ICEL in Rome for its 50th (or 10th?) anniversary

This week in Rome there were anniversary celebrations for the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL), the translation agency of the English-speaking church. Here is the English translation of Pope Francis’s remarks to ICEL. (We usually don’t know in such situations who wrote the Holy Father’s words.) And here is the homily given by Archbishop Arthur Roche, now secretary of the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and formerly head bishop on ICEL.

In the Letter from Rome in this week’s Tablet (subscription required), Robert Mickens writes on the anniversary celebrations.

Mickens notes that ICEL worked for many, many years on a retranslation of the sacramentary, which was approved by all the English-speaking bishops’ conferences by 1998. But the “restorationists in Rome” rejected it. On September 15, 2003, the Congregation for Divine Worship “effectively gutted the original ICEL and re-established it in accordance with its own questionable translation guidelines found in the instruction Liturgiam authenticam.” He wryly notes that the celebration in Rome this week “was really the tenth anniversary of an ICEL that now serves at the whim of the Vatican-controlled Vox Clara Committee.”

Mickens also has choice words about the current executive director of ICEL, Msgr. Andrew Wadsworth: “That an enthusiastic proponent of the Tridentine Mass should one day lead an organization whose sole purpose was to promote the reformed Roman Rite in English would have come as something of a surprise to the 1963 founders.”

Mickens concludes his report on the turbulent history of ICEL: “To quote the late Msgr. Fred McManus, the American peritus at Vatican II who helped the bishops establish ICEL and suffered greatly as he saw it dismantled: ‘They could at least have the decency to change its name’.”







17 responses to “ICEL in Rome for its 50th (or 10th?) anniversary”

  1. Fr. Ron Krisman Avatar
    Fr. Ron Krisman

    Re: the 50th (or 10th) anniversary question, I wonder if any of the hundreds of collaborators in the work of ICEL during its first forty years were even invited to the celebration.

    Thrown to the lions indeed, although I’m sure that St. Ignatius never imagined that the lions would be Vatican curial officials.

    1. Paul Inwood Avatar
      Paul Inwood

      @Fr. Ron Krisman – comment #1:

      I wonder if any of the hundreds of collaborators in the work of ICEL during its first forty years were even invited to the celebration.

      No, they mostly weren’t, as far as I am aware (and I am one of them). The grapevine says that John Page was invited but declined.

      I think the only person from ICEL 1 present was Peter Finn, who started work for ICEL in about 1975, still works for ICEL 2, and was the lector at the celebration Mass according to one report.

  2. John Wotherspoon Avatar

    For any new readers not aware of the background of the ICEL fiasco, see

    Hopefully Pope Francis will become aware of this situation soon. His remarks to the ICEL show he has not yet been informed of the real situation

  3. john Robert Francis Avatar
    john Robert Francis

    See my comment yesterday under the Congar thread. The full Msgr.Frederick McManus quote that I heard often from 2002 till his death in 2005 went, “But it isn’t ICEL any longer. Why don’t they have the decency to change the name!”

    The history given in the homily is a bit garbled.

    At the end of the first session of the Council, a group of English-speaking bishops designated Archbishop Grimshaw of Birmingham to act as convener for the purpose of setting a date during the second session for the founding meeting of what would become ICEL. He was supposed to canvass the bishops on a date before the Council resumed in September 1963. He didn’t. After the Council re-convened in late September, several days later Archbishop Hurley of Durban, Archbishop Young of Hobart, Archbishop Hallinan of Atlanta, a formidable trio, cornered the procrastinating Grimshaw outside the Aula, at the altar of St. Josaphat, in the right aisle, just before the crossing. Archbishop Grimshaw finally became decisive, and set the meeting for two weeks later, 17 October, at the English College.

    I’ve always thought that that informal gathering at the tomb of the martyred bishop had a certain fittingness, especially given the former ICEL’s cruel trials, particularly in the years 2001-2002, the prelude to the dissolution in 2003 of conciliar/episcopal ICEL in favor of the present LA/ VC “ICEL.”

