Friday, November 13, 2009

What's What at the Bishops' Meeting

If you've been following the media lead-up to the fall 2009 meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, you know that the bishops will be voting on several documents over the course of their November 16-19 gathering. You also know that it can be a chore to keep all of the information straight, as documents, their names, subject matter and purpose they serve can run together.

This post is an attempt to stave off any such confusion.

The (relatively) easy-to-remember items are the liturgy items. The bishops are voting on five separate pieces of the Roman Missal at this meeting. These are the final pieces of the puzzle, as it were, of the larger project of the new English translation of the Roman Missal, which have been going up for votes by the bishops, piece by piece, for several years now.

These final pieces just happen to be the Proper of Saints (prayers for Masses in observance of saints' feast days), The Commons (prayers for Masses in observance of saints for whom there are no proper prayers), Roman Missal Supplement (containing some extra material added in the 2008 reprint of the Missale Romanum), U.S. Propers (prayers for Masses in observance of feast days of Saints for the dioceses of the United States, e.g., St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and St. John Neumann), and the USA Adaptations (a number of adjustments and additions to the rubrics for use in the dioceses of the United States).

Once these are passed by the body of bishops, they go to Rome for recognitio, or approval, and then the implementation of the new translation will begin.

Another area that is getting some attention at this meeting, albeit in unrelated documents, is marriage. The the Pastoral Letter on Marriage: "Love and Life in the Divine Plan" goes up for a vote during the meeting and is an important part of the Bishops' National Pastoral Initiative on Marriage, begun in 2004.

Another document that deals with marriage, but is actually a Pro-Life Committee document is "Life-Giving Love in an Age of Technology." This is a document on reproductive technologies (in vitro, surrogacy, egg and sperm donation, etc.) that is something of an echo of the 2008 Vatican document, Dignitas Personae.

Also taking into account recent Catholic teaching is the proposed revision of the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services. The directives in question concern medically-assisted nutrition and hydration. The current passages on this issue speak cite on documents from state Catholic conferences, individual bishops, and the bishops' Pro-Life Committee. Since those directives were published, however, both a 2004 speech from Pope John Paul II and a 2007 document from the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith addressed this issue much more definitively and stating more strongly the obligation to provide medically assisted nutrition and hydration even to someone in a persistent vegitative state.

Also on the bishops' agenda is a report on vocations and another on the causes and context of clergy sexual abuse.

In one final, but significant bit of voting, the bishops will also elect the chairs-elect of five of their committees. Chairs-elect serve in a sort of apprentice role for one year after their election before taking over as chairman of their respective committees the following November. Bishops serve for three years as chairs.

Of course, all the agendas, rubrics and plans in the world can't predict what will actually be said and done at the bishops' meeting, so everyone is encouraged to follow the meeting on television, on the Web, including Facebook and Twitter, and of course in the reports in various media outlets as they appear.

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