Summorum Pontificum 7: in translation

Let’s have a look at the translation of Summorum Pontificum 7 on the Vatican website.

A forward: Latin vult is from volo. Volo expresses volition, corresponding to German “wollen” and English “will”. In English it is rendered as “to wish, want, intend, purpose, propose, be willing, consent, mean, will”. With an infinitive it is “to wish” and, can equal something like in animo habere, “to intend, purpose, mean, design”… to have in mind. It can have the connotation of studere, “to try, endeavor, attempt” and even “to mean”, as it he doesn’t mean to do it”. It can mean, “to order, command”, or “consent, allow”. All the ripples of means deal with volition. It does not concern ability. It concerns intention.

Now look at the modern translations of SP 7 (emphases mine and comments):

Art. 7. Ubi aliquis coetus fidelium laicorum, de quo in art. 5 § 1 petita a parocho non obtinuerit, de re certiorem faciat Episcopum dioecesanum. Episcopus enixe rogatur ut eorum optatum exaudiat. Si ille ad huiusmodi celebrationem providere non vult [“does not want”, “wishes not”, “does not intend”, “does not order”, “does not choose” …] res ad Pontificiam Commissionem “Ecclesia Dei” referatur.


Art. 7. Se un gruppo di fedeli laici fra quelli di cui all’art. 5 § 1 non abbia ottenuto soddisfazione alle sue richieste da parte del parroco, ne informi il Vescovo diocesano. Il Vescovo è vivamente pregato di esaudire il loro desiderio. Se egli non può [?!? “cannot”, “is not able”] provvedere per tale celebrazione, la cosa venga riferita alla Commissione Pontificia “Ecclesia Dei”.


Art.7. Si un grupo de fieles laicos, como los citados en el art. 5, § 1, no ha obtenido satisfacción a sus peticiones por parte del párroco, informe al obispo diocesano. Se invita vivamente al obispo a satisfacer su deseo. Si no puede [like the Italian – wrong] proveer a esta celebración, el asunto se remita a la Pontificia Comisión «Ecclesia Dei».


Art. 7. Wo irgendeine Gruppe von Laien durch den Pfarrer nicht erhalten sollte, worum sie nach Art. 5 § 1 bittet, hat sie den Diözesanbischof davon in Kenntnis zu setzen. Der Bischof wird nachdrücklich ersucht, ihrem Wunsch zu entsprechen. Wenn er für eine Feier dieser Art nicht sorgen kann[wrong… like Italian and Spanish] ist die Sache der Päpstlichen Kommission „Ecclesia Dei“ mitzuteilen.


Art. 7. If a group of the lay faithful, as mentioned in Art. 5, §1, has not been granted its requests by the parish priest, it should inform the diocesan bishop. The bishop is earnestly requested to satisfy their desire. If he does not wish [like the Latin… “”if he doesn’t mean to”, “if he doesn’t intend to”, “if he doesn’t order…”] to provide for such celebration, the matter should be referred to the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei.

This, friends, is why we check modern language versions against the Latin.

Summorum Pontificum is a juridical document.  We need the Latin.

The next question is …


Why aren’t the languages consistent with the Latin?  Whose choice was that?

Were I suspicious I would wonder if someone in the Secretariat of State wanted to give bishops of certain nations a way out, an excuse not to follow the juridical provisions of the Supreme Pontiff.  “Eccellenza, we, a group of the faithful, have been requesting Holy Mass in the older form for years and don Abbondio won’t help us.”  The Bishop, summons his minion and orders up a copy of the Motu Proprio.  The minion brings it… in Italian, since His Excellency can’t be bothered with Latin.  “See here, figlioli… the document says that if I can’t, then… well… I can’t.  Non possumus, figioli.  We can’t help you.  Mi dispiace.”

Look.  It is possible to over analyze the Latin or the other languages and go waaaaaay out into the weeds looking for complicated excuses for this or that variation.  The simple answer is probably the correct answer.

UPDATE 12 August:

An alert reader sent this:

I located a USCCB newsletter from 2008 which, in a section entitled “Summorum Pontificum Formally Published With Minor [sic] Changes,” lists “Article 7’s phrase “providere non potest” (“cannot provide for”) was changed to “providere non vult” (“does not wish to provide for”)” as one of five changes made to SP between its initial release on July 7, 2007 and its formal publication on September 7, 2007.

Here it is:

This could solve part of the mystery of the discrepancy.  The other part remains: why are they divergent translation on the Holy See’s site?

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Liturgy Science Theatre 3000, SUMMORUM PONTIFICUM, What are they REALLY saying? and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. So great … this means that we are screwed now that the “official” Vatican translation is out? [Breathe deeply and come back inside off that ledge.] I am worried. Before, you had to get it from other sites or books, like your Baronius press 1962 Missal. Now with this out, it will make all other translations are moot and bishops will abuse the Vatican one? Do we have more to fear good Father? [As I have written not a few times, now is the time to press forward with our projects. Keep Calm And Carry On!]

  2. on the bright side, it seems the English corresponds to the Latin: Latin –> “wishes not.” English –> “Does not wish”.

  3. Hank Igitur says:

    The ghost of Bugnini haunts the “translation” rooms of the Vatican……………………………….

  4. EXCHIEF says:

    You say in your commentary “If I were suspicious”…well by nature and occupation I am suspicious and my suspicions are reinforced by the fact of what has happened in our diocese. It is a huge diocese in terms of land mass though small in Catholic population. There are a half dozen priests scattered round the Diocese who are able to say the TLM but only one (who happens to have a Doctorate in Canon Law and is summoned to Rome periodically for his expertise) has the intestinal fortitude to challenge the Bishop and actually celebrate the TLM. The Bishop’s answer to requests to have the TLM celebrated in several regions of the Diocese is “I have no one available to say it”. His backup response directs people to a Hermitage where the Hermit-Priest does celebrate the TLM in Masses open to the Faithful. That Hermitage is 250 plus miles from some parts of the Diocese and in winter it may well be impossible to get there even for those willing to drive 5-6 hours.

    So given the current Bishop’s stance, and that of his predecessor, the Pontifical Commission has been petitioned more than once to intervene on behalf of the “groups of Faithful” who wish the TLM to be provided within a reasonable distance. The response? Basically a form letter. My suspicion is that IF the Commission has contacted the Bishop he has said a TLM is provided but avoids the details about how inaccessible it is to those who submitted the petition. In other words, the “out” provided in the translation is being seized upon by those who have not only refused to comply with SP but who are strongly opposed to it.

    [Priests have to man up. Fathers! Get out there at that altar and SAY THAT MASS!]

  5. Palladio says:

    This is one of the most important posts imaginable. How can this not already been brought to the attention of responsible persons in France, Italy, and Spain? Thank you for sharing this.

  6. Palladio says:

    Sorry, correction; read: How can this not have already …

  7. mamajen says:

    Odd, and fishy. That is not exactly a difficult phrase to translate.

  8. They got the English right because they knew that at least one priest who writes a blog would scrutinize the English translation, so they figured that trying to slip a curveball past him was futile. I guess they weren’t counting on that priest knowing some Spanish, Italian, and German, though!

  9. Lucas.Br says:

    Same error in Portuguese (as would be predictable…)

    “Se não puder” = [if he] “cannot” / “is not able”

    Father Z, is there not a general principle/rule which states that, in case of doubt, the original LATIN version should apply? [When the (usually) Latin version appears in Acta Apostolicae Sedis, that becomes the official version. However, the “original” language of the document may have been something else. That is, it may have been composed in some modern language. This creates problems, but it is the hand we have dealt ourselves, I’m afraid.]

  10. Andrew says:

    This is true: no one is able to do that which he doesn’t want to do. Nihil tam impossibile quam id quod nolumus.

  11. Hilleyb says:

    This reminds me of the paper by Cardinal Egan, “Latin And The Church.” He uses the example of his experience with tribunal decisions in the Roman Rota. Different language translations of the texts made laws ambiguous. There are used copies on Amazon.

  12. RJHighland says:

    When you have multiple authorities interpreting the same things differently isn’t that called Protestanism? I am so tired of this BS it is not even funny. There is not an ounce of difference between the Post Vatican II Church and any main line Protest Church. Sure we have a bunch more documents but when there is no real unity in doctrine or worship what is the difference? When any given Bishop or priest can teach what every he wants with-out retrebution. No retribution for publicly defiant lay people. What is Universal in word or work in the “Catholic Church” If salvation can only be obtained through the Church which fragment of the “Catholic Church” has that whole teaching correct? If you are mislead by a priest, bishop or Pope how does that affect your justification? If you in good faith teach your children that false teaching taught to you are you held accountable? Then is it best to be blindly obedient or discent from what you perceive as a poor shepherd? I understand the no guarantee of salvition but how about a chance. What a mess. When is the Church officially in crisis or is it always in a state of crisis, kind of like the world in “Men in Black.” I think I’m going to kick back and listen to some Gregorian Chant this is giving me a headache.

  13. Mark of the Vine says:

    Or it could just be a cultural thing. Us ethnic latins normally don’t like to outright prohibit, so we’ll try to find other ways to say “no”.

  14. EXCHIEF says:


    Good questions, well put and I think you speak for a lot of us who believe in rules, and enforcement of those rules when disobedient clerics run afoul of them. I will go so far as to say we have a majority of so called Church leaders who have no concept of what leadership is. They are no different than the majority population—the “it’s all about me” folks

  15. ClavesCoelorum says:

    So, what does one do about it, Father? Is there an address to contact?

  16. Guillaume says:

    The strangest thing is that the french translation is correct : ” S’il ne veut pas pourvoir à cette forme de célébration…” Miracles happen ;-)

  17. Phil_NL says:

    Ok, it is a fishy translation, that much is clear.

    But let’s have a look at the effects of that wrong translation. In the correct translation, the case is to be referred to the PCED if the priest does not want to. In the wrong one, it goes to the PCED if he’s unable. What does that mean in practice?

    If the bishopis unwilling (regardless of ability), 10 to 1 that the petitioners will drag up the latin, write to the PCED, who will not be able (or willing, most likely) to deny that according to SP 7, it’s a case for them. It’s the PCED that will then hoard the bishop, and they would (should) be using the latin. They have that version, can read it, and know the latin is the one that counts.

    If the bishop is unable, but willing, then a letter to the PCED will not have much effect, unless they’re kind enough there to provide contact details of a priest who can fill the gap. But the same situation would apply when the correct translation was used; then the PCED would also have to say “ability is a problem with formation, at best we can refer it to the competent authorities here, but don’t get your hopes up. SP7 deals with willingness.”

    The only way I can see this silly error having any effect is if the PCED would only be approachable through the local bishop, who would then fail to pass it on because of the wrong translation, but that does make no sense, since the provision deals with complaints about the bishop himself….

    It remains silly, I’m open for correction if need be, but I don’t see how this will have much of an impact.

  18. jeff says:

    I think we all know what is missing, father, What Does the Hungarian REALLY say? [LOL! Good question.]

    How does this one stack up with that USCCB translation?

  19. phlogiston says:

    Well at least we know (or at least can reasonably surmise) the reason for the extreme delay in the release of the translations. The foxes are in charge of guarding the chicken coop.

  20. robtbrown says:

    Actually, I don’t much care for “vult”, preferring just “providet”. If the bishop doesn’t provide it, he could simply use the excuse that he wants to but can’t (lack of personnel). It’s a version of the line used by many bishops to deny priests before SP: I love the TLM, but this isn’t the time for it.

  21. SimonDodd says:

    Father, is it not the case that things such as this, particularly given the hypothetical at the end, cuts against (or at least qualifies) your advice against “quot[ing] canons, blah blah, as if they didn’t know them already” when writing to bishiops, v. [Nope!]

  22. Unwilling says:

    Sensus manifestus in vocibus partis maiorum.
    Vide verba textuum omnium, nisi anglorum.
    Pro sensu sic determinto “non potest” legendum est.
    Ergo: Textus latinus errat.

  23. Unwilling says:

    Ha képtelen
    The Hungarian says “unable”.

  24. Hidden One says:

    RJHighland, as an ex-Protestant, please allow me to suggest that you’re blowing things out of proportion.

