Pope Issues New Directives on Liturgical Translations

The Holy Father’s changes, made to canon law governing the revision and approval of liturgical texts, appear to confer a greater role to national bishops’ conferences.

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VATICAN CITY — The Holy See has release a new motu proprio from Pope Francis outlining a shift in the responsibility of local bishops and the Apostolic See for the revision and approval of liturgical texts.

Dated Sept. 3, the document is titled Magnum Principium, meaning “The great principle,” and deals explicitly with two specific changes to Canon 838 of the Code of Canon Law, which addresses the authority of the Apostolic See and national episcopal conferences in preparing liturgical texts in vernacular languages.

The document was published Sept. 9, in the middle of Pope Francis’ six-day trip to Colombia.

Specifically, changes were introduced were to paragraphs 2 and 3 of Canon 838.

Canon 838, 2 has until now stated that: “It is 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.”

However, with Francis’ motu proprio, the text has been changed to read: “It is for the Apostolic See to order the sacred liturgy of the universal Church, publish liturgical books, recognize adaptations approved by the Episcopal Conference according to the norm of law, and exercise vigilance that liturgical regulations are observed faithfully everywhere.”

Similarly, 838, 3 previously read: “It pertains to the conferences of bishops to prepare and publish, after the prior review of the Holy See, translations of liturgical books in vernacular languages, adapted appropriately within the limits defined in the liturgical books themselves.”

The text will now read: “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.

The changes apportion a greater portion of responsibility for the preparation and approval of liturgical translations to episcopal conferences, rather than the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments.

Additionally, Pope Francis noted that after the Second Vatican Council, the Church was acutely 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 vernacular liturgical translations, “as part of the rites themselves, might become the voice of the Church celebrating the divine mysteries along with the Latin language.”

In light of the various views expressed by Council Fathers at the time, the Church, he said, was also aware of the challenges the task would present.

“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,” he said.

Yet 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.”

Pope Francis expressed that “general guidelines” regarding the use of the vernacular “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.”

The primary goal of translating liturgical texts and biblical texts for the liturgy, he said, 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.”

Because of this, “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.”

Francis stressed that 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,” there are particular terms that “must also be considered in the context of the entire Catholic faith because each translation of texts must be congruent with sound doctrine.”

Given the weight of the task, the Pope said it’s no surprise that certain problems have arisen between episcopal conferences and the Apostolic See along the way.

In order for decisions about the use of the vernacular language to be of use and value in the future, then, “a vigilant and creative collaboration full of reciprocal trust” between the Apostolic See and bishops’ conferences is “absolutely necessary.”

Because of this, “in order that the renewal of the whole liturgical life might continue,” Francis said ‘it seemed opportune that some principles handed on since the time of the Council should be more clearly reaffirmed and put into practice.”

Apt attention ought to be paid to the “benefit and good of the faithful,” while at the same time ensuring that the “right and duty” of episcopal conferences is not forgotten, since it is their task to “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.”

In order to make collaboration between the Apostolic See and bishops conferences “easier and more fruitful,” and after having listened to advice from a commission of bishops and experts he established to study the issue, the Pope said he wished to make the “canonical discipline” already in force in canon 838 more clear.

Namely, Francis said he wanted the changes to be more directly in line with paragraphs 36, 40 and 63 of the Second Vatican Council Constitution on Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium and the provisions of point nine of Paul VI’s 1964 motu proprio Sacram Liturgiam, so that “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.”

All changes will go into effect on Oct. 1 of this year.