. In 1973, he stepped down from the AC, was named a member emeritus, and continued to work as a translation consultant and member of the music sub-committee of ICEL. As ICEL became more liberal, he became one of its most insistent critics.
COPYRIGHT 2000 Catholic Insight
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2000, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:reorganization of International Commission on English in the Liturgy
Author:Somerville, Stephen
Publication:Catholic Insight
Geographic Code:00WOR
Date:Mar 1, 2000
Previous Article:Church architecture: The temple of the New Covenant.
Next Article:Building a culture of life.

Related Articles
Watch your language: why we should mind our hes and shes....
Vatican: Psalm translation must be pulled.
Bishops speak on Liturgy.
Amazing! An elegant misselette.
Liturgiam authenticam, Part II.
New committee for translations. (News in Brief).
Liturgical rejects: Vatican dismisses translations and translators.
Cardinal Ratzinger: pastoral concerns with liturgy.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters