The Relationship between Magnum Principium and Liturgicam Authenticam

by Bishop Brian Dunn, Antigonish, member of the episcopal commission of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL)

In his Apostolic Letter issued Motu Proprio, Magnum Principium [MP], Pope Francis has once again raised the topic of the translation, approval and adaptation of liturgical books. He has taken the extraordinary step of modifying canon 838, §§2 & 3 of the Code of Canon Law. He focused on the necessity of balancing two essential goods: “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” and the good of vernacular languages standing out “for their elegance of style and the profundity of their concepts with the aim of nourishing the faith” of those who gather for worship. This new balancing act requires an investigation into the role of conferences of bishops, the role of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, and the translation principles required in reaching a text that can be helpful to the faithful.

The Motu Proprio raises a variety of questions:

  • How does the conference of bishops guarantee faithfulness to the Latin text?
  • How does the conference of bishops give due consideration to the literary characteristics of its particular language?
  • How does the conference of bishops fulfill its responsibility of “faithfully preparing versions of the liturgical books in vernacular languages”?
  • What does it mean for the conference of bishops to “approve and publish the liturgical books”?
  • What does it mean that the Apostolic See has to provide confirmatio for the translation of liturgical books and recognitio for the adaptations from the conferences of bishops? [1]
  • How does the Apostolic See safeguard the substantial unity of the Roman Rite?
  • What does it mean that the Apostolic See will provide recognitio for adaptations according to the law?
  • What are the principles of translation that must be used by those who do the translations from Latin texts and what does it mean to translate faithfully?
  • What are the issues that arise when dealing with a language that is used in a widespread manner throughout the world and which might have regional nuances?
  • When a canon has been modified, what are the consequences for documents and texts that have been reordered or abrogated because of the modification of the canon?
  • While many of these questions need to be addressed, I would like to focus on the principles of translation that must be used when translating from Latin texts and consider what it means to translate faithfully from these Latin texts.

In the wake of the Motu Proprio, Cardinal Sarah, Prefect for the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, published a commentary on Magnum Principium in the French Catholic publication L’Homme Nouveau, stating that Liturgiam authenticam [LA] remains “the authoritative text concerning liturgical translations.”  [2] In an unusual response, Pope Francis issued a public letter stating:

Magnum Principium no longer argues that translations must conform in all points to the norms of Liturgiam authenticam, as was previously the case. For this reason,individual numbers of Liturgiam authenticam must be carefully reconceived, including nos. 79-84, in order to distinguish what is required by the code for translation and what is required for legitimate adaptations. It is therefore clear that some of Liturgiam authenticam’s numbers have been abrogated or are taken up into the terms in which they were reformulated by the Motu Proprio’s new canon (eg. no. 76 and also no. 80).  [3]

Pope Francis is quite clear that some of Liturgiam authenticam’s provisions, particularly those dealing with the recognitio, have been abrogated or reformulated according to his Motu Proprio. This means that the norms of Liturgiam authenticam demanding the recognitio of the Apostolic See are no longer binding as such; now it is a confirmatio of the translations that is to be sought from the Apostolic See, not a recognitio. Pope Francis also called for the modification of the “Regulations” of the Congregation, thus showing the need to have these revised in light of the new Motu Proprio.  [4] However, what about the principles of translation found in Liturgiam authenticam? I would like to focus on the issue of translation principles and more specifically the status of some of the provisions of Liturgicam authenticam, for Liturgiam authenticam is the only document with translation principles that are in force at present (with one exception).  [5] Some have argued that the Motu Proprio has used language that is similar to Comme le prévoit, and thus Liturgicam authenticam is not longer in effect; others state that conferences should no longer use the principles of Liturgicam authenticam, but should reconsider the 1998 text of the Sacramentary that was rejected by the Apostolic See.  [6] In fact, this entire issue must be examined critically to see how the Motu Proprio has in fact reordered Liturgicam authenticam.

To consider the issue of the reordering of a liturgical law, one must consider a number of principles.  [7] The general norm for the revocation of law is found in canon 20: “A later law abrogates or derogates from an earlier law if it states so expressly, is directly contrary to it or completely reorders the entire matter of the earlier law.” Magnum Principium clearly derogates from canon 838, §2 and §3. It also derogates from nos. 79-84 of Liturgiam authenticam regarding the issue of the recognitio, as clarified by Pope Francis is his letter to Cardinal Sarah. Tacit revocation occurs when no mention is made that any previous law is being revoked, but the later law is directly contrary to an earlier law or the later law reorders the matter of the earlier. Tacit revocation may effect some of the norms governing a particular topic.

