Last week I shared the (unconfirmed) list of members of the commission to revise Liturgiam authenticam. Presuming this list is correct, who are these people? What might one reasonably expect from them? As they say in the financial industry “Past performance is no guarantee of future yields.” Nevertheless, the background, expertise, reputation, and published work of these people can reveal much, and whet our appetite to see what will happen next.

The Task

The task of reviewing and revising Liturgiam authenticam is a formidable one. It requires wisdom, level-headed judgment, and courage. This instruction is, after all, a highly controversial document concerning one of the central liturgical issues about which people disagree—one which has implications for the experience of every person in the pew, as well as for priests and bishops.

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Liturgiam authenticam is the fifth instruction “on the right implementation” of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (the Vatican II document Sacrosanctum Concilium). That puts it in a line of important instructions which exist in order to interpret the Second Vatican Council’s liturgical reform authoritatively.

Yet Liturgiam authenticam interprets Vatican II at a far remove from the Council itself. Unlike the first three instructions: Inter Oecumenici (1964), Tres Abhinc Annos (1967), and Liturgicae Instaurationes (1970), Liturgiam Authenticam is commenting on the reform at a more than thirty-year distance. It also operates out of an intellectual viewpoint that is fundamentally revisionist.

The fourth instruction, which was about inculturation (Varietates Legitimae, 1994—also long after the Council), could plausibly be said to have been necessitated by the fact that few directives existed to give shape to this movement called for by the Council. But when it comes to Liturgiam authenticam, that dog won’t hunt. Translation has been with us a long time. Very definite norms were already in place. The fifth instruction (Liturgiam Authenticam, 2001), was written not to fill a void, but to change direction.

Therefore, the underlying question that will have to be dealt with in this committee — like it or not — is whether that judgment was a sound one. Of course, this group may decide to simply tweak a few of the curious and problematic rules of translation contained in the instruction. But if this is all they do, it is because their courage failed them.

What is Liturgiam authenticam, after all? It is an instruction written by a small group of people, in secret, and imposed on the church. It is not in any sense a collaborative effort or the fruit of compromise. In producing Liturgiam authenticam, nobody sat down, as they did at Vatican II, to consult. But isn’t it a papal document, you ask? John Paul II approved it, true. But clearly he approved of it when he was in his dotage. It seems abundantly clear that he was acting on the advice of his trusted Cardinals Ratzinger (then prefect of the CDF) and Medina (then prefect of the CDW). It bears John Paul’s name, but one looks in vain here for the “signature” of his own liturgical ideas, familiar to us from countless works produced by him earlier in his pontificate. What one does see in LA instead is the harsh tone which characterized the critical liturgical views of these two cardinals – views which were supported by prelates such as George Pell, Francis George, Raymond Burke, Justin Rigali, Charles Chaput, and some others. Indeed, the work of retranslating all of the liturgical books everywhere in the world according to the principles of LA has been widely considered a project dear to the heart of Benedict XVI—a concrete step in his hoped-for “reform of the reform”—rather than a task carried out by him in deference to the wishes of his predecessor.

This background makes the politics of revision a bit fraught. Francis is pope now, yet Benedict lives across the street. No one will want to suggest a rivalry between the two men, least of all Francis himself. We are in a new pontificate however, and Francis’s opinions and ways of expressing them are different from Benedict’s. To see the difference, one need only reflect on how persistently Benedict argued —over many objections—that “pro multis” must be translated literally as “for many” (not even “for the many” would do). Contrast this with Pope Francis’s resounding speech before the convention of the Italian Church (November 10, 2015, Florence) which drew sustained applause: “… [T]he Lord poured out his blood not for some, nor for few nor for many, but for all.”

One might also recall Francis’s emphasis on decentralization and the empowerment of local episcopal conferences. There is a great difference between this view, and a project designed to centralize control of liturgy along a Roman model, which is what Liturgiam authenticam sought to do. What is the alternative to centralized control? Not chaos or loss of unity, as some would have us fear. Rather, it is to foster indigenous expressions of faith and piety, responsibly governed by local bishops’ conferences. That has been the Vatican II project, which was effectively put on hold by LA.

The very fact that Francis called for a commission to review and revise (or replace) this document, thus intervening in this “pet project” of Benedict’s, is a bold step. Presented in a mild way, as one must, this has been described as a sort of routine review. But nobody with any sense should believe that. Since when are instructions on the right implementation of Sacrosanctum Concilium subject to routine reviews? Never. This step can only have been taken because Francis became convinced that the project is on the rocks. By that I mean that it has not been received well and a new approach has become a pastoral necessity. How much course correction is required is unclear. And how much the commission will tiptoe around the elephant in the living room, for fear of offending Benedict, is also an open question.

