International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL)

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In 1962 during the first session of Vatican Council II, a small group of English and American bishops, realizing that the use of the vernacular in the liturgy was about to be sanctioned to some degree, informally discussed the possibility of providing common texts for all English-speaking Catholics. Further discussion of this possibility continued among a widening group of English-speaking bishops during 1963. In October of that year bishops representing ten episcopal conferences met in the English College at Rome under the chairmanship of Archbishop Francis Grimshaw of England to lay plans for the work of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL). The following conferences were represented at that meeting: Australia, Canada, England and Wales, India, Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa, and the United States. In 1967 an 11th member, the conference of bishops of the Philippines, joined the original group. In addition to the member conferences there are also 15 associate-member conferences of ICEL.

Founding of ICEL. The International Commission on English in the Liturgy originating in Rome at the heart of the Council was the first response of a number of conferences sharing the same language to the directive of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy: "it is for the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority , to decide whether, and to what extent, the vernacular is to be used. Their decrees are to be approved, that is, confirmed, by the apostolic see. And whenever it seems called for, this authority is to consult with bishops of neighboring regions that have the same language (Sacrosanctum Concilium 36.3)." The Council's wish that countries sharing the same language should work together was more forcefully underscored in a letter dated Oct. 16, 1964 of Cardinal Giacomo Lercaro, president of the Consilium for the Implementation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, to the presidents of conferences of bishops. In that letter Cardinal Lercaro stated that international commissions should be established by conferences of bishops sharing the same language to make one text for all. The pioneering work of ICEL became the inspiration for the several other language commissions which were established at the direction of the holy see.

In 1964 the bishops of ICEL prepared a formal mandate for the work to be undertaken as a common effort. This mandate, already anticipating the creation of a committee of experts to oversee the ICEL program, was addressed to the International Advisory Committee on English in the Liturgy. The mandate was submitted to each of the constituent conferences of bishops and was ratified by all of them in 1964. A formal constitution was adopted in the same year. The principal element in the constitution was the structured plan to relate the International Episcopal Committee on English in the Liturgy and the International Advisory Committee on English in the Liturgy as two distinct entities within the single organizations.

It was also in 1964 that the bishops of ICEL invited various experts, priests and lay people, to join them in their deliberations as they began to make definite plans towards the production of English vernacular texts which, it was hoped, would be acceptable to each of the member conferences. These experts who constituted the original advisory committee met for the first time in London during January 1965 and again, with the bishops, in Rome in November 1965. They represented the various specializations which would be necessary in developing a vernacular liturgy: liturgists, classical scholars, patrologists, English scholars, musicians. At a later stage biblical experts were also consulted. The work of ICEL was depended heavily on the talents of numerous English-speaking people, representative of these several areas of scholarship. It was the function of the advisory committee to oversee the work of ICEL and to advise the bishops after a careful review of the proposed translations and projects.

Structure and Work. The episcopal board (originally, committee) is the governing body of ICEL. Each conference designates one bishop as its representative on the board. All projects and translations, having been endorsed by the advisory committee, must be submitted to the episcopal board for final approval. When a text has been approved by a two-thirds majority vote of the episcopal board it is then submitted to the separate conferences for the vote of their individual members. In addition to presenting the texts to their conferences, the members of the Episcopal Board regularly report to their conferences on the continuing work of ICEL as well as on proposals for future work. The 11 members of the Episcopal Board also serve as the board of trustees of the civil corporation, the International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc., which was established under Canadian law in 1967 to protect the copyright of the ICEL texts.

The daily activities of ICEL are carried on through a secretariat which was established in Washington, D.C. in 1965. The work of the secretariat is directed by an executive secretary who is immediately responsible to the advisory committee and ultimately to the episcopal board.

The episcopal board and advisory committee issued two booklets, English for the Mass (1966) and English for the Mass: Part II (1967), which gave various sample translations of the Order of the Mass and the proper parts of the Mass. In order to assist them in the pioneering work of translating the Latin liturgy into English, the bishops and specialists invited comments from "all who are interested in the liturgy, not only Roman Catholics, but also members of other Christian bodies."

