THE LION OF THE LITURGY
There is little to be said for getting old, as I am sure many people my age would admit, and one of the challenges of aging while remaining in position is saying farewell to esteemed and great friends. Recently it was announced that Pope Benedict XVI had accepted the resignation of Bishop Donald W. Trautman as bishop of Erie, Pennsylvania, and had named his successor. I have long admired Bishop Trautman for reasons I will offer in a few moments but in a sense we grew up together in the episcopal conference and he is one more person of my generation to be moving on. For him I am happy, but for our Church a strong and brave vote for the continuing implementation of the vision of the Second Vatican Council will be lost (but perhaps not the voice).
For those readers who do not know Bishop Trautman, a few facts may be helpful in understanding my sense of passing with his retirement. Post-ordination, graduate degrees in the Church are not easily gained. They require intellect, hard work, dedication and study, sometimes even exceeding secular degrees at our major universities. Bishop Trautman has one of those degrees which is extremely challenging, a Licentiate in Sacred Scripture (SSL) which has such strict requirements for facility in the biblical languages that few American priests pursue it. After gaining that degree, he also studied for and received a doctorate in sacred theology (STD). Early in his priesthood, he put that background at the service of the Church of Buffalo for which he was ordained by teaching in the seminary. Upon becoming a bishop, our conference twice elected him as chairman of the Liturgy Committee (generally regarded then and now as a “death wish”) and once as chairman of the Committee on Doctrine. In other words, on three occasions, the body of bishops of the United States turned to Bishop Trautman to lead us through difficult moments. Not as well known but equally important has been his service as official episcopal liaison to the Diocesan Fiscal Managers Conference where he has also been a strong voice for transparency, accountability and procedures which will safeguard against fraud and embezzlement.
But it is precisely in his love for the liturgy that I love this man. His was the liturgy committee which in the mid-nineties convinced the body of bishops with only thirty-three in the negative to adopt a new ICEL English Translation of the Roman Missal. That translation was a 100% improvement on that which we had used right up through the Solemnity of Christ the King last year, elegant, understandable, prayable (I know, a new word). Some in the minority appealed to Rome and we know the rest of the story. As General Secretary of the then NCCB (now the USCCB), I accompanied Bishop Trautman and others on his Committee to the Congregation for Divine Worship to make the strongest case for gender sensitive (aka “inclusive”) language only to have him treated very shabbily by an American Jesuit either still in or just finished graduate education at Rome’s Gregorian University. That was an awful moment that the bishop took far better than I did. In the so-called “liturgy wars” that marked the USCCB’s decade from 1999-2009, Bishop Trautman was on the floor often asking his brothers for prayers that could be recited in one breath, understood in one moment, and vocabulary choice which had one clear meaning for the listener. He knew by then he was fighting a lost cause but his voice was not to be stilled. Like that proverbial dog with a bone in his teeth, this lion of the liturgy soldiers on, even today. Happily for some of the rest of us, his voice can still be heard in future discussions, even though his vote has now been lost.
As most of you know, with the exception of one year (1995), I have been associated with the episcopal conference of the United States as either principal staff or member since 1984, soon to be thirty years. It is sad for me to see my living heroes like Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk, Bishop Anthony Pilla, Cardinal William Keeler, and Bishop Donald Trautman leave the stage of our national ecclesial theatre. That does not mean that Christ’s church is in any danger for the younger generation of bishops will also leave their mark and it is Christ’s church and not mine or my like-minded friends. But to Bishop Trautman I wish through this blog to say “thanks for the memories” of battles fought and both won and lost. You have been and will continue to be a “gift” to the Church in this country. Enjoy the rest from your labors that is rightly yours.