Abbot Primate Polan receives U.S. Liturgists highest award

Abbot Primate Gregory Polan, OSB accepts the Frederick McManus Award from Rita Thiron, FDLC Executive Director and Rev. James Bessert, FDLC Board Chair, on October 11, 2019 at the FDLC’s fiftieth anniversary celebration in Chicago (photo credit: Christopher Ferraro for FDLC)

By Rita Thiron
Executive Director, Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions

The McManus Award is the highest honor bestowed by the nations’ liturgists and it recognizes significant contributions to furthering the liturgical renewal in the United States. This year, it was, appropriately, presented to Abbot Primate Gregory Polan, OSB — acknowledging his more than 20 years of scholarly work on a revision of the Grail Psalms and other scriptural canticles. The newly-titled “Abbey Psalms and Canticles” are now approved by the Holy See for use in the liturgy.

The award is named after Msgr. Frederick McManus (1923-2005) who served as a peritus (scholar) at the Second Vatican Council, as President of the Liturgical Conference, and Executive Director of the Bishop’s Committee on the Liturgy. He was instrumental in establishing the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commission 50 years ago.

“In all honesty, I can only say that I am deeply honored, very humbled, and still surprised that I am standing here before you,” said Abbot Polan with typical humility. “Let me tell you one reason why, related to the man whose name distinguishes this award. On one occasion, a confrere of mine from Conception Abbey told me of an experience he had with Monsignor Frederick McManus in Rome. They had been attending a high- level meeting at the Vatican relating to the Liturgy for the United States. The meeting had its very difficult moments. …Monsignor McManus, without being told to do something, stepped into an embarrassing and quarrelsome situation and became the ambassador of reconciliation needed at that moment, allowing a project for the English-speaking liturgy to move forward, having a positive and formative impact on many people. To receive this award in his name is a great honor, for if there is one message that runs through the words and deeds of Jesus throughout the Gospel, it is reconciliation, which I truly believe is God’s great dream for our world today.”

His former student, Father Daniel Merz noted, “Abbot Polan is a man devoted to prayer and to the Benedictine rhythm of ora et labora. He not only is faithful to the communal prayer (Eucharist and Liturgy of the Hours), but also to personal prayer in a variety of ways, including lectio divina on the Psalms.”

In 1998, Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb and Cardinal Francis George asked Abbot Polan to undertake the work of revising the 1963 Grail Psalms. “How I had the audacity of accepting that invitation, …I still do not know,” quipped Abbot Polan. Even as a young novice, he had taken on the task of memorizing the whole Psalter so that it would become something that was a living part of him. “And now, looking back, I can say with conviction, it was one of the most formative experiences of my life; the Psalter became a ‘book of life through prayer’ that forever would be my daily companion, a most intimate friend.” Perhaps his previous work of translations, his background as a trained musician, and his life as a Benedictine monk made him the right person at the right time to tackle this major undertaking.

The work of translation was primarily Abbot Polan’s, but several other monks at Conception assisted, including Father Hugh Tasch, Fr. Regis Probstfield, Fr. Timothy Schoen, Brother Michael Marcotte, Br. David Wilding, and Br. Jude Person. Abbot Polan also consulted with biblical experts, including Archbishop Mark Coleridge, SSD of Australia and Benedictine Fr. Henry Wansbrough.

When the 2010 version was returned, Abbot Polan and Fr. Merz of the U.S. Bishop’s Committee on Divine Worship Secretariat noticed that the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments had made a number of changes to the translation that had weakened the sprung rhythm and even the translation. “Informally, we asked if a reconsideration of those changes would be possible, and the answer was yes, but that we would need to go through the whole approval process again of getting the US Bishops’ Conference to take a formal vote and send a revised translation to Rome for approval,” recalls Father Merz. The work continued.

When speaking of the psalms, Abbot Polan often quotes St. John Cassian, a monk of the 4th century: “The zeal of the human soul makes us like a spiritual deer who feeds on the high mountains of the Psalms. Nourished by this food, which we continually eat, we penetrate so deeply into the thinking of the Psalms that we sing them not as though composed by the Psalmist, but as if we had written them, as if these were our own private prayers uttered amid the deepest compunction of the heart. We come to think of them as having been specifically composed for us and we recognize that what they express was made real not simply once upon a time in the person of the Psalmist, but that now, every day they are being fulfilled in each of us. … We enter into their meaning not because of what we read, but because of what we have experienced earlier. And so our soul will arrive at that purity of heart in our search for the living God.”

Every liturgical scholar appreciates the contributions of the Benedictine Order and their influence on the liturgical movement and liturgical scholarship. Abbot Polan manifests that tradition. Since the project for the retranslation of the Liturgy of the Hours was also underway, the BCDW also adopted the Conception Abbey Canticles. These were granted approval from the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments in 2018 and are now awaiting insertion in the revised Liturgy of the Hours, the Lectionary for Mass, the New American Bible, and other ritual and catechetical texts.

Because of Abbot Polan’s work on the Psalms, the International Commission on English in the Liturgy, ICEL, asked him to assist with base translation work for antiphons both in the Roman Missal and in the Liturgy of the Hours. Abbot Polan also serves as a consultant to the Bishops’ Committee on Divine Worship.

In recognition of his devotion to the Church’s Liturgy, to the meticulous translation of the Psalms, and to the formation of liturgists around the world, the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions was pleased to present the 2019 Frederick R. McManus Award to such a passionate, prayerful, and scholarly leader.

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Wednesday
November 20, 2019
Newspaper of the Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph