ISSUED MOTU PROPRIO
OF THE SUPREME PONTIFF
BY WHICH CAN. 838 OF THE CODE OF CANON LAW IS MODIFIED
The great principle, established by the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, according to which liturgical prayer be accommodated to the comprehension of the people so that it might be understood, required the weighty task of introducing the vernacular language into the liturgy and of preparing and approving the versions of the liturgical books, a charge that was entrusted to the Bishops.
The Latin Church was aware of the attendant sacrifice involved in the partial loss of liturgical Latin, which had been in use throughout the world over the course of centuries. However it willingly opened the door so that these versions, as part of the rites themselves, might become the voice of the Church celebrating the divine mysteries along with the Latin language.
At the same time, especially given the various clearly expressed views of the Council Fathers with regard to the use of the vernacular language in the liturgy, the Church was aware of the difficulties that might present themselves in this regard. On the one hand it was necessary to unite the good of the faithful of a given time and culture and their right to a conscious and active participation in liturgical celebrations with the substantial unity of the Roman Rite. On the other hand the vernacular languages themselves, often only in a progressive manner, would be able to become liturgical languages, standing out in a not dissimilar way to liturgical Latin for their elegance of style and the profundity of their concepts with the aim of nourishing the faith.
This was the aim of various Liturgical Laws, Instructions, Circular Letters, indications and confirmations of liturgical books in the various vernacular languages issued by the Apostolic See from the time of the Council which was true both before as well as after the laws established by the Code of Canon Law.
The criteria indicated were and remain at the level of general guidelines and, as far as possible, must be followed by Liturgical Commissions as the most suitable instruments so that, across the great variety of languages, the liturgical community can arrive at an expressive style suitable and appropriate to the individual parts, maintaining integrity and accurate faithfulness especially in translating some texts of major importance in each liturgical book.
Because the liturgical text is a ritual sign it is a means of oral communication. However, for the believers who celebrate the sacred rites the word is also a mystery. Indeed when words are uttered, in particular when the Sacred Scriptures are read, God speaks to us. In the Gospel Christ himself speaks to his people who respond either themselves or through the celebrant by prayer to the Lord in the Holy Spirit.
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.
It is no surprise that difficulties have arisen between the Episcopal Conferences and the Apostolic See in the course of this long passage of work. In order that the decisions of the Council about the use of vernacular languages in the liturgy can also be of value in the future a vigilant and creative collaboration full of reciprocal trust between the Episcopal Conferences and the Dicastery of the Apostolic See that exercises the task of promoting the Sacred Liturgy, i.e. the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, is absolutely necessary. For this reason, in order that the renewal of the whole liturgical life might continue, it seemed opportune that some principles handed on since the time of the Council should be more clearly reaffirmed and put into practice.
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.
To make collaboration in this service to the faithful between the Apostolic See and Episcopal Conferences easier and more fruitful, and having listened to the advice of the Commission of Bishops and Experts that I established, I order, with the authority entrusted to me, that the canonical discipline currently in force in can. 838 of the C.I.C. be made clearer so that, according to what is stated in the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, in particular in articles 36 §§3.4, 40 and 63, and in the Apostolic Letter Motu Proprio Sacram Liturgiam, n. IX, the competency of the Apostolic See surrounding the translation of liturgical books and the more radical adaptations established and approved by Episcopal Conferences be made clearer, among which can also be numbered eventual new texts to be inserted into these books.
Therefore, in the future can. 838 will read 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.
- 4. Within the limits of his competence, it belongs to the diocesan Bishop to lay down in the Church entrusted to his care, liturgical regulations which are binding on all.
Consequently this is how art. 64 §3 of the Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus as well as other laws are to be interpreted, particularly those contained in the liturgical books concerning their revision. Likewise I order that the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments modify its own “Regulations” on the basis of the new discipline and help the Episcopal Conferences to fulfil their task as well as working to promote ever more the liturgical life of the Latin Church.
Everything that I have decreed in this Apostolic Letter issued Motu Proprio must be observed in all its parts, notwithstanding anything to the contrary, even if it be worthy of particular mention, and I hereby set forth and I dispose that it be promulgated by publication in the daily newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, that it enter into force on 1 October 2017, and thereafter be published in Acta Apostolicae Sedis.
Given in Rome, at St. Peter’s, on 3 September of the year 2017, the fifth of my Pontificate
A key to reading the motu proprio
The new Motu Proprio Magnum principium has altered the formulation of some norms of the Codex iuris canonici regarding the translation of liturgical books into modern languages.
Pope Francis has introduced some modifications to the text of canon 838 in this Motu Proprio, dated 3 September 2017 and entering into force from 1st October 2017. The reason for these changes is explained in the papal text itself, which recalls and explicates the principles which underlie translations of the Latin typical editions as well as the delicacy required by those who undertake such work. Because the Liturgy is the prayer of the Church it is regulated by ecclesial authority.
Given the importance of this work, the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council had already considered the question of the roles of both the Apostolic See and the Episcopal Conferences in this regard (cf. Sacrosanctum concilium, nn.36, 40 & 36). In effect the great task of providing for liturgical translations was guided by norms and by specific Instructions from the competent Dicastery, in particular Comme le prévoit (25 January 1969) and then, after the Codex iuris canonici of 1983, by Liturgiam authenticam (28 March 2001), both published at different stages with the goal of responding to concrete problems which had become evident over the course of time and which had arisen as a result of the complex work that is involved in the translation of liturgical texts. The material relating to the whole field of inculturation was, on the other hand, regulated by the Instruction Varietates legitimae (25 January 1994).
Taking into account the experience of these years, the Pope writes that now “it seemed opportune that some principles handed on since the time of the Council should be more clearly reaffirmed and put into practice”. Thus, taking account of the experience during the course of these years and with an eye to the future based on the liturgical constitution of Vatican II, Sacrosanctum concilium, the Pope intends to clarify the current discipline by introducing some changes to canon 838 of the Codex iuris canonici.
The object of the changes is to define better the roles of the Apostolic See and the Conferences of Bishops in respect to their proper competencies which are different yet remain complementary. They are called to work in a spirit of dialogue regarding the translation of the typical Latin books as well as for any eventual adaptations that could touch on rites and texts. All of this is at the service of the Liturgical Prayer of the People of God.
In particular, in the new formulation of the said canon, there is a more adequate distinction, as far as the role of the Apostolic See is concerned, between the scope of the recognitio and that of the confirmatio in respect of what belongs to the Episcopal Conferences, taking account of their pastoral and doctrinal responsibility as well as the limits to their actions.
The recognitio, mentioned in canon 838 §2, implies the process of recognising on the part of the Apostolic See legitimate liturgical adaptations, including those that are “more radical” (Sacrosanctum concilium 40), which the Episcopal Conferences can establish and approve for their territories within defined limits. In the encounter between liturgy and culture the Apostolic See is called to recognoscere, that is, to review and evaluate such adaptations in order to safeguard the substantial unity of the Roman Rite: the references for this material are Sacrosanctum concilium nn. 39-40; and its application, when indicated in the liturgical books and elsewhere, is regulated by the Instruction Varietates legitimae.
The confirmatio – terminology already adopted in the motu proprio Sacram Liturgiam n. IX (25 January 1964) – pertains instead to the translations of liturgical texts which, on the basis of Sacrosanctum concilium (n.36, §4), are within the competency of the Episcopal Conferences to prepare and approve; canon 838 §3 clarifies that the translations must be completed fideliter according to the original texts, thus acknowledging the principal preoccupation of the Instruction Liturgiam authenticam. Indeed, recalling the right, and the grave responsibility of translation entrusted to the Episcopal Conferences, the motu proprio also points out that the Conferences “must ensure and establish that, while the character of each language is safeguarded, the sense of the original text should be rendered fully and faithfully”.
The confirmatio of the Apostolic See is therefore not to be considered as an alternative intervention in the process of translation, but rather as an authoritative act by which the competent Dicastery ratifies the approval of the bishops. Obviously, this presupposes a positive evaluation of the fidelity and congruence of the texts produced in respect to the typical editions on which the unity of the Rite is founded, and, above all, taking account of the texts of greatest importance, in particular the Sacramental formulae, the Eucharistic Prayers, the prayers of Ordination, the Order of Mass and so on.
Naturally, this modification to the Codex iuris canonici entails an adjustment to the Apostolic Constitution Pastor bonus n.64 §3, as well as to the norms surrounding translations. This means, for example, that it will be necessary to readjust some numbers of the Institutio generalis missalis Romani and of the Praenotanda of the liturgical books. The Instruction Liturgiam authenticam itself, which is to be appreciated for the attention it brings to bear on this complicated work and its implications, must be interpreted in the light of the new formulation of canon 838 when it speaks about seeking the recognitio. Finally, the motu proprio provides that the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments will also “modify its own Regolamento on the basis of the new discipline and help the Episcopal Conferences to fulfil their task”.
+ Arthur Roche
Congregation for Divine Worship & the Discipline of the Sacraments
Commentary on praytellblog
Pope Francis’s Motu Proprio on Translation
September 9, 2017 Rita Ferrone
In a strategic move of great importance, Pope Francis today issued a motu proprio which will return authority over liturgical translations to the conferences of bishops, by means of a change in canon law.