When one considers Magnum Principium, several issues become clear. The Motu Proprio uses the general revoking formula “notwithstanding anything to the contrary” thus implicitly revoking contrary universal laws. One must ask whether the translation principles of Magnum Principium are contrary to those of Liturgiam authenticam. The following table provides a comparison of the translation principles of Magnum Principium and Liturgiam authenticam. See the following table for the similarities between the two documents. See also the striking similarities between paragraphs 6 and 7 of Magnum Principium and Comme le prévoit.  [8]

Magnum Principium Liturgiam authenticam
Par. 6. 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.

 

 

59. Since liturgical texts by their very nature are intended to be proclaimed orally and to be heard in the liturgical celebration, they are characterized by a certain manner of expression…
19. … by means of these words God speaks continually with the Spouse of his beloved Son, the Holy Spirit leads the Christian faithful into all truth and causes the word of Christ to dwell abundantly within them, and the Church perpetuates and transmits all that she herself is and all that she believes, even as she offers the prayers of all the faithful to God, through Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Par. 7. 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 7. … translations of the Sacred Liturgy into the vernacular languages may stand secure as the authentic voice of the Church of God

 

Par 7. 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. 20. … While it is permissible to arrange the wording, the syntax and the style in such a way as to prepare a flowing vernacular text suitable to the rhythm of popular prayer,

 

 

Par. 5. 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 20. … the original text, insofar as possible, must be translated integrally and in the most exact manner, without omissions or additions in terms of their content,

 

Par 9. 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 20. […] translation of the liturgical texts of the Roman Liturgy is not so much a work of creative innovation as it is of rendering the original texts faithfully and accurately into the vernacular language.
Par. 3. 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. 25. So that the content of the original texts may be evident and comprehensible even to the faithful who lack any special intellectual formation, the translations should be characterized by a kind of language which is easily understandable, yet which at the same time preserves these texts’ dignity, beauty, and doctrinal precision

What can be said of the comparison of these two texts? First, Pope Francis sees the liturgical text as a ritual sign and a means of oral communication (MP, par. 6), while Liturgiam authenticam states that “liturgical texts by their very nature are intended to be proclaimed orally” (LA, n. 59). Both Pope Francis (MP, par. 6) and Liturgiam authenticam (LA, n. 19) recognize the presence of the Lord in the liturgical responses of the Church. Both Pope Francis (MP, par. 7) and Liturgiam authenticam (LA, n. 7) state that the goal of the translation of liturgical texts is to express the prayer of the Church. Both Pope Francis (MP, par. 7) and Liturgiam authenticam (LA, n. 20) make statements about fidelity to the text: Pope Francis speaks of judging fidelity not just by individual words but within the context of the whole communicative act (MP, par. 7), while Liturgiam authenticam speaks of “rendering the original texts faithfully and accurately into the vernacular language … in such a way as to prepare a flowing vernacular text suitable to the rhythm of popular prayer” (LA, n. 20). Both want to maintain integrity and accurate faithfulness (MP, par. 5), stating that texts “must be translated integrally and in the most exact manner” (LA, n. 20), so that “the sense of the original text is fully and faithfully rendered” (MP, par. 9). Both see that vernacular languages themselves can become liturgical languages with the aim of nourishing the faith (MP, par. 3) and can be comprehensible to the faithful because the translations are characterized by a kind of language which is easily understandable (LA, n. 25).

While the Motu Proprio seems to have a greater appreciation for the mystery of language, the translation principles of both seem to be able to be harmonized. However, Pope Francis makes it very clear that fidelity in the translation process involves a threefold fidelity: first, to the original text; then to the particular language in which it is translated, and finally to the comprehension of the text by the recipients. [9] This last element of fidelity is newly emphasized, for Magnum Principium emphasizes that “attention must be paid to the benefit and good of the faithful” (par. 9) and his opening principle is that “liturgical prayer [must] be accommodated to the comprehension of the people.” At the same time, Liturgiam authenticam does try to ensure the comprehensibility of the text for the hearers (LA, nos. 25, 27, 31). Undoubtedly, this is the new emphasis that Pope Francis makes in the translation of liturgical texts.

This reflection on the appropriate translation principles now to be used has consequences for ICEL and for individual conferences of bishops. The International Commission for English in the Liturgy (ICEL) with the support of the Holy See as required by Liturgiam authenticam, [10] is a group of English speaking conferences of bishops, working together to ensure the provision of high quality liturgical texts. These texts of translation provide the basis for the texts that are voted upon by each conference of bishops before they are sent to the Holy See for the appropriate approval. Each conference has great respect for the expertise of the staff of ICEL and as a result, conferences of bishops depend almost entirely on the ICEL text. This occurs because most conferences do not have the expertise necessary to translate and produce vernacular translations. In the wake of the new Motu Proprio, some have requested that conferences take up the full task involved in producing liturgical translations. This is highly unrealistic for conferences of bishops. Therefore, it seems that the work of ICEL must continue as it is, seeking base translators, producing a text through the help of the editorial committee, reviewing the text by the ICEL bishops, seeking the comments from conferences of bishops and making the appropriate changes to texts before they are submitted to conferences as grey books. All of these tasks must be governed by the new emphasis that Pope Francis highlights regarding the great principle that “liturgical prayer [must] be accommodated to the comprehension of the people.”

