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Pope Francis Corrects Cardinal Sarah on Translation

Paddy Ferry offered the following as comments concerning the latest attempt by Cardinal Sarah to undo reforms to the liturgy and his challenge to the recent decision by Pope Francis granting authority to local conferences of bishops over the translation of liturgical texts.

These comments are carried here as a separate item due to the importance of the issue but also to highlight the opposition Pope Francis faces as he tries to decentralise decision making processes from departments in Rome.

Also attached is commentary by Fr. Anthony Ruff from his praytellblog.com


From Paddy Ferry:

Pope Francis’ Magnum Principium

I thought I could share this piece, below, from today’s Tablet here. Cardinal Sarah is definitely not a man capable of “critical thinking for critical times”

16 October 2017 | by Christopher Lamb
Sarah has said Francis’ recent reforms on translating the Mass does not mean the Vatican’s approval of them is a “formality”

The Vatican’s divine worship prefect has stressed the Holy See retains the power to “impose” certain liturgical translations to ensure they are in keeping with the Latin original.
Cardinal Robert Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, says that Pope Francis’ recent reforms giving more power to bishops’ conferences on translating the Mass does not mean the Vatican’s approval of them is simply a “formality.” A new law issued last month by the Pope now gives bishops responsibility to “faithfully” prepare and “approve” translations but requires confirmation from Rome.
But in an article published in the French Catholic publication ‘L’Homme Nouveau’ the cardinal stresses his department still has the ability to insist that certain words or phrases are used in translations.
“So, for example, if, in the Creed of the Order of Mass, the expression: ‘consubstantialem Patri’ is translated in English by: “one in Being with the Father”, the Holy See may impose – and even must impose – the translation: ‘consubstantial with the Father’, as a condition sine qua non of its ‘confirmatio’ of the entirety of the Roman Missal in English,” the cardinal stressed.
He went on to liken the relationship between the Holy See and bishops on the liturgy to that of a parent towards a child’s homework or an academic supervisor to a student.
“We naturally turn to another person to “evaluate” the work that we have done to the best of our abilities; in this way we can improve our work using his observations, or even his corrections, should they prove to be necessary,” he writes. “Such is the responsibility of a professor towards a student preparing his thesis, or, more simply, of parents towards their children’s homework, and also, more generally, of academic authorities and supervisors
The Pope’s new legislation, ‘Magnum Principium’ was designed to insure that the process of translating the Mass into vernacular languages is in keeping with the reforms of the Second Vatican Council which handed this task to local hierarchies.
Since the council there have been a series of attempts to centralise the translation process, which saw Vatican officials editing, and re-writing the work of bishops’ conferences.
The liturgy prefect’s article shows that liturgical reform will remain a finely balanced process between the Vatican and local churches, although Francis’ reforms have already emboldened some bishops.
Following the Pope’s changes, the German hierarchy appears to have abandoned a new German version of the missal which had been produced using older guidelines and had yet to be approved.
This had been produced following the guidelines established by ‘Liturgiam Authenticam’, the Congregation for Divine Worship’s 2001 document which called for more literal translations of the Latin into the vernacular. It sought to correct the earlier approach known as “dynamic equivalence” where a translation took place according to the sense of words and phrases.
Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the President of the German Bishops’ Conference, has described “Liturgiam Authenticam” as a “dead end” and said it took “too narrow a view”.
Cardinal Sarah, however, stressed that “Liturgiam Authenticam” still stands and there is “no noticeable change regarding the imposed standards” set out by that text.
The cardinal’s number two, Archbishop Arthur Roche, has also pointed out in an article explaining the Pope’s reforms that the principles of this 2001 document remain in place.
Cardinal Sarah has appeared to be at odds with the Pope on the liturgy, with Francis issuing him with a rare rebuke last year after the cardinal suggested priests should turn east and celebrate Mass “ad orientem”.
The Pope is also increasingly turning to Archbishop Roche as his point man on the liturgy: this morning the Pope met with the former Bishop of Leeds at the papal residence, the Casa Santa Marta.
It was the archbishop who Francis asked to lead a low-key commission examining ‘Liturgiam Authenticam’, and Archbishop Roche who wrote an official explanatory article on ‘Magnum Principium.’n has final authority over liturgical translations


Also from Paddy Ferry

Breaking news!!– Pope Francis has now issued a “public correction” to Cardinal Sarah. Good on Francis, but you have to ask why he ever appointed him in the first place.



