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50 Years later, liturgical texts are still being translated from Latin


Pascal Deloche | Godong

Philip Kosloski - published on 06/13/22

Over 50 years after the Second Vatican Council, liturgical texts, such as the Liturgy of the Hours and the Rite of Penance, are being retranslated.

In 1963, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy released the document Sacrosanctum concilium, which promoted the use of the vernacular in the administration of the sacraments.

[S]ince the use of the mother tongue, whether in the Mass, the administration of the sacraments, or other parts of the liturgy, frequently may be of great advantage to the people, the limits of its employment may be extended.

The document then explained how, “Translations from the Latin text into the mother tongue intended for use in the liturgy must be approved by the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority.”

Translations of all liturgical texts from Latin into vernacular languages started shortly thereafter and many of these first translations were published in the mid 1970s.

Difficulties with translations

However, in 1988 St. John Paul II believed these translations needed to be improved. In his apostolic letter Vicesimus quintus annus, he wrote:

[N]ow the time has come to reflect upon certain difficulties that have subsequently emerged, to remedy certain defects or inaccuracies, to complete partial translations, to compose or approve chants to be used in the Liturgy, to ensure respect for the texts approved and lastly to publish liturgical books in a form that both testifies to the stability achieved and is worthy of the mysteries being celebrated.

This project, initiated by St. John Paul II, took many years to develop and was more specifically detailed in the document Liurgiam authenticam in 2001.

Retranslations are still in progress

Initially this resulted in a complete retranslation of the Roman Missal, which was completed in 2011.

In additional to the Mass, local bishop conferences also started retranslating all other liturgical texts, such as the Liturgy of the Hours, Rite of Matrimony, Rite of Baptism and Rite of Penance, to name a few examples.

Many of these new translations are starting to be published, with the Rite of Penance being released in 2023 and the Liturgy of the Hours possibly coming in 2024.

The Church, in her wisdom, recognizes that these translations should not be rushed and should be “timeless,” enduring through the decades and, possibly, centuries to come.

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