  25. kpoterack says:

    Thanks Guillaume!
    If this translation error is deliberate on the part of someone at the Vatican, then it is a rather inept conspiracy! After all, why do this in four languages, but have the correct translation in two major languages: English and French. And English is spoken throughout much of the world today as the modern “lingua franca.” (pun intended) Isn’t it possible that whomever put the translations up chose whatever was already available – perhaps even from what was already available on the web elsewhere – without checking the translations carefully? Maybe I am wrong, but I would tend to put this much more to laziness, than to an attack on SP.

  26. gjp says:

    We could have some fun and try to guess what the lame duck ICEL translation would be.

    The parish priest should give the lay faithful what it wants. If he says no, they should tell the bishop, who is supposed to give them what they want. If the bishop says no, then they should call the Vatican. Their phone number is 1-800-ET-CUM-SPIRIT-220.

  27. Cantor says:

    Father Z – how can Latin differentiate the two similar phrases “The bishop does not want to…” and “The bishop wants not to…”? (Sorry – too many years since the CSC had their way with me.)

  28. Unwilling says:

    nolo / volo

    Episcopus vult non placare [sed dominare].
    The Bishop wants not to appease [but rather to overpower].
    Episcopus non vult placare [sed quiescere].
    The Bishop does not want to appease [but to quieten].
    Episcopus nolit placare.
    The Bishop does not want to appease.
    Episcopus placare nolit.
    The Bishop certainly does not want to appease.

    The register of my suggestions may be a bit “Classical”.

  29. Vecchio di Londra says:

    “However, the “original” language of the document may have been something else.”
    To me, Fr Z’s explanation is the likeliest reason for the discrepancy. The translators mainly drew on the original, earlier July 2007 draft, the one that said ‘cannot’.
    That the recent English and French versions have the correct translation of the Latin could mean that either A) these two E and F versions were translated from the online published Latin, and the others were translated from a wrongly-provided original July 2007 text – possibly in German, or a hasty provisional Latin translation of the German made in July 2007 before the final corrections.
    Or b) the wrong, earlier draft was sent to every translator, but only the English and French translators had enough intelligence (or enough Latin) to consult the online Latin version? (But perhaps not enough courage to let the Holy office know it had made an error?)
    The provision of the wrong text might have been made by a non-Latinist secretary, or by someone unaware of the difference between the two versions. It need not necessarily have been a deliberate plan. (Curious, though, that the other Sep 2007 edits were correctly picked up in the translations: eg the subtitle, the ‘stabiliter’ instead of ‘continentur’.)

    But whatever the reason, surely this howler of a mistake is grave enough to alert the CDF? How do we do that?

  30. jhayes says:

    The Latin text on the Vatican website

    incorporates the last three changes in the USCCB list, but not the first two.

    The Latin text in AAS 2007, 9, page 777

    has all five changes listed by the USCCB.

    So, the two different Vatican websites don’t agree.

    “non vult” makes sense in Article 7 since Article 8 covers the situation where the bishop wants to help but doesn’t have the means to do it.

    “Art. 8. Episcopus, qui vult providere huiusmodi petitionibus christifide- lium laicorum, sed ob varias causas impeditur, rem Pontificiae Commissioni « Ecclesia Dei » committere potest, quae ei consilium et auxilium dabit.”

  31. jhayes says:

    One more error in the English translation

    “De usu extraordinario antiquae formae Ritus Romani” [in AAAS]


  32. jhayes says:

    Most of the other translations omit the sub-title. German includes it but it isn’t a translation of the Latin:

    “über den Gebrauch der Römischen Liturgie in der Gestalt vor der Reform von 1970”

  33. RJHighland says:

    Hidden One,
    I was raised Baptist, have two Uncles that are Baptist Ministers, so it appears we may have treated down some of the same paths to find our home in the Catholic Church. Just trying to keep it real. This translation that translation this interpretation that interpretation, basic confusion, there is only one author of that book and we are supposed to be fighting together as believers in the one True faith against him. United we stand, divided we fall. Compromise on truth is not an option. It is or it is not.

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