The first liturgical text issued by ICEL was the translation of the Roman Canon (Eucharistic Prayer I) which was presented to the conferences of bishops in 1967. This work was the product of many draft proposals and careful deliberation by the advisory committee and episcopal board. In the process of reaching the final draft hundreds of consultants, specialists in the various disciplines represented on the Advisory Committee, were asked to submit comments. In addition, all of the bishops of the English-speaking world were invited to give their comments after studying the draft. Since ICEL's beginnings consultation has played a major part in the ICEL process. The generous participation of these many bishops, priests, religious, and lay people served to make the work more representative of the individual conferences and has ensured that the texts will be acceptable in each of the separate countries. The publication of the Roman Canon has been followed by 21 translations of the rites revised at the direction of Vatican II. Although each of these works involved wide consultation and the reworking of a number of drafts, the texts which stand out, in terms of the magnitude of work involved, as the principal accomplishments of ICEL are the Roman Missal (1974) and The Liturgy of the Hours (197576). For all of these translations, ICEL adopted the norms of translation set down in the Instruction on Translation of Liturgical Texts (Comme le prévoit) issued by the Consilium for the Implementation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Notitiae 5[1969] 312).

With major portions of its work of translation completed, ICEL implemented the second phase of its program. This second phase, endorsed by its episcopal board, was primarily directed to three general services:(1) the provision of music for the revised rites; (2) the provision of original texts, composed in the vernacular, in accord with the norms laid down in the revised Roman books; and (3) the reordering of the revised Roman books to make them more pastorally effective for the celebration of the rites in the English-speaking countries. The work of providing commentaries on the individual rites and other pastoral aids was also begun by ICEL as part of the second phase of its program. The procedure that ICEL adopted was as follows. First, the advisory committee determined which rites needed to be revised and what prayers were needed to supplement the editio typica. Next it assigned the task of revision to four standing subcommittees: (1) translation and revision, (2) original texts, (3) presentation of texts (layout/rubrics), and (4) music. The advisory committee was responsible for reviewing the work of these four subcommittees, before forwarding the final text to the Episcopal Board for its vote.

In the 1990s, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (CDWDS) adopted a critical stance toward ICEL, expressing its strong disapproval over several of ICEL's translation projects, especially the inclusive psalter project, ICEL's proposed translation of the second edition of Rite of Ordination (1992) and the proposed revision of the Sacramentary. This tension culminated in the demand of Cardinal Jorge Medina, Prefect of CDWDS, in 1999 that ICEL reorganize its structure and place itself under the direct control of the CDWDS.

As a result of this restructuring, the four standing subcommittees and advisory committee ceased to exist on Jan. 1, 2001. They were replaced by a consultants' committee, chaired by the chairman of the episcopal board (or his designate). As part of the restructuring, the actual work of preparing texts for the English-speaking world would now fall on an ad hoc committee appointed for each project by the episcopal board. Under the proposed new constitution of ICEL which is awaiting the approval of Rome, all draft translations were to be presented to the various bishop conferences in a three-column format comprising 1) the Latin text, 2) a literal translation and 3) the text as intended for proclamation. Once the bishop conferences approve the texts, they were to be submitted to the CDWDS for its recognitio.

Bibliography: j. m. kemper, Behind the Text: A Study of the Principles and Procedures of Translation, Adaptation, and Composition of Original Texts by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Notre Dame, 1992). j. r. page, "ICEL through Twenty-five Years," in Disciples at the Crossroads, ed. e. bernstein (Collegeville, Minn 1993) 6380. j. r. page, "ICEL, 19661989: Weaving the Words of Our Common Christian Prayer," in Shaping English Liturgy, eds. p.c. finn and j.m. schellman (Washington, D.C. 1990) 473489. g. b. harrison and p. jones, "Personal Reminiscences of the Early Years of ICEL," ibid., 461472. f. r. mcmanus, "ICEL: The First Years," ibid., 433459. a. tegels, "On Englishing the Liturgy," Worship 58 (1984) 441445. m. collins, "Glorious Praise: the ICEL Liturgical Psalter," Worship 66 (1992) 290310. n. mitchell, "The ICEL Psalter," Worship 69 (1995) 361370, 447456, 556565 (3 pts.). g. ostdiek, "Crafting English Prayer Texts: The ICEL Revision of the Sacramentary," Studia Liturgica 26:1 (1996) 128139.

[j. r. page/eds.]

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International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL)