Pope Francis gives local bishops more responsibility for Mass translations










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

“Magnum principium”

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
Archbishop Secretary
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.




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  1. Great news!
    Just six years too late
    Let’s wait and see who will have the courage to opt for the agreed 1997 text.
    Or is it now the case that we muddle on with what we’ve got…
    where there are those left to muddle that is.

  2. Donal Dorr says:

    I hope the ACP and very many others will now encourage our bishops to join with other conferences of bishops in English-speaking countries in moving as soon as possible to the 1997 version with minimal changes.

  3. This is something really dramatic from Francis. Of course the Irish bishops probably won’t even get around to talking about the implications for at least six months, if not a year. And I expect they will then decide to leave things as they are, as much to say the expense of changing, as the effort it would take to give some real leadership.
    What we need now is some way to mobilise public opinion, and in that way put such pressure on the bishops that they will be shamed into at least officially allowing the use of 1997 translation, and/or returning to the older form that we have used since Vatican II. Those, clergy and lay, who like the new translation could continue to use that if they wished. I don’t see any good reason why everyone has to use the same translation.
    It is ironic that itt took an eighty year old man, who doesn’t speak english, to recognise what a mess the new translation is, and do something about it.
    Maybe it is true that the Pope has a particular channel of communication with the Spirit after all!

  4. Mary Burke says:

    “Cardinal Sarah reported that the Holy Father was quick to state that “Vox Clara must remain because its work is very precious for the English-speaking Conferences in the world. So tell them they must continue the work.”
    Vox Clara Press release, May 2015.

    “…the Vatican commission, Vox Clara, which had been established by Pope John Paul II in 2002 to help the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments vet English translations is now redundant. For many it had been a clear violation of the spirit and the letter of Vatican II in the first place.”

    John F. Baldovin, America (The Jesuit Review), September 9, 2017.

    Thankfully the Irish bishop representative, Michael Nearly is nearing retirement anyway.

  5. Chris McDonnell says:

    Francis has given us an opportunity to re-appraise our mistake,
    it should not be ignored by the hierarchies of the English-speaking world.

    Try a Google search for ICEL- you get this “Industry Committee for Emergency Lighting.”

    We should take note.

  6. Joe O'Leary says:

    “Graciously be present to your people, we pray, O Lord,
    and lead those you have imbued with heavenly mysteries
    to pass from former ways to newness of life.”

    I wonder how many celebrants stoutly articulated the phrase “those you have imbued with heavenly mysteries” a few weeks back. On what planet is such language spoken?

  7. Chris McDonnell says:

    Excellent article on the AMERICA website by Fr Michael Ryan [remember what if we just said wait?] well worth reading.

    The “reform of the reform” has had a few setbacks of late. Less than a month ago, Pope Francis told the Italian bishops: “We can affirm with certainty and magisterial authority that the liturgical reform is irreversible.” On Sept. 9, with a new motu proprio, he delivered another decisive blow to those who would roll back the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council. “Magnum Principium”restores and strengthens the council’s call for local bishops’ conferences to have authority with regard to the approval of translations into the vernacular.
    For the marginalized members of the International Committee on English in the Liturgy, who spent years producing a worthy translation of the Roman Missal only to have it unceremoniously shelved in 1998, this is a happy day.
    And for those of us who worked hard to get Roman Missal III road-tested before it ever got implemented—but who were ignored by the bishops—this is a happy day.
    And for every priest and every person in the pews who has struggled for the past six years through awkward, convoluted, overblown, “sacral” prayers, this is a happy day.
    And for the minority of bishops who spoke out against “Liturgiam Authenticam” as a high-handed usurping of the role accorded bishops by Vatican II, this is a day of vindication.
    And for those conferences of bishops in some countries of Europe and Asia, who dragged their feet and used every possible method to keep from toeing the mark set by “Liturgiam Authenticam”—this is a day to breathe a sigh of relief.
    It is obvious that it was precisely the sorry saga of the failed English translation of Roman Missal III that has led to this bold and surprising move on the part of Pope Francis. This raises some questions: Can we now, at long last, begin to talk frankly and openly about the problems with the translation? Can we be big enough and honest enough to admit that mistakes were made? Dare we hope that the perfectly wonderful 1998 translation might again see the light of day?
    When “Liturgiam Authenticam” appeared, our bishops got in line and dutifully implemented a document which robbed them of the role given them by the Second Vatican Council. But now the Holy Father is asking for something more than dutiful, lock-step obedience. He is asking the bishops to think about what makes for a good liturgical translation.
    Will our bishops respond to this invitation and take a hard look at the woefully inadequate translation we are currently using? We can only hope and pray that their pastoral concern and commitment to liturgical celebrations that are both beautiful and intelligible will prompt them to walk through the door that Pope Francis has opened.
    And that will indeed be a happy day!