From Fr. Anthony Ruff at


Pope Francis Corrects Cardinal Sarah on Translation

Pope Francis has sent a letter to Cardinal Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship (CDW), correcting his misunderstandings of the recent motu proprio “Magnum Principium.”  Cardinal Sarah published an article in the French journal L’Homme Nouveau, as Pray Tell reported, arguing for a maximal ongoing role for the CDW and continuity with previous norms. He also wrote a letter to Pope Francis.

(Pray Tell first reported on Francis’s groundbreaking motu proprio here. Rita Ferrone uncovered similarities between the motu proprio and the 1969 Vatican instruction on translation in this Commonweal piece.)

In the controversial 2001 document Liturgiam authenticam  (LA), the Holy See contravened the Second Vatican Council by giving itself the right to grant the recognitio  to liturgical translations and to impose translations upon episcopal conferences. The 2011 English Missal  was an example of such imposition – after the English-speaking episcopal conferences submitted their translations to the CDW, in a process which for its part was micromanaged by the CDW, the conferences received back a different text that had over 10,000 changes from their submission.

Pope Francis is making it abundantly clear that this is no longer to happen. The 2011 English Missal  would not have been issued in its present translation on Pope Francis’s watch, it is safe to say.

The pope’s letter to Cardinal Sarah is quite strongly worded. He makes it clear that there is a difference between confirmatio  and recognitio. Only the former is the the right of the Holy See, and it is not interchangeable with the recognitio  it previously granted. The pope says that he wishes to “abolish the practice adopted by your dicastery [i.e., office – ed.] following Liturgiam authenticam”  in this regard.

The authority of LA is clearly restricted by the pope’s recent motu proprio. It is no longer the case that “translations must conform in all points to the norms of Liturgiam authenticam.”  Pope Francis writes that “individual numbers of Liturgiam authenticam  must be carefully reconceived, including nos. 79-84.”  The passages cited are those dealing with the responsibilities of episcopal conferences and of Rome. The wording (“including”) suggests that the reconception the pope calls for includes but is not necessarily limited to those six articles of LA.

In a weighty passage which seems to cast LA in a new light, the pope writes that fideliter  (“faithfully”) in his motu proprio “implies a threefold fidelity: in primis,  to the original text; then to the particular language in which it is translated, and finally to the comprehension of the text by the recipients.” Although there are passages in LA mentioning all of these concerns, the pope’s clear wording, with the second and third elements being the receptor language and its comprehension, shifts the emphasis away from an undue emphasis on the first element (the original Latin text) at the expense of the other two.

Here’s an interesting wrinkle: how is “in primis” to be understood? Is it simply the first in a list of three items? Or is it the most important of the three? “In primis” in Latin is generally held to mean “above all.” But this term is translated as “firstly” in the 2011 English Missal  in the Roman Canon: “which we offer you firstly…for your holy catholic Church…” Defenders of LA and of the 2011 Roman Missal  may ironically be stuck having to say that faithfulness to the original text is simply one concern, not the most important, because the CDW blew it on this point in its supposedly strict application of LA.

Here’s another interesting wrinkle. The pope writes in his letter that the Commentaire,presumably a reference to the article by Cardinal Sarah in the French magazine, was erroneously attributed to Sarah. Are we to understand that Cardinal Sarah did not write that widely-discussed article, though he has not said this publicly since its publication?

Pray Tell  offers a translation of the Italian text:

Vatican City, October 15, 2017
 To His Eminence the Most Reverend
Cardinal Robert SARAH
Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship
and the Discipline of the Sacraments
Vatican City

 Your Eminence,

I received your letter of September 30, in which you wished to express your gratitude for the publication of Motu Proprio Magnum Principium and to send me a note of elaboration on it, Commentaire, striving for a better understanding of the text.

