Today a new Apostolic Letter Motu Proprio was issued under the Latin title “Magnum principium”. In various languages HERE (including the Latin text).
There’s a lot to say. I can’t now be exhaustive. Also, I want to read slowly the commentary on the canons provided by Arcbp. Roche, Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments [CDWDS]. In brief, Pope Francis established that the CDWDS will have less of a role in the creation of liturgical texts. Till now, the CDWDS could strongly intervene and make changes on its own to translations of liturgical texts. Henceforth, their primary role will be to approve the texts prepared by Episcopal Conferences. This takes effect in October. That’s the nutshell.
Let’s see the introduction and explanatory part of the text with my emphases and comments. After that, I’ll make some general observations.
APOSTOLIC LETTER ISSUED MOTU PROPRIO OF THE SUPREME PONTIFF FRANCIS
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. [One might add, “An even Greater Principle is the clear mandate from the Council Fathers that Latin remain the principle language of worship in the Latin Church.”]
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. [The partial loss?!?] 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. [There’s a problem here. Translations rarely communicate the whole content of text. This problem is magnified when trying to render liturgical texts which have deep and many layered ancient origins. Also, translations are sometimes simply wrong. So, are the errors now also enshrined “along with” the content of the originals? Does this Motu Proprio seek to place the content of the many and diverging translations on the same level (“along with”) the Latin originals?]
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. [The Council was pretty clear that the Latin language should remain the principle language of worship even as it opened the possibility some greater use the vernacular. Hence, I wonder if the writers of this Motu Proprio read the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium or if they are operating in the cloudy spirit of Vatican II.] 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. [Here’s a little translation irony: that “active” there is supposed to reflect Sacrosanctum Concilium’s word “actuosa”, which is better rendered as the deeper “actual”. However, what does “substantial unity” of the Roman Rite mean? How much divergence is allowed, how many options are to be tallied, before it isn’t the Roman Rite anymore?] 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. [“In a progressive manner”… meaning… what? That we’ve had to take a few runs in the pole vault in order to get over the bar? Is that what our long ecclesial nightmare with the first ICEL translation was? Does this indicate that we will soon see alterations to the 2011 ICEL version which people have just gotten used to? That “would be able to become liturgical languages” seems to admit that vernacular versions around the world haven’t been that great. REMEMBER – this Motu Proprio isn’t just for the English speaking world.]
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. [Let’s take the last part first. “Some texts of major importance”… so, “accurate faithfulness” applies… sometimes. When I read that first sentence, my mind immediately jumped to the debate stirred by chapter 8 of Amoris laetitia. Some have suggested that moral standards for the divorced and civilly remarried are merely “ideals” which not everyone can attain. Nor should such couples be expected to attain them. Moral standards taught by Christ and the Church are thus “general guidelines” that people might shoot for “as far as possible”. Okay, that’s where my mind went when reading that. That said, the work of translation of liturgical texts involves choices. You have to sacrifice one aspect of a prayer’s polyvalent content to express another aspect. So, we mind our guidelines and do our best… as far as possible. And, btw, “texts of major importance”, according to the attached NOTE from the Secretary of the Congregation, means, Order of Mass, Eucharistic prayers, forms of sacraments, prayers of ordination, etc.]
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. [So far, this is the best paragraph in the document.]
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. [Hang on. Remember that whole thing from the Council that LATIN should remain the principle language of worship? Also, I wrote a weekly column on liturgical translations, comparing the English ICEL versions with the Latin. Week after week I found nuances in the Latin that had to be sacrificed in order to put down on paper a literal version or a somewhat smoother version. This strong veer away from Latin as the language used for worship has impoverished the content of the Latin. Sure, not everyone in the pews would have homogeneously strong Latin skills. However, when Latin was used, people in the pews could have varying translation in their hand missals. Since we are swooping around in the blue sky of ideals, one might imagine Catholics comparing their translations over post-dismissal coffee and doughnuts and, as a result, getting more rather than less of the Latin original.] 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. [An admission that translations are traitors (tradutore, traditore). And, yes, some particular terms must be carefully guarded. I have in mind “pro multis“, for example.]
It is no surprise that difficulties have arisen between the Episcopal Conferences and the Apostolic See [read: Germany, etc.] 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[Again, the Council Fathers said that Latin… oh, … why bother….] can also be of value in the future a vigilant and creative collaboration full of reciprocal trust[bzzzzzz] 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, [hmmm] it seemed opportune that some principles handed on since the time of the Council should be more clearly reaffirmed and put into practice. [There were a series of documents after the Council about the implementation of Sacrosanctum Concilium. They include Liturgiam authenticam which is the most recent document establishing the translation norms which eventually coughed up the 2011 ICEL version in current use. Other language groups have had their own adventures. His dictis, I must insist that Summorum Pontificum also contains principles for the “renewal of the whole liturgical life” of the Church. But this paragraph and the rest of the document have a different bent.]
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. [Latin: “semper refulgeant unitate ritus Romani”. An interesting choice of words: “refulgeant…illuminate” the unity. It seems not to be the goal to “strengthen” or “foster” unity, but “reflect” it in some way. Am I nitpicking?]
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, [Do we have a list of names?] I order, with the authority entrusted to me, [now we get down to brass tacks] 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.
So, the Pope now changes the Church’s laws. I left that part out. As I said at the top establishes that the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments [CDWDS] will have less of a role in the creation of liturgical texts. Henceforth, their primary role will be to approve the texts prepared by Episcopal Conferences. That’s the nutshell. There was a phase in the preparation of translation at which Rome was able on its own to make substantial changes to the translations prepared by, for example, ICEL (for the English language). You might remember that during the preparation of what became the 2011 ICEL version, there was an advisory Committee under the CDWDS called Vox Clara which – though it didn’t have authority on its own – had influence in adjusting what ICEL (and the USCCB) prepared. And the Congregation indeed made changes on its own authority. That was not well received by some. That was welcomed by others. The German language process also had it’s committee.
The Germans are always a problem, by the way, in just about everything, but I digress.
The changes to the law seem to seek a middle path. They limit the role of the CDWDS to approving translations prepared by conferences and groups like ICEL. However, they also must still safeguard the integrity of the translations according to the norms, which at present are in Liturgiam authenticam (LA). My spidey sense suggests that this is a way of subverting the principles of LA enough to allow for a return to the dynamic equivalence approach which, in its more radical form, produced the rubbish we suffered with in the English world for decades before the 2011 version. However, the Congregation still retains the veto power. That’s good, provided the Congregation retains competent and strong personnel. There will be great pressure on the officials of the CDWDS to rubberstamp whatever comes their way. The results could be disastrous.
There are several things, however, 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? [See the UPDATE below.] 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?
UPDATE: I read in the NOTE:
The “confirmatio” is an authoritative act by which the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments ratifies the approval of the Bishops, leaving the responsibility of translation, understood to be faithful, to the doctrinal and pastoral munus of the Conferences of Bishops. In brief, the “confirmatio”, ordinarily granted based on trust and confidence, supposes a positive evaluation of the faithfulness and congruence of the texts produced with respect to the typical Latin text, above all taking account of the texts of greatest importance (e.g. the sacramental formulae, which require the approval of the Holy Father, the Order of Mass, the Eucharistic Prayers and the Prayers of Ordination, which all require a detailed review).
That answers a couple questions.