The Roman Catholic bishops of the United States voted overwhelmingly to replace language considered sexist in key portions of the mass with terminology that includes both men and women.
In their most significant move, the bishops voted 211 to 35 to change the most solemn prayer instituting holy communion from the affirmation that Christ died "for you and for all men" to "for you and for all." The change, if approved by Rome and formally implemented here, will affect every mass celebrated in every Catholic church in this country.
Yesterday's action reflects the remarkable success of feminists in the church -- and their male supporters -- in sensitizing the all-male leadership to an issue that five years ago evoked stony silence, if not derisive laughter.
Archbishop Rembert Weakland of Milwaukee, who heads the liturgy committee of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the switch to language that includes both men and women in the mass "will certainly help to unify our worship as a community since so many men and women have been disturbed" by the present usage.
As it stands now, he said, the prayer instituting holy communion "comes at the high point of the mass when all is silent except for the voice of the priest saying: 'It [Christ's blood] will be shed for you and for all men' -- and that [word] 'men' just hangs there.
"Many women," he continued, "have an inner feeling that they are excluded, and it shocks them at the moment when they should be most devout. I find more and more women and men telling me they are disturbed" by this usage. As he visits parishes and schools in his archdiocese, he said, "quite often a child raises his hand and asks: 'Why are women excluded from the consecration?'"
The bishops also approved four other liturgical changes to replace specifically masculine reference in prayers with language that includes women as well. Thus, "mankind" becomes "the human family"; "what is good for man" becomes "what is good for Your people"; "the sacrifice which restores man to Your friendship" becomes "the sacrifice which restores us to Your friendship"; and "You are kind to us and to all men" becomes "You are kind to us and to everyone."
A year ago, a majority of the bishops -- but not the required two-thirds majority -- voted to change the prayer instituting communion from "for all men" to "for all." The proposal's ease of passage this year is due partly to retirements and new appointments among the bishops, partly to changes of heart and partly to the fact that the proposals this time had the backing of the International Committee on English in the Liturgy (ICEL).
ICEL, made up of church representatives in all English-speaking countries, translated the mass from Latin to English when that move was approved by the Second Vatican Council more than 15 years ago. That translation, done in some haste, is currently being revised, with 1986 as the target date for completion.
The switch to more inclusive language is one of the commission's prime concerns. "Emerging sensitivities are no longer at ease with conventions that appear to exclude women from designations that should have a universal human extension," said the ICEL chairman, the Most Rev. Denis E. Hurley, archbishop of Durban, South Africa, in explaining the changes in a booklet distributed to the bishops here.
According to Weakland, the U.S. hierarchy is the first of the English-speaking group to petition Rome to approve the change, though he said such a change is under consideration in South Africa, Australia and England. "The problem of inclusive language has become important in Europe too," Weakland said. He said he expected approval from the Vatican "by the beginning of the year."
The Milwaukee archbishop, an internationally recognized church scholar, said that translators will continue to use masculine pronouns in referring to Jesus Christ, but that biblical scholars are studying the possibility of more inclusive references that will reflect the feminine as well as masculine aspects of God.
The bishops also approved a long philosophical statement on Marxism/Communism which was criticized by some members for being on the one hand too soft on human rights violations in communist countries and on the other for failing to condemn the excesses of capitalism and its contributions to a climate of injustice in which communism might flourish.
The 9,000-word document, two years in preparation, is a distinctly scholarly approach to the question.
"It is not going to be used by your Holy Name Societies or the Alter Guild," said Bishop Joseph B. McNicholas of Springfield, Ill., in introducing it to the assembly -- a remark that immediately got him in trouble.
Bishop Mark Hurley of Santa Rosa, Calif., objected because it "was not for moderately educated people," which he said made up the bulk of the church's membership.
Hurley and several other bishops also complained that the document's focus on the philosophical conflict between communism and Christianity and its skimpy treatment of human rights violations under communist regimes "leaves us open to the accusation that we lack compassion for the the people who are suffering around the world."
An equally determined group of bishops faulted the document for its failure to connect the growth of communism, particularly in Latin America, to unjust conditions they said were created by capitalist interests there. Such a critique of capitalism is necessary, said Auxiliary Bishop Peter A. Rosazza of Hartford, "lest as Americans we be accused of seeing the speck in our brother's eye while ignoring the log in our own."
The bishops agreed to form a committee to work on a statement on capitalism, and adopted the Marxism/Communism pastoral by 236 to 17 on a written ballot.