    It is disappointing that the founders of ICEL, all now with the Lord, are neither mentioned nor thanked in the archbishop’s homily. Perhaps their names were spoken aloud in the intercessions.

  4. Stanislaus Kosala Avatar
    Stanislaus Kosala

    The fact that Cardinal Pell is on the pope’s council of cardinals makes any reversal of the restorationist takeover of ICEL unlikely.

  5. john Robert Francis Avatar
    john Robert Francis

    The meeting at the altar of St. Josaphat was 2 October 1963, not 16 October. See Paddy Kearney, GUARDIAN OF THE LIGHT: DENIS HURLEY: RENEWING THE CHURCH, OPPOSING APARTHEID (2009), p. 118.

  6. john Robert Francis Avatar
    john Robert Francis

    After re-reading Archbishop Roche’s confused chronology on the founding of ICEL, I now understand that he thinks that the informal caucus to get Archbishop Grimshaw to set a date for the founding meeting was itself the founding meeting. And that that informal caucus occurred on 17 October.

    This is the easily verified chronology:

    2 October 1963 — Archbishops Hurley, Young, and Hallinan meet INFORMALLY with Archbishop Grimshaw in St. Peter’s at the altar of St. Josaphat, and he agrees, after a nine-month delay on his part, to call for a formal meeting, to be held at the English College on 17 October.

    17 October 1963 — bishops representing ten conferences meet at the English College and agree, after full discussion, TO FOUND ICEL.

    In short, ICEL wasn’t founded in St. Peter’s Basilica at the altar of St. Josaphat on 17 October, but at the English College on 17 October.

    The archbishop’s version is colorful, but erroneous. I don’t blame Archbishop Roche for the muddled chronology, but surely someone on the ICEL staff should have some acquaintance with the history of the founding of the conciliar ICEL, that is, ICEL 1.

  7. Ann Olivier Avatar
    Ann Olivier

    Today La Stampa, the Roman daily newspaper that reports on the Vatican, has an article about Pope Francis’ message to the 50th anniversary meeting of ICEL. Read it and weep.

    “The Pope praised the translation of liturgical texts in English and in another part of his speech he remarked that the ICEL is “one of the signs of the spirit of Episcopal collegiality which found expression in the Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church,” the Lumen Gentium which was a product of the Second Vatican Council. “Through you, I send greetings and the expression of my gratitude to the Conferences of Bishops which you represent, and to the consulters and personnel who cooperate in the ongoing work of the Commission,” Francis told the Commission’s members.”…/francesco-francis-francisco-28740/‎

  8. Jack Rakosky Avatar
    Jack Rakosky

    A different LaSTAMPA article caught my attention

    Who advises the Pope?

    Other Italians that collaborate closely with Pope Francis include Carlo Maria Viganò, Nuncio to the United States – and averse to anything that so much as whiffs of Ratzinger or Bertone

    Hmm!!! Wonder what implications this might have for the American Bishops? Sounds like the people who have a direct line of communication to the Pope have changed.

    Then there is the telephone which Pope Francis uses unreservedly. Naturally, the secrecy surrounding this is far greater.

    RORATE CAELI was greatly upset by this phase in the ICEL speech

    By enabling the vast numbers of the Catholic faithful throughout the world to pray in a common language, your Commission has helped to foster the Church’s unity in faith and sacramental communion.

    since, of course, the common language was not Latin.

    Then, Francis did give his remarks in Italian.

    I suspect he is at least beginning to understand the problems with ICEL and will make changes in his usual slow quiet methodical way.

  9. Ann Olivier Avatar
    Ann Olivier

    Sounds to me, however, that he has been deprived of full information about ICEL controversies in the English-speaking world. He seems to think that the English speaking bishops’ original decisions were respected by the Curia.