Furthermore, over the past several years, ICEL has worked closely with the conferences of bishops, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments as well as the consultative body for the Congregation, Vox Clara. This is witnessed in a particular way when all bodies involved provide comments on the various texts as they evolve into the liturgical translation that eventually gets issued by ICEL. Thus, the call by Pope Francis to have easier and more fruitful collaboration seems to have been developing over the past few years, as he seeks a “vigilant and creative collaboration full of reciprocal trust between the Episcopal Conferences and the Dicastery of the Apostolic See that exercises the task of promoting the Sacred Liturgy” (Magnum Principium, par. 8).

What can be said about the recommendations that the Conferences of Bishops should reconsider the 1998 text of the Sacramentary that was rejected by the Apostolic See? Neil Xavier O’Donoghue made a suggestion, before the publication of Magnum Principium, that “the publication of an edited version of the 1998 Sacramentary be used side by side with the current 2011 Roman Missal.” [11] He acknowledged the issue of the financial outlay in publishing a new Missal and he called for a long period of stability while the two Missals could be used. This suggestion would be contrary to the will of Pope Francis who has been calling for one translation for each language group, illuminating the unity of the Roman Rite. Perhaps this suggestion could be used when the Missal is ready for a new translation. This would take into consideration the present practice of ICEL which has been trying to ensure a “flowing vernacular text suitable to the rhythm of popular prayer” (Liturgiam authenticam, n. 20) as well as the renewed emphasis of Pope Francis seeking that “attention must be paid to the benefit and good of the faithful” (Magnum Principium, par. 9).

Conclusions

It seems that the principles of translation found in Magnum Principium can be harmonized fairly easily with those of Liturgiam authenticam, with the acknowledgment that Pope Francis seems to have given a renewed emphasis to the importance of the comprehension of the text by the recipients. Moreover, Magnum Principium has certainly abrogated the sections of Liturgiam authenticam that dealt with the recognitio by the Congregation for the translation of texts. As a result, the Congregation must revise the provisions for the confirmatio for translated texts and issue new provisions for the recognitio for the adaptation of liturgical texts. At the same time, conferences of bishops need to be diligent in presenting texts that are for “the benefit and good of the faithful.” In the meantime, ICEL must continue to translate texts that are “intended to be proclaimed orally and to be heard in the liturgical celebration” (LA, n. 59; MP, par. 6), are the “authentic voice of the Church of God” (LA, n. 7; MP, par. 7), are “flowing vernacular texts suitable to the rhythm of popular prayer” (LA, n. 20; MP, par. 7), are “translated integrally” (LA, n. 20; MP, par. 5), render “the original texts faithfully and accurately into the vernacular language” (LA, n. 20; MP, par. 9), with a “kind of language which is easily understandable” (LA, n. 25; MP, par. 3). Through these translations, the great principle of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council will be followed so that liturgical prayer will be “accommodated to the comprehension of the people” (Magnum Principium,
par. 1).


[1] For a discussion of the nature of the recognitio and the confirmatio see, Giacomo Incitti, “Magnum Principium: For a Better Mutual Collaboration Between the Roman Curia and Bishops’ Conferences” <http://www.cultodivino.va/content/cultodivino/it/documenti/motu-proprio-/-magnum-principium—3-settembre-2017-/articoli/giacomo-inciti/english.html>. See also John J.M. Foster, The Nature and Use of the Recognitio of the Apostolic See with a Consideration of Select Normative Decisions of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Canon Law Studies 565 (Washington: Catholic University of America, 2007).

[2] Cardinal-Robert-Sarah, Humble Contribution for a Better and Accurate Understanding of the Motu Proprio Magnum Principium, October 1, 2017 < https://www.scribd.com/document/361279576/Cardinal-Robert-Sarah-s-Commentary-on-Magnum-Principium>.

[3] Pope Francis, Letter to Cardinal Robert Sarah, October 15, 2017 <http://lanuovabq.it/storage/docs/lettera-papa.pdf>.

[4] For example, Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Ratio Translationis for the English Language. Vatican City: Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, 2007.