One cannot emphasize too strongly however that the real task before this commission is not merely one of tweaking a few details. Liturgiam authenticam can be analyzed with respect to texts and rules of translation, but it is not only about that. It is about the nature of church, the nature of reform, and the nature of liturgy itself. That is the reason why it has aroused so much ire on the one hand, and expectations of grandeur on the other. If the review and revision confines itself to cosmetic improvements only, it will fall short of what is needed.

The People

I see two names on this list of people whose intellectual attainments, wisdom, breadth and depth of experience, and personal courage augur well for raising the deeper issues that need to be faced in this review. They are Piero Marini and Matias Augé.

Piero Marini (b. 1942) began his career as secretary to Archbishop Annibale Bugnini, who more than anyone else witnessed and shepherded the process of liturgical reform both before and after the Council. Consequently Archbishop Marini knows a great deal about what went into the reform, he understands the principles that have guided it, and knows the difficulties of its implementation and especially the resistance of the Vatican bureaucracy to change [see his book: A Challenging Reform]. His subsequent work as papal master of ceremonies, his travels around the world with John Paul II in that role, and his service as president of the office of Eucharistic Congresses give him a broad and deep experience of liturgy, inculturation, reform, and renewal. He has a strong character, is a critic of Liturgiam authenticam, and will not be easily intimidated.

Matías Augé (b. 1936) is a highly respected liturgical scholar whose published bibliography includes some 261 works. A Catalan Claretian, he has lived for more than fifty years in Rome and is professor emeritus at the Pontifical Liturgical Institute Sant’ Anselmo.

He is distinguished not only by his intellectual gifts and erudition, but also by his candor concerning controversial liturgical subjects. This was evident in his courteous but challenging exchange of letters with then-cardinal Ratzinger around the proposition of “two forms of the Roman Rite” (1998-99). He also supported Pope Francis’s decision to formalize permission for including women in the washing of feet on Holy Thursday.

Involvement in this commission will also represent a return to international liturgical action for Domenico Sorrentino (b. 1948), Archbishop of Assisi. He was secretary of the CDW in 2003 but was removed from that post immediately once Benedict took office in 2005 (and replaced by the far more conservative Cardinal Ranjith).

On the other hand, the commission will also reintroduce the elderly Italian Jesuit Father Mario Lessi-Ariosto, who served at one time on the CDW, back in the 1990s. In that capacity he was part of the group that torpedoed the American lectionary, along with English Marist Anthony Ward, and Fr. Thomas Fuciniaro of the CDW and a number of others — principally out of a desire to stamp out inclusive language.

Arthur Roche (b. 1950) was formerly bishop of Leeds, and is currently secretary of the CDW. He is a power to be reckoned with in that office. Some say he now has more influence than the Prefect, and that may be so. He was a key supporter of Liturgiam authenticam, and his work with ICEL (where he was chairman from 2002 to 2012) reflects this. Although it was rumored that he had some reservations about the Missal translation and deplored the 10,000+ changes that were introduced into it, he never said a word against it, and penalized those who did. He holds a degree in Theology from the Gregorian, but it is not a liturgy degree. His “adaptability” to different political winds is well known.

Corrado Maggioni, SMM (b. 1956) is the other representative of the CDW, where he has served as undersecretary since 2014. His appointment by Pope Francis was considered a significant change of staff because he replaced Father Anthony Ward (rumored to be the author of Liturgiam authenticam) and another staffer who was also dismissed at that time. Fr. Maggioni holds a liturgy degree from Sant’ Anselmo and his expertise is in the cult of Mary. If he has any views about translation, I couldn’t find them.

Jeremy Driscoll, OSB (b. 1951) on the other hand, is a staunch supporter of LA. He is currently abbot of Mount Angel monastery in Oregon, and he taught for some years at Sant’ Anselmo, from which he holds an STD (awarded in 1990). His dissertation was on Egyptian monasticism. Although he supports the celebration of liturgy in its reformed form after Vatican II, he also supports reintroducing older forms. I think this puts him in the Reform of the Reform camp, progressive wing. It is clear that he would have been extremely happy with the literal, LA-inspired text of the English Missal. Informed Roman sources say that he did not approve of the 10,000 changes to the Missal translation, however, and thought the bishops should have refused the text.