  10. john Robert Francis Avatar
    john Robert Francis

    Pope Francis has a lot on his agenda. English in the liturgy? Several years down the line, at best. Maybe a new prefect at CDWDS would advise the pope to withdraw Liturgiam authenticam as a way of favoring Pope Francis’s intention to increase episcopal conferences’ authority on all fronts, liturgy included. But given the present group of Anglophone bishops, especially in the US, by far the dominant conference in the current ICEL, I wouldn’t be sanguine about a more pastoral approach to liturgical texts in the English-speaking world in the near term. In another ten or twenty years, perhaps. But that’s another papacy.

    And remember that one of the pope’s chief advisors is Cardinal Pell, president of Vox Clara for over a decade. As well, that the current secretary of CDWDS is Archbishop Roche, who as president of ICEL for ten years had a large role in guiding the work that resulted in RM’11. (Though perhaps he will be named archbishop of Liverpool next year.)

    Jack Rakosky:

    As for Marco Tossati, I’d say he may be about half-right in his elencus of Francis insiders. An increasing influence with Pope Francis on the part of Archbishop Vigano’? Fanciful, I think.

  11. Graham Wilson Avatar
    Graham Wilson

    Nothing to celebrate. ICEL has been dead for 10 years, pushed under the bus by the Roman Curia with a little help from the outside while most English-speaking bishops meekly stood by and did nothing. What happened to ICEL and how it was done is a truly scandalous and sinful episode in the institutional life of the Church. Pity that Pope Francis has been sucked in because it does him no credit to laud the current status quo, especially as the processes that killed ICEL and that keep its evil twin alive are so anti-Francis in their nature.

    So we don’t forget…
    Lost in Translation: The Bishops, the Vatican & the English Liturgy
    “A Cold Wind from Rome” by Bishop Taylor

    1. Elisabeth Ahn Avatar
      Elisabeth Ahn

      @Graham Wilson – comment #12:

      “Pity that Pope Francis has been sucked in…”

      There is no evidence to back this up, but my hunch is that Pope Francis is more aware of how things came to be the way they are now than a lot of people give him credit for.

      So, I’m with Jack Rakosky (@ comment #9) who said: I suspect he is at least beginning to understand the problems with ICEL and will make changes in his usual slow quiet methodical way.

      By the same hopeful token, unlike john Robert Francis (@ comment #11), I think this papacy is going to last longer than a lot of people seem to think it will, and that “in another ten or twenty years,” Pope Francis will still be with us.

      Well, that is my hope anyway, even while I fully understand that in the end, God’s will be done.

      For hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.

  12. Jack Rakosky Avatar
    Jack Rakosky

    I think this papacy is going to last longer than a lot of people seem to think it will, and that “in another ten or twenty years,” Pope Francis will still be with us.

    Actually, it may not matter how much Francis “accomplishes” or how long he stays around.

    He has already given to us an abundance of language and images for criticizing the clerical establishment.

    Of course Jesus and the Gospels have also given us that. Francis has just updated all the language and images for our own time to help us understand their relevance.

    Like John 23 and the Vatican Council the question is how many people and for how long Francis inspires.

    Of course the naysayers and prophets of doom will continue to tell us that we don’t really understand John 23, or the Vatican Council or Francis or the Gospel.

  13. Paul Inwood Avatar
    Paul Inwood

    Facebook indeed reveals that that apart from Peter Finn there seem to have been no players present from the first incarnation of ICEL. (Hint: look for Paul Turner)

    I loved the fact that Francis’s brief address ended with a quotation from Paul VI !

  14. Msgr Andrew Wadsworth Avatar
    Msgr Andrew Wadsworth

    Mgr Anthony Boylan and Fr Paul Turner were both at the Mass in St Peter’s together with a considerable number of ICEL collaborators past and present who have given long years of the service to the work of the Commission. Sadly, Dr John Page was unable to be with us for health reasons but sent a warm letter in response to his invitation.

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