  8. Joe O'Leary says:

    “Whom you have imbued with heavenly mysteries” is probably a mistranslation of “quem mysteriis caelestibus imbuisti” — it should be “whom you have refreshed by heavenly sacraments”; Latin imbuere can mean moisten, dip etc. Mysteria can mean sacraments in older Church Latin.

    In any case “imbued with” in English cannot be followed by concrete nouns like “mysteries” but only by more liquid and imbuable ones such as spirit, doctrine, conviction, qualities etc. He was imbued with the Russian Novel – incorrect; he was imbued with the spirit of the Russian Novel — correct.

  9. In this weeks Scottish Catholic Observer, Bishop Maurice Taylor, former chair of ICEL, has this to say about Pope Francis’ motu propria, Magnum Principium.

    Bishop Taylor praises Pope for ceding liturgy translation power
    A Scottish bishop who formerly chaired the committee overseeing the translation of the liturgy into English has Pope Francis has rectified an ‘injustice’ by granting bishops’ conferences greater control over the translation of liturgical texts.
    Bishop Emeritus Maurice Taylor of Galloway said he welcomed the publication last weekend of the motu proprio Magnum Principium as it would correct a situation ‘which had resulted in the work of translating texts being seriously affected and damaged.’
    Until now, Canon 838 has stated that ‘the direction of the sacred liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church which resides in the Apostolic See and, according to the norm of law, the diocesan bishop.’
    The second paragraph said it was ‘for the Apostolic See to order the sacred liturgy of the universal Church, publish liturgical books and review their translations in vernacular languages, and exercise vigilance that liturgical regulations are observed faithfully everywhere.’
    Bishop Taylor, who was chair of the Episcopal Board of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) from 1997-2002, said ‘there was an instruction called Liturgiam authenticam issued by the Vatican in 2001 by which the only acceptable translation was a total subjection of the ‘receiving language’ to every detail of Latin syntax and style.
    The result has been a word-for-word translation which, in English (and other languages) has resulted in ‘stilted, awkward texts, difficult to read aloud and even more difficult for listeners to understand.’
    He also said that the ‘Holy See has consistently exaggerated the control which the Second Vatican Council decreed that Rome should have over the translations of liturgical texts submitted by bishops’ conferences. This situation has now been rectified by Pope Francis, he said.
    Rome will still have its authority but local bishops’ conferences will have the right to make accurate translations in appropriate wording and have them accepted by the Holy See.
    However he added that there were practical reasons why there may be no change to liturgy in the near future.
    “The long delay since the present Missal came into use raises an anxiety about the feasibility of early use of the new regulation,” he said. “A great deal of money has been spent, both by parishes as well as by many individual Catholics, on buying copies of the +present Missal.
    “Moreover, will parishioners not be justified in saying: ‘We have got used to the present translation and don’t want to have yet another change.’”
    He added: “At present, bishops’ conferences are busily engaged in examining, reviewing and assessing liturgical texts for the sacraments and other ceremonies.
    “These are all composed according to the dictates of the now superseded Liturgiam authenticam. Are Episcopal waste paper baskets soon to be filled to overflowing?

  10. This is a brief yet reasonably detailed history of the reform–or otherwise –of the liturgy since Vat II by the leading theologian and scripture scholar, Fr. Gerald O’Collins SJ which appeared in this week’s Tablet. Infact, it refers back way beyond Vat II and it is interesting to learn that Thomas Aquinas was an advocate of dynamic equivalence, ie meaning-for-meaning, which is the modern day accepted best practice of translation rather than the word-for word literal method of translation which was the obsession of Ratzinger and Medina. It is also great to know that those of us who continued to say “we” in the Creed were right all along !!

    Giving the Mass back: Francis restores responsibility for liturgical translations to local Churches
    14 September 2017 | by Gerald O’Collins
    The necessary ‘fidelity’ of translations ‘cannot always be judged by individual words’ but ‘in the context of the whole act of communication’