One more tidbit came across my radar with regard to him. In a 2012 interview with Catholic News Service, he explained that although you cannot help but notice people in the liturgy [sic], liturgy is not intended to “express” the faith of believers (this assertion also appears in LA), but rather liturgy exists to “impress” them. Although it is entirely possible that a short interview does no justice to his actual thoughts on this matter, I was not impressed with the epistemology of this assertion.

Several names on the list belong to people who have been at the head of committees or commissions working to produce translations according to LA: Arthur Joseph Serratelli (b. 1944) of the Paterson New Jersey Diocese is chair of the episcopal board of ICEL, Bernard-Nicolas Jean Marie Aubertin (b. 1944) of the diocese of Tours in France is head of the commission which prepares translations for the Francophone world, Friedhelm Hoffman (b. 1942), bishop of Wuerzburg in Germany is chair of the liturgy committee charged with the Germanophone translations, and  Julián López Martín (b. 1945), bishop of Leon in Spain, was responsible for the translation of the Missal into Castilian, which came out on the first Sunday of Lent 2017.

Serratelli is known as a bishop with old-fashioned tastes in church furnishings and views on liturgy which fall somewhere on the spectrum between conservative and traditional. Rorate Caeli endorsed him as a “wonderful and holy” bishop. He holds an STD and SSL from the Gregorian University in Rome and taught scripture for twenty years at Seton Hall University. He was deeply involved with and supportive of the translation of the Roman Missal into English under LA. He was chair of the BCDW when the American bishops approved the Missal, and has a seat on Vox Clara.

Hoffman’s higher degree is in art history. As a bishop, his outstanding achievement in liturgy has been his leadership in the production of the new Gotteslob hymnal which appeared in 2013. Informed sources describe him as someone who puts out an impression of openness and promotes modern art, but is at heart a maintainer of systems. He is generally liked but it is also well known that he is approaching retirement age, and is therefore something of a lame duck. He is not likely to rock the boat. But if the boat changes course, he’ll stay on it.

Aubertin was ordained a priest for the Missionaries of Africa (White Fathers) but was professed a Cistercian in 1982. He served as prior and abbot of his monastery, and as a member of the Cistercian Generalate in Rome. He was bishop of Chartres before being appointed to the see of Tours. He studied in Switzerland (Fribourg) and holds a canon law degree from Strasbourg as well as a certificate in Islamic studies from the Pontifical Institute of Arab Studies in Rome. As president of the Francophone conference on liturgical translations he has overseen the translation of both biblical and liturgical texts. I have some hopes for him. Although he has soldiered on loyally in the LA translation project, he knows too much not to see that there are major problems here.

López Martín holds a degree in liturgy from Sant’ Anselmo (from 1975). In addition to his duties as bishop of Leon, he has served on the Liturgy commission of the Spanish Episcopal Conference from 1994 to 2010, and was elected president of that commission from 2000 to 2010, and again in 2014. He was appointed to the CDW by Pope Benedict and reappointed by Pope Francis. The roll out for the Castilian translation emphasized very strongly that almost nothing has changed, aside from the pro multis. There may be a story here (sixteen years when so few changes were needed?); I just don’t know what it is.

In addition to those already mentioned (Roche, Driscoll, and Serratelli), there are two more English-speakers on the list:

Dominic Jala (b. 1951), has a long history with ICEL. Most of it has unfolded under the new, LA-and-Vox-Clara guided regime. He has been known to raise critical questions, but he is embedded in the status quo and is unlikely to challenge it. A Salesian, he is bishop of Shilong, a large and historically important diocese in North East India (the region previously known as Assam, now Meghalaya). Meghalaya is a majority Christian state. It includes many languages and cultural groups as well as a number of educational institutions. Jala holds a liturgy degree from Sant’ Anselmo, and is chairman of the Liturgy Commission of the Conference. His big book is on liturgy and mission.

Mark Benedict Coleridge (b. 1948) also has a history with the new ICEL. He holds a doctorate in scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome. He spent four years working in the Vatican at the Secretariat of State, after which he returned to Australia and was ordained auxiliary bishop of Melbourne. In 2004 he became chair of the Roman Missal Editorial Committee of the International Committee for English in the Liturgy. He was subsequently named chair of the International Commission for the Preparation of an English-language Lectionary. In 2012 he was put in charge of the Archdiocese of Brisbane. Many speak well of him and say he has grown in his job; others see him as a careerist. He is known as a linguist with a good feel for language.

By now you are probably wondering: Why no philologists in a commission on translation of liturgical texts? Well, wonder no more. Giovanni Maria Vian (b. 1952), is an Italian professor of patristic philology. He is also editor-in-chief of l’Osservatore Romano. At first, I wondered why they had appointed a newspaper editor to this commission. Was it to reflect on how the person in the street understands language? His background in philology, however, brought an added dimension to this choice.

