WASHINGTON -- The nation's Roman Catholic bishops acted to protect the church's status quo yesterday, deciding not to drop four holy days of obligation and not to spell out rules and situations under which Catholic lay persons may preach.
Also yesterday, the third day of their four-day national conference, the bishops approved a new scriptural reader for children's Masses with updated and simplified language.
But the reader went two words too far for them. Before approving the new text, the bishops got the translators to agree to drop the words "feed box" from the text instead of "manger" in the Gospel story of Jesus' birth.
The bishops overwhelmingly defeated attempts to drop the holy days of Jan. 1 for Mary, Mother of God, Aug. 15 for the Assumption and Nov. 1 for All Saints as days of obligation.
They also defeated a proposal to move Ascension Day from a Thursday, the 40th day after Easter, to the following Sunday.
Results of a vote to move observance of Assumption and All Saints to Sundays will be announced today.
Those who favored cutting back on the number of such days said that the church was imposing hardships on working Catholics with weekday obligations to attend Mass. Opponents argued that the church had to lead, not follow, parishioners.
Cardinal James A. Hickey of Washington warned that dropping days of obligation would fuel opposition to other church traditions from "those who feel that if you keep pushing hard enough, you can get what you want from the church."
Calling the holy days of obligation "spiritual alarm clocks" and "self-defining sacrifices," Cardinal Hickey said, "I beg that we don't throw away the alarm clocks."
The bishops also rejected proposed norms on lay preaching that would have allowed Catholics who are not members of the clergy but who have "special expertise" to preach at liturgies.
The exception on a day in which tradition was kept intact through votes against change was the approval of revised readings for children's Masses.
Auxiliary Bishop Wilton Gregory of Chicago, who introduced the new text, which also needs Vatican affirmation, said its simplified language was aimed at a median audience of 8-year-olds.