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Pope Francis issues Motu Proprio on liturgical translations, recognizes authority of bishops—UPDATED

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The story, from CNS: 

In changes to the Code of Canon Law regarding translations of the Mass and other liturgical texts, Pope Francis highlighted respect for the responsibility of national and regional bishops’ conferences.

The changes, released by the Vatican Sept. 9 as Pope Francis was traveling in Colombia, noted the sometimes tense relationship between bishops’ conferences and the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments over translations of texts from Latin to the bishops’ local languages.

The heart of the document, which applies only to the Latin rite of the Catholic Church, changes two clauses in Canon 838 of the Code of Canon Law. The Vatican no longer will “review” translations submitted by bishops’ conferences, but will “recognize” them. And rather than being called to “prepare and publish” the translations, the bishops are to “approve and publish” them.

Archbishop Arthur Roche, secretary of the worship congregation, said under the new rules, the Vatican’s “confirmatio” of a translation is “ordinarily granted based on trust and confidence,” and “supposes a positive evaluation of the faithfulness and congruence of the texts produced with respect to the typical Latin text.”

Pope Francis made no announcement of immediate changes to the translations currently in use.

Read on

You can read the full text of the Motu Proprio here.

Analysis is trickling in from various sources. There’s this, from Fr. Z:

There are several things that bother me.

First, the driving principle in the explanatory part of the Motu Proprio seems to be the spirit of Vatican II, rather than its letter.

Second, the document reflects the effort to decentralize authority, taking it bit by bit away from the individuated dicasteries of the Roman Curia and distributing it to regional conferences of bishops.  It seems to me that the unity of which the Motu Proprio speaks is undermined by such an approach.  Given what we have seen happening in the wake of Amoris laetitia, I wonder whether the next amputation of the Curia won’t occur at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.   Think about it.  What would happen were oversight of doctrine be devolved to conferences of bishops?  Yes, conferences now have doctrinal committees.  Results vary.  I think that would be disastrous.

Next, speaking of doctrine, liturgy is doctrine.  Change the way we pray and you change what people believe.  That is the inexorable principle of lex orandi lex credendi.

The next problem is that the English translation of the rite for ordinations is going on.  What’s going to happen with that?  Will different conferences come up with their own versions which may or may not say the same things?  How will that be worked out of the Holy See can’t intervene in the translation process to provide for unity?

Finally, the document doesn’t specifically address this point, but, as I have written elsewhere, will the Supreme Pontiff continue to reserve to him the approval of translations of forms of sacraments? Hitherto, only the Pope can approve, for example, the translations of the forms of consecration in the Holy Mass.  You might recall the massive debates surrounding the translation of pro multis for the consecration of the Precious Blood.  Benedict XVI mandated personally that the vernacular translations must accurately reflect the Latin.  Conferences defied him.   If that pontifical reservation is reversed, we might – no – will see divergent forms of consecration from country to country.  Will the Congregation hold firm if the Pope doesn’t want to reserve to himself the translation of sacramental forms?

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From Pray Tell: 

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 authenticamand 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 authenticamwill 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.

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From canon lawyer Ed Peters: 

What actually changes in the wake of the document will depend much more on how its terms are applied than on how they are phrased–an opportunity to clarify the interpretation of some concepts such as “review”, “recognize”, “approve” seems to have been missed;  reminders that the revised liturgy may be celebrated in Latin (c. 928) and that JP2’s Scriptuarum thesaurus (1979) is where Scripture translations in liturgy must start, would have been helpful.

UPDATED: Vermont’s Bishop Christopher Coyne offered some thoughts that cast this in a more pragmatic light. He shared some initial impressions with Pray Tell:  

PTB: What effect do you think the Pope’s motu proprio will have?
CC: At this point, any effect that Magnum Principium will have on the work of the Conference will probably be with those documents that are only in the early stages of translation work, and new texts for saints days and votive Masses.

PTB: What about the Liturgy of the Hours?

CC: The new translation of the Liturgy of the Hours may be too far down the pipeline to start over. This would pretty much follow the decision that was made when Pope Francis first called for a review of the norms of LA [Liturgiam authenticam, the 2001 document which gave Rome centralized authority over translations – ed.] and would affect both the work of English and Spanish translation.

PTB: So, not much change?
CC: Who knows where the new norms will lead us? I currently serve on the Committee for Divine Worship under Archbishop [Wilton] Gregory’s leadership and I know that he is not “agenda driven.” We are just trying to get good liturgical translations completed and approved that are faithful to the editio typica [official Latin edition – ed.] while being pastorally and liturgically useful.

PTB: What about the Missal? There are people who want to see that text improved.
CC: I only speak for myself. While I would be open to a discussion of a possible new translation of the Missal, I’m not sure about the timing. I think we need to live with the text we have for a few more years and evaluate the translation in a way that is thoughtful, honest, and not agenda driven or divisive.

Read more. 

Deacon Greg Kandra
Headlines and Homilies
Deacon Greg Kandra is a Roman Catholic deacon in the Diocese of Brooklyn, New York. For nearly three decades, he was a writer and producer for CBS News, where he contributed to a variety of programs and was honored with every major award in broadcasting. Deacon Greg now serves as Multimedia Editor for Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA.) He and his wife live in Forest Hills, New York.
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