    In a major new document, Pope Francis has restored responsibility for authorising vernacular liturgical translations to local churches. As a leading theologian and liturgical scholar explains, in the anglophone world this puts the ball back firmly in the court of the bishops’ conferences. 
    In the diary he kept during the Second Vatican Council, Yves Congar, the leading figure among all the theological periti (expert advisors), every now and then privately expressed his outrage. Reacting to the announcement that the bishops were to be “given” certain powers, he wrote: “Over the centuries these powers were stolen from the bishops. They are being given back what was stolen from them!”
    In a motu proprio, or personal edict, released a week ago, which amends canon 838 of the Code of Canon Law, Pope Francis gives back to the national conferences of bishops the responsibility for liturgical translations that had been stolen from them after the Council.
    His very first words point to the theft that occurred: “The important principle (Magnum Principium), confirmed by the Second Vatican Council, according to which the liturgical prayer, adapted to the comprehension of the people, can be understood, has required the serious task, entrusted to the bishops, of introducing the vernacular into the liturgy and of preparing and approving versions of the liturgical books.” In short, the task of preparing and approving translations rightly belongs to the local bishops, as Vatican II mandated, not to any group or office of the Holy See.
    In Sacrosanctum concilium, its Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (4 December 1963), the Council acknowledged that the primary responsibility for revising the (Latin) liturgy for the Roman Rite belonged jointly to the Holy See (that is to say to the Pope and his collaborators in the Vatican) and to the bishops of different regions (art. 22, 37–40). The same document allowed vernacular translations, and authorised bishops around the world to “approve” the “translations from the Latin for use in the liturgy” (art. 36.4).
    The Council itself made no explicit mention of any further obligation to have these translations “confirmed” by the Holy See. On 25 January 1964, however, Pope Paul VI issued Sacram Liturgiam, a motu proprio that prescribed submitting translations to the Holy See for official ratification. When the revised Missale Romanum, the authorised Latin original, sometimes called the Paul VI Missal, appeared in 1970, conferences of bishops around the world were to prepare editions in the vernacular, which would come into force after being confirmed by the Holy See.
    By 1972, the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) had finished its translation of the 1970 Roman Missal. The 11 bishops’ conferences who were full members of ICEL approved the translation and the Holy See gave the required confirmation. By 1973, the Missal was ready to be printed and distributed.
    ICEL then set itself to revise painstakingly the 1972 translation. From the early 1990s, it submitted the revised texts to the bishops’ conferences. All 11 English-speaking conferences approved the new translation and in 1998 submitted it to Rome for confirmation. However, instead of discussing the text with the episcopal conferences, or with ICEL, the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (CDW), Cardinal Medina Estévez, simply rejected this 1998 Missal. Cardinal Medina then demanded widespread changes in the mandate, structures and personnel of ICEL, which in 2003 led to new statutes governing its operation.
    The confirmation of translations enjoined by Paul VI in Sacram Liturgiam became an exercise of governance by the Holy See. Rome had seized control of ICEL and planned to supervise strictly the commission set up by the English-speaking conferences of bishops to prepare vernacular translations.
    The translators were now to follow the prescriptions of Liturgiam Authenticam, a document the CDW issued on 28 March 2001, which insisted one-sidedly on an alleged fidelity to the original Latin texts over real intelligibility in the modern languages into which those texts are translated. It prescribed a “sacred style” that could even sound strange and “obsolete” (art. 27, 43) and that, in the 2010 Missal, with which English-speaking Catholics have been saddled since Advent 2011, has produced texts that fall somewhere between Latin and English. Liturgiam Authenticam at times rewrote history, as, for instance, when it asserted that, in the Creed, “We believe” violates the tradition of the Latin Church. However, there was no uniform tradition in favour of “I believe”, as if “we believe” was only an Eastern tradition: in the Roman Mass, a minority tradition used “Credimus” instead of “Credo”.
    Liturgiam Authenticam replaced a document, Comme le Prévoit, which Paul VI had issued on 25 January 1969, after worldwide consultation with experts in translation. That document identified the major issues and offered wise guidance to the translators working for the bishops’ conferences. Comme le Prévoit set its face against mere word-for-word translations that could, in fact, “obscure or weaken the meaning of the whole”.
    The “unit of meaning is not the individual word but the whole passage” (art. 12). A truly “faithful translation cannot be judged on the basis of individual words”; rather, it reproduces the original meaning, and does so in ways that respect “the literary form proper” to the receptor language (art. 6). In our forthcoming book, Lost in Translation, John Wilkins tells the story of Cardinal Medina’s outrageous takeover, and I lay out at length the serious defects in the 2010 Missal and the clear superiority of the “Missal that Never Was” – the 1998 Missal that all the conferences of English-speaking bishops had approved, which the CDW peremptorily dismissed.
    Now, in Magnum Principium, after hearing the views of a commission of bishops and experts he appointed at the end of 2016, Pope Francis has recalled from Vatican II the “right” of all “the faithful of whatever age and culture” to “share in a conscious and active way in the liturgical celebrations”. This calls for translations that are not only faithful to the Latin original but also intelligible when they are proclaimed in the vernacular languages. Without naming Comme le Prévoit or Liturgiam Authenticam, the Pope instructs translators to follow such guidelines where they continue to prove “useful” – a polite way of implying that Liturgiam Authenticam no longer enjoys authoritative status. He then shows his preference for the “meaning-for-meaning” translation encouraged by Comme le Prévoit rather than the “word-for-word” approach enjoined by Liturgiam Authenticam.
    The necessary “fidelity” of translations, the Pope writes, “cannot always be judged by individual words” but “in the context of the whole act of communication”. That is to say, translators should render “fully and faithfully the meaning of the original text” (emphasis added) and preserve “the native character of each language”.
    Here, Pope Francis stands shoulder to shoulder with the views of translation proposed by St Jerome, St Thomas Aquinas and other authorities in the history of Christianity. In a letter to Pope Urban IV, Aquinas wrote: “It is the task of a good translator, when translating material dealing with the Catholic faith, to preserve the meaning but to adapt the mode of expression, so that it is in harmony with the idiom of the language into which he is translating.” Aquinas rejected a word-for-word in favour of a meaning-for-meaning translation: “When anything expressed in one language is translated merely word-for-word into another, it will be no surprise if perplexity concerning the meaning of the original sometimes occurs.” In Magnum Principium, Pope Francis recalls “the difficulties” that have arisen “between the bishops’ conferences and the Apostolic See”. There is need for “collaboration full of mutual trust” – a courteous way of telling the CDW to show due respect to the authority of bishops’ conferences.
    The ball is now firmly in the court of the English-speaking bishops’ conferences. The excellent 1998 translation is there, waiting in the wings. A few additions need to be made: to include, for instance, the new feasts and memorials of saints introduced from the late-1990s. But, substantially, the bishops already have what they need to make the Roman Missal once again a comprehensible and powerful tool of evangelisation.
    Any episcopal conference, for example, the New Zealand bishops’ conference, which is well aware of the defective nature of the 2010 Missal, could submit to the CDW for confirmation the 1998 Missal that their predecessors had already approved. If so, I respectfully suggest that they might also send a letter to Pope Francis, to thank him for his motu proprio and explain how they are putting into practice what he has just decreed.
    Gerald O’Collins SJ is co-author with John Wilkins of Lost in Translation; The English Language and the Catholic Mass, published next month by Liturgical Press

  11. Two distinguished voices, Mgr. Boylan and Prof. McPartlan, add their views to the debate on Pope Francis’ motu propria on the liturgy. I did not realise, and I am surprised to read, that Vat I was so positive on the issue of the authority of the local bishop. In chap. 1 of his little masterpiece, “Infallible an enquiry” Hans Kung explains how the idea of the infallibility of the ordinary magisterium at Vat II was an attempt to give the bishops back some of the authority which had been lost at Vat I.

    Getting the Mass back ( Tablet 23 September)
    Following on from Gerald O’Collins’ article (“Giving the Mass back”, 16 September), our bishops have an unenviable decision to make.
    Are we are to continue using for another generation the translation of the Missal used since 2011, which many people regard as so disappointing? Or will they resurrect the translation they approved in 1998, regarded as far superior and unencumbered by the word-for-word translating required by Liturgiam Authenticam (LA) of 2001?

    Their obligation is to provide a faithful translation in accord with the guidance Pope Francis gives in the seventh paragraph of his motu proprio, when he uses words very similar in content to those in Article 6 of Comme le Prévoit (1969).
    The 1998 translation was composed to meet those criteria. “Anything to the contrary, even if it be worthy of special mention” now has no standing, he writes in the final paragraph. So there is no need to take any notice of the contrary guidance of LA.
    Whether the bishops proceed individually, or with other bishops’ conferences of the same language group, as ours has done so far, is entirely their decision, as is the selection of translators to carry out the work, etc. The Holy See has no further role in such matters.
    It is important that our own bishops’ conference now requests the ICEL episcopal board to draft new statutes reflecting the content of the motu proprio in place of those imposed upon ICEL by the Holy See in 2003.
    (Mgr) Anthony B Boylan
    Bentham, North Yorkshire

    Papal authority and the authority of bishops are often discussed in a zero-sum way, as if more authority for the pope means less for the bishops, and vice versa. But, when defining papal primacy, the First Vatican Council understood the office of the pope as upholding the rightful authority of the bishops. Their power was “asserted, confirmed and vindicated” by his, and the council quoted the collegial statement of Pope St Gregory the Great: “My honour is the firm strength of my brothers. I am truly honoured when due honour is paid to each and every one.”
    In reasserting the authority of bishops with regard to liturgical translations, therefore, Pope Francis accords not just with the teaching of Vatican II but also with that of Vatican I.
    (Prof.) Paul McPartlan
    The Catholic University of America, Washington DC, USA

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