In expressing my thanks for the commitment and the contribution, I would simply like to express, and I hope clearly, some observations on this note that I consider to be important especially for the proper application and understanding of the Motu Proprio and to avoid any misunderstanding.

First of all, it is important to point out the importance of the clear difference that the new Motu Proprio establishes between recognitio and confirmatio, well established in articles 2 and 3 of canon 838, in order to abolish the practice adopted by your dicastery following Liturgiam authenticam (LA) which the new Motu Proprio intended to change. We cannot therefore say that recognitio and confirmatio are “strictly synonymous (or) are interchangeable” or that “they are interchangeable at the level of responsibility of the Holy See.”

In fact the new canon 838, through the distinction between recognitio and confirmatio, asserts the changed responsibility of the Apostolic See in the exercise of these two actions, as well as that of the episcopal conferences. Magnum Principium no longer argues that translations must conform in all points to the norms of Liturgiam authenticam, as was previously the case. For this reason, individual numbers of Liturgiam authenticam must be carefully reconceived, including nos. 79-84, in order to distinguish what is required by the code for translation and what is required for legitimate adaptations. It is therefore clear that some of Liturgiam authenticam’snumbers have been abrogated or are taken up into the terms in which they were reformulated by the Motu Proprio’s new canon (eg. no. 76 and also no. 80).

On the responsibility of the bishops’ conferences to translate “fideliter,” it should be pointed out that the judgment of fidelity to Latin and any necessary corrections had been the task of the dicastery, but now the norm grants to episcopal conferences the right to judge the quality (bontà) and consistency between one term and another in the translation from the original, even if this is in dialogue with the Holy See. Confirmatio no longer supposes a detailed word-by-word examination, except in the obvious cases that can be brought to the bishops for their further reflection. This applies in particular to the relevant formulas, such as the Eucharistic Prayers and in particular the sacramental formulas approved by the Holy Father. Confirmatio also takes into account the integrity of the book, that is, verifying that all components that make up the typical edition have been translated (1).

Here it can be added that, in the light of the motu proprio, “fideliter” of § 3 of the canon implies a threefold fidelity: in primis, to the original text; then to the particular language in which it is translated, and finally to the comprehension of the text by the recipients (see Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani nos. 391-392).

In this sense, recognitio only indicates verification and preservation of conformity to the law and communion of the Church. The process of translating relevant liturgical texts (eg. sacramental formulas, the Credo, the Pater Noster) into a language – from which they are considered authentic translations – should not lead to a spirit of “imposition” upon the episcopal conferences of a given translation made by the dicastery, as this would undermine the right of the bishops sanctioned in the canon and, already prior to that, Sacrosanctum Concilium 36 § 4. Moreover, let us recall the analogy with canon 825 § 1 concerning the version of Sacred Scripture, which does not require confirmatio by the Apostolic See.

It is mistaken to attribute to confirmatio the purpose of recognitio (i.e. to “verify and safeguard compliance with law”). Of course, confirmatio is not merely formal, but necessary for publication of the translated liturgical book: it is granted after the version has been submitted to the Apostolic See for the ratification of the bishops’ approval in a spirit of dialogue and aid to reflection, if and when necessary, respecting their rights and duties, considering the legality of the process followed and its various aspects (2).

Finally, Your Eminence, I reiterate my fraternal gratitude for your commitment and note that the Commentaire which has been published on some websites, and erroneously attributed to you, I kindly ask you to provide this response to the same sites, and also to send it to all episcopal conferences, and the members and consultors of your dicastery.



(1) Magnum Principium:  The goal of the translation of liturgical texts and of biblical texts for the Liturgy of the Word is to announce the word of salvation to the faithful in obedience to the faith and to express the prayer of the Church to the Lord. For this purpose it is necessary to communicate to a given people using its own language all that the Church intended to communicate to other people through the Latin language. While fidelity cannot always be judged by individual words but must be sought in the context of the whole communicative act and according to its literary genre, nevertheless some particular terms must also be considered in the context of the entire Catholic faith because each translation of texts must be congruent with sound doctrine.”

