Should National Bishops’ Conferences Decide Liturgical Details?

A proposal has been advanced at the ecumenical council to permit national episcopal conferences to deal with the detailed application of changes in the liturgy.

This was disclosed at a press conference held (Oct. 27) after the eighth general council meeting and conducted by American priest-experts to help the English-speaking press follow the work of the council.

Father Edward Heston, C.S.C., procurator general of the Holy Cross Fathers, said a proposal to allow national conferences of bishops to deal with changes and alterations in the liturgy has been made, but that it is not clear at present how these conferences might act.

He said the question is whether a conference would be allowed to make decisions without referring them to Rome for final approval.

If the proposal is adopted, it would be up to the council Fathers to lay down general norms and principles governing liturgical renewal within the universal Church, while letting the working out of details remain with regional or national bishops’ conferences, which would be able to make decisions more accurately and sensitively meeting the needs of their various areas.

Father Frederick R. McManus, canon law professor at the Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., and past president of the U.S. Liturgical Conference, pointed out at the time that in several instances national conferences have been authorized to handle liturgical changes for their areas.

As an example he cited the recent decree on adult Baptism, which authorized national conferences to draw up the appropriate vernacular for the rite and to supervise its usage. This, he said, serves as a precedent which could be used as a more general solution to the problems of applying universal principles to specific problems in specific areas.

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