Then there are the canon lawyers. Fr. Giacomo Incitti is professor of canon law at the Urbaniana in Rome. He may have been chosen because of his research in the people of God as historical subject, which his recent book (Il popolo di Dio) examines according to the constitutional principles of equality and diversity. He was appointed by Pope Francis to the Apostolic Penitentiary in 2014.

Another canon lawyer, Fr. Christoph Ohly, teaches canon law at the University of Trier. He is reputed to be young, bright, personable, hard-working, and very conservative. He may be there because he has written some pastoral books about liturgy, or to add another conservative voice to the mix.

There are a few wild cards in the group.

One is Valeria Trapani, the sole woman on the committee (and one of only two lay participants). Just guessing now, but she may have a different perspective on the issues than her clerical colleagues do. She received her doctorate in liturgy from Sant’ Anselmo in 2004. Dr. Trapani has written on euchology, active participation of women in liturgy, marriage rites, and music. She teaches on the Pontifical Faculty of St. John the Evangelist in Palermo. She was recently appointed consultor to the CDW as well as to this committee.

The other two are recently-ordained auxiliary bishops from non-Western dioceses: Jean-Pierre Kwambamba Masi (b. 1960) from Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and John Bosco Chang Shin-Ho (b. 1966) from Daegu, South Korea. Their footprint on line is very light; other than the fact that Kwambamba Masi has worked on papal Masses and Shin-Ho is cautious about using iPads in place of liturgical books we just don’t know much about them. According to Cardinal Sarah, the Koreans produced a word-for-word translation of their Missal and are a model of obedience. But was Chang Shin-Ho involved? Happy? Horrified by the results? No information is available.


After researching the backgrounds of the people on this list, I find a lot to encourage me about the coming re-evaluation and revision. It seems in many ways a group I would love to hear from, a good mix of people with differing viewpoints and backgrounds. The very conservative sites which initially published the list darkly commented on the presence of so many “liberals” in the lineup. I don’t see that at all, any more than I see a dangerous conspiracy of “conservatives” here. There will be differences of opinion in such a group, surely, but all these people fall within the mainstream. My hopes are high that they will come up with something reasonable, even if it is not all what I would like to see personally.

That said, I do have some concerns.

First, you might think that I, as an English-speaker, would be happy to see so many English-speakers on the committee. But this is actually one of the problems. Five English-speakers is too many. ICEL especially is over-represented. No other translation group has four members at the table. The assessment of LA from scholars and pastoral leaders from the English-speaking world has been astonishingly negative (just recall the roster of eminent persons who signed the petition What If We Just Said Wait? or reread Peter Jeffery’s Translating Tradition). Seventy-five percent of US priests surveyed two years after implementation said the language of the Missal translation was “awkward and distracting” and 50 percent agreed that a revision was “urgently needed.” Will these awkward but relevant facts be placed squarely on the table and reckoned with candidly? Or will they be played down and “explained away” in order to save face?

Second, quite a few people on the committee know Latin; some know Latin very well indeed. But there is not a single expert here in the science of translation. This kind of lacuna allows things to happen such as Archbishop Roche repeatedly saying that dynamic equivalence had become “outmoded” — which sounds plausible but actually is not quite true. Will committee members brush up on their general knowledge of translation theory and practice? Of course one hopes they will. But this is different from deep knowledge. And I especially fear that the ones who have done the most translation work under LA (i.e. the English-speakers) will presume to already know everything they need to know about it.

Third, there are a number of people on the commission with liturgy degrees. This is good. Yet these degrees all come from a single university. Sant’ Anselmo is a very fine institution. But every institution has its own particular character and limits. The Sant’ Anselmo influence is likely to result in an emphasis on reading and understanding historical texts. This is important — no question. But it’s not everything.

This brings me to one final concern. There is really no one on this commission who has a track record of deep study in the area of liturgical inculturation. In the absence of this sort of expertise, it will be difficult to not fall into a Rome-centered worldview and its attendant liturgical assumptions (as Liturgiam authenticam arguably does). In a church which has called the translation of liturgical texts into the vernacular “the first significant measure of inculturation” (Varietates legitimae, 53), it seems that one cannot any longer address translation without also addressing inculturation. Yet here we are.


As I said before, my expectations of this review and revision are positive. But they are measured, in view of these concerns. That said, one must also leave room for the Holy Spirit. We have all known gatherings that have accomplished more and better things than anyone expected, simply because something happened when people sat down together and tried to be open to the Spirit. May this happen here.

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