In the motu proprio, Francis outlines briefly the history of the use of the vernacular in the liturgy since the Council. His motu proprio is given in order to more clearly enunciate the guiding principles that have come down to us from the time of the Council.
In this statement, Francis by no means disregards the importance of central authority and its unifying function. Yet he also acknowledges that the relationship between Rome and the conferences has not always been smooth: “It is no surprise that difficulties have arisen between the Episcopal Conferences and the Apostolic See in the course of this long passage of work.” The motu proprio addresses this concern so that “a constant cooperation full of mutual trust, watchful and creative, between the episcopal conferences and the dicastery” (the CDWDS) can be maintained.
Francis carefully balances the emphatic need to consider the practical usefulness of texts for the good of the faithful and to safeguard the integrity of each language, with the imperative to convey the original meaning of the text fully and faithfully, even after adaptation, so that the unity of the Roman Rite may shine forth.
Where the clarification comes into focus is in the final portion of the motu proprio, which presents a change in the wording, specifically, of Canon 838.3.
The new text reads as follows (my translation):
- It is up to the Conferences of Bishops to faithfully prepare versions of the liturgical books in the vernacular languages, adapted suitably within the defined limits of the liturgical books, to approve and publish them for the regions of their relevance, after the confirmation of the Holy See.
The key elements that are new in this text are the word “approve” which was not there previously, and “faithfully” which is also newly added. In other words, the trust given to the conferences is both to do their work faithfully, and to approve it.
This motu proprio will effectively reverse some of the actions taken by Francis’s predecessor to centralize control over liturgical translations in Rome. It will likewise block any future attempts by the Congregation for Divine Worship to unilaterally enforce compliance with the instruction Liturgiam authenticam. It returns decision-making power in liturgical translations to the local bishops, as the Council envisioned in Sacrosanctum Concilium 36.4, which states that the local authorities “approve” translated texts for liturgical use.
In recent years, the field of translation has become a battleground for issues of liturgical inculturation and updating to the times. The fifth instruction on the right implementation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, “On the Translation of Liturgical Texts” (Liturgiam authenticam), has been a lightning rod for controversy, as it insisted upon a highly literal translation, outlawed inclusive language, held back ecumenical cooperation, and diminished the role of episcopal conferences. The English-speaking bishops produced a translation of the Missal according to Liturgiam authenticam in 2011. That effort was mired in conflict however, and the results received mixed reviews. The translation was praised by some for its elevated tone and scriptural allusions, but criticized by others as overly wedded to Latin syntax, clumsy to proclaim, and marred by errors. Meanwhile, translations prepared in other languages, such as German, French, and Italian, have been stalled due to clashes between the demands of the instruction and the pastoral judgment of the local bishops.
Earlier this year, Pope Francis authorized a committee, under the leadership of Archbishop Arthur Roche, secretary of the CDWDS, to review Liturgiam authenticam and make recommendations for its revision. The committee met and sent in their report, which was not made public, to the Pope. It is not clear to what extent this report may have influenced the motu proprio, but Francis does mention explicitly that he has “listened to the opinion of the commission of bishops and experts” he instituted before reaching his decision.
By taking the route of formally realigning the structures of accountability in canon law, Francis has provided immediate relief to those conferences which balked at the distortions of language and the pastoral ineptitude introduced by a rigid implementation of Liturgiam authenticam. What the final fate of Liturgiam authenticam will be, and whether a revised instruction will eventually be produced to supersede it remains to be seen. For now and for the foreseeable future, however, the Pope has removed all obstacles to the regional bishops’ prudent exercise of judgment and authority concerning translation.
The motu proprio comes shortly after Pope Francis’s speech to the Italian Liturgical Conference, in which he invoked his magisterial authority to affirm that the liturgical reforms of Vatican II are “irreversible.” Taken together, these two statements have considerably strengthened the hand of those in the Church who have fought to retain the freedom to adapt the liturgy to local realities and the times in which we live, a flexibility promised by Vatican II. It has also correspondingly weakened the position of those who advocate a “reform of the reform” including the desire to return to Tridentine-inspired principles of uniformity and centralized control in liturgical regulation.
Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the CDWDS, and frequent advocate for both Liturgiam authenticam and a “reform of the reform” has also been put in a more disadvantageous position by these statements of the Pope.
In the English-speaking world, upcoming decisions concerning new translations prepared according to Liturgiam authenticam should now be watched closely, as their approval is not a foregone conclusion. If the bishops say “no” in the future, their word is law.