American Roman Catholic bishops are moving to take a giant step toward eliminating what some regard as sexist language from the official prayers of the church, including the most solemn eucharistic prayer.
The National Conference of Catholic Bishops will vote next month on a proposal, already approved by the group's administrative committee, to drop the last word of the prayer in the mass that proclaims that Christ's blood is "shed for you and for all men.
The revised prayer would read simply: "...shed for you and for all."
A second proposal would authorize priests to "substitute an inclusive word or phase" in the church's prayers wherever "the generic term 'man' or its equivalent is found."
Thus, the proposal continues, instead of "man," priests can say "men and women," the human family" or "the human race." Instead of "all men," they could use "all persons" or "all people." And instead of "brothers or "sons," they could use "brothers and sisters" and 'sons and daughters.'
If the proposals are adopted -- and accepted by the Vatican -- the language of the eucharistic prayer would change throughout the church, and priests could change the language of other set prayers if they desired.
The proposals, from the bishops' standing committee on the liturgy, are supported by a carefully documented and theologically annotated brief that argues that the changes will be "an acknowledged move in the right direction toward unifying the worshiping assembly by making all present feel a part of it."
The Roman Catholic liturgy was translated from Latin into English in 1970, in response to the Second Vatican Council's mandate that mass should be celebrated in the "language of the people."
"But that was before the awareness of sexist implications in language," explained Sister Luanne Durst of the Bishops Conference liturgy secretariat.
In recent years such language in liturgy, whether Catholic, Protestant or Jewish, has been a target of feminist groups.
"It is a fact that some members of our eucharistic assemblies [masses] feel excluded or alienated from the prayer of the church by the words addressed to God or the community by the one who presides, even though this is not intended," the proposal says.
"Whatever can be done to alleviate any hurt or feeling of alienation of a large segment of the assembly must be undertaken," it adds.
The proposal points out that such groups as the Canon Law Society of America, the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions, the National Coalition of American Nuns and priests' councils "have passed resolutions requesting the elimination of noninclusive language in worship."
Deleting the word "men" from the eucharistic prayer will translate the original Latin phrase "pro multis" -- literally, "for all" -- more precisely, the statement points out.
Both proposals before the bishops would have to be approved by the Vatican before they could take effect in the American church. Such approval probably would be forthcoming, if the speeches of Pope John Paul II in this country earlier this month are any clue.
The pontiff repeatedly used such inclusive terms as "humankind," "men and women," or "brothers and sisters," avoiding for the most part the more exclusively masculine references.
In additon to the eucharistic prayer, the proposals would cover a variety of prayers prescribed for use throughout the year.
Paging through the liturgy, Durst cited numerous examples of language that would be changed: ". . . touch the hearts of all men with Your Love. . . .," "Father, . . . your wisdon took flesh in Jesus Christ and changed mankind's history," and "We come to celebrate our sonship in the Lord Jesus Christ."
In the second proposal to the bishops, Durst said, "what we are trying to do is to come up with a principle which would enable the individual [priest] to look at the book beforehand and make an acceptable substitute" for terms.
"Many, many priests are doing this alreay," she acknowledged, but without authorization of the church.
The proposals before the bishops make no attempt to deal with the even more volatile subject, addressed by some Protestant groups, on conceptualizing God as female as well as male, Durst said.