(2) Magnum Principium: “Without doubt, attention must be paid to the benefit and good of the faithful, nor must the right and duty of episcopal conferences be forgotten who, together with episcopal conferences from regions sharing the same language and with the Apostolic See, must ensure and establish that, while the character of each language is safeguarded, the sense of the original text is fully and faithfully rendered and that even after adaptations the translated liturgical books always illuminate the unity of the Roman Rite.”

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One Comment

  1. Con Devree says:

    The Tablet and others highlight the refusal of the German Church to change its translations in accord with Liturgiam Authenticam. The translation it retained coincided with the meltdown in Mass attendance in the intervening period. Is it possible to measure the effect of the German, or indeed any lex orandi?

    The tail end of the Pope’s letter of “correction” probably signals his impending P45 to the Cardinal, followed by a new lesser post and a reconciliation, a la Cardinal Mueller. Canon 838 however implies that his congregation will have a significant purpose.

    The McElwee article referred to by link by Paddy Ferry contains the sentence “Francis also tells Sarah that liturgical translations should have a “triple fidelity:” to the original Latin text, to the language into which it is being translated, and “to the comprehensibility of the text for those who will use it.” Fr Ruff wonders which of these is primary. This is not a self-regulating process.

    McElwee, while referring to a no-longer necessary “detailed word-by-word exam” of translations received from the local bishops omits a significant exception listed by the Pope who writes “Confirmatio no longer supposes a detailed word-by-word examination, EXCEPT in the obvious cases that can be brought to the bishops for their further reflection. This applies in particular to the relevant formulas, such as the Eucharistic Prayers and in particular the sacramental formulas approved by the Holy Father.” (My emphasis)

    Does this exception prohibit substituting the word “all” for “many” in the prayer of consecration of the wine at the core of the Eucharistic Prayer? Would a contradiction of this attract a “word-by-word examination” from the Holy Father and thus from Cardinal Sarah’s congregation (CDW).

    The Pope’s Magnum Principium declares that “vigilant and creative collaboration full of reciprocal trust between the Episcopal Conferences and the … Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (CDW), is absolutely necessary.”

    This is on foot of a new Canon 838 which reads as follows:

    Can. 838 – §1. The ordering and guidance of the sacred liturgy depends solely upon the authority of the Church, namely, that of the Apostolic See and, as provided by law, that of the diocesan Bishop.

    §2. It is for the Apostolic See to order the sacred liturgy of the universal Church, publish liturgical books, RECOGNISE ADAPTATIONS APPROVED BY THE EPISCOPAL CONFERENCE ACCORDING TO THE NORM OF LAW, and exercise vigilance that liturgical regulations are observed faithfully everywhere.

    §3. It pertains to the Episcopal Conferences to FAITHFULLY prepare versions of the liturgical books in vernacular languages, suitably ACCOMMODATED within defined limits, and TO APPROVE and PUBLISH THE LITURGICAL BOOKS FOR THE REGIONS FOR WHICH THEY ARE RESPONSIBLE AFTER THE CONFIRMATION OF THE APOSTOLIC SEE.
    (Emphasis on all cases are those of the Pope.)

    This is not a self-regulating process. More work for Cardinal Sarah’s congregation.

    Magnum Principium also states that:
    “The goal of the translation of liturgical texts and of biblical texts for the Liturgy of the Word is to announce the word of salvation to the faithful in obedience to the faith and to express the prayer of the Church to the Lord. For this purpose it is necessary to communicate to a given people using its own language all that the Church intended to communicate to other people through the Latin language … each translation of texts must be congruent with sound doctrine.”

    Texts are fromed by words. There is more control involved here than meets the eye. This is not a self-regulating process.

    Given all this, and that the Holy Spirit is given to the Church, and particularly to the Pope to dispel error, not to foster it, it will be interesting to see the changes the Pope has planned for Liturgiam Authenticam paragraph 80 whose two messages are (1) “… the lex orandi must always be in harmony with the lex credendi and must manifest and support the faith of the Christian people,” and (2) the necessity to ensure that “each particular Church must be in accord with the universal Church not only as regards the doctrine of the Faith and the sacramental signs, but also as regards those practices universally received through Apostolic and continuous tradition.”

    Are not Liturgiam Authenticam and Magnum Principium more “consubstantial” than it seems?

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