[5] When Liturgiam authenticam was published, it revoked previous documents of executive power (no. 8). It stated that the norms set forth in Liturgiam authenticam are to be substituted for all norms previously published on the matter of liturgical translations, with the exception of the 1994 Instruction on the Roman Liturgy and Inculturation. There are no footnotes indicating which previous documents are intended, so the wording of no. 8 must be taken at face value. All previous norms are revoked, that is, norms of executive power, not legislative norms, since the congregation lacks the power to revoke laws. The well known collection, Documents on the Liturgy 1963-1979: Conciliar, Papal and Curial Texts, has an entire section with 26 documents on the vernacular in the liturgy (nn. 108-133), including the most important one, the instruction Comme le prévoit of 1969. None of these documents is legislative, so all were revoked.

[6] Gerald O’Collins with John Wilkins, Lost in Translation. The English Language and the Catholic Mass, Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2017. See also an article by Neil O’Donoghue that was submitted before the promulgation of Magnum Principium: Neil Xavier O’Donoghue, “Effectively Communicating the Divine: A Proposed Rehabilitation of the 1998 Sacramentary,” Irish Theological Quarterly 2017, Vol. 82(4), 284-302.

[7] For a discussion of these principles, see John M. Huels, Liturgy and Law. Liturgical Law in the System of Roman Catholic Canon Law (Montreal: Wilson & Lafleur, 2006), 111-117.

[8] Magnum Principium par. 6 is similar to Comme le prévoit: “A liturgical text, inasmuch as it is a ritual sign, is a medium of spoken communication. It is, first of all, a sign perceived by the senses and used by men to communicate with each other. But to believers who celebrate the sacred rites a word is itself a “mystery”. By spoken words Christ himself speaks to his people and the people, through the Spirit in the Church, answer their Lord[d]” (Comme le prévoit, n. 5).
Magnum Principium par. 7 is similar to Comme le prévoit: “The purpose of liturgical translations is to proclaim the message of salvation to believers and to express the prayer of the Church to the Lord … A faithful translation, therefore, cannot be judged on the basis of individual words: the total context of this specific act of communication must be kept in mind, as well as the literary form proper to the respective language” (Comme le prévoit, n. 6).

[9] This is similar to the provisions of Comme le prévoit: “Translations, therefore, must be faithful to the art of communication in all its various aspects, but especially in regard to the message itself, in regard to the audience for which it is intended, and in regard to the manner of expression” (Comme le prévoit, n. 7). For a reflection on translating fideliter, see Mario Lessi Ariosto, S.J., “Rights and Duties Arising from the Nature of the Liturgy. Considerations in the light of the Motu proprio Magnum principium,” 8-11 <http://www.cultodivino.va/content/cultodivino/it/documenti/motu-proprio-/-magnum-principium—3-settembre-2017-/articoli/mario-lessi-ariosto–s-j-/english.html>.

[10] See Liturgiam authenticam, nn. 92-103.

[11] Neil Xavier O’Donoghue, “Effectively Communicating the Divine: A Proposed Rehabilitation of the 1998 Sacramentary,” Irish Theological Quarterly 2017, Vol. 82(4), 284-302, at 301.

Brian Dunn, JCD, MA (Liturgical Studies), is Bishop of Antigonish, Nova Scotia.

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10 comments

  1. When I first read Liturgiam Authenticam I thought ‘What is the fuss about?’ Apart from very convoluted remarks which could be taken to refer to inclusive language, it seemed we would get “a flowing vernacular text suitable to the rhythm of popular prayer” in “a kind of language which is easily understandable” and ” at the same time preserves these texts’ dignity, beauty, and doctrinal precision”, the last of which we did not have from 1973.
    But we did not get “a flowing vernacular text …in… language which is easily understandable … dignity, beauty”. That is what we need, particularly for the collect and other orations which change daily, and have to be understood at one hearing.

    1. Yes, I thought you would like it. Matthew! His voice is important, especially if he is representative of other bishops.

      I think the way forward is to try to overcome past divisions and think about a new solution where everyone wins. In conflict negotiations people speak of leaving an exit ramp for all players so no one has to give in 100% and admit they were totally wrong. Of course we want a solution which is the correct route and truly excellent, not just a mediocre compromise for the sake of present day players. We have to think about a new high ground, out ahead of us all.

      I don’t think the bishops will simply approve 1998. That was an important contribution, a huge step forward in accuracy compared to 1974, and its strongest quality is the beauty and poetry of its English (for the most part). But there are gains in 2010 that I don’t think we’d want to lose by simply reverting back.

      At the same time, the quality of the English in 2010 is just bad enough that I think the proponents of it – in what I hope is our past rather than our present, back when all this was so divisive – will do well to back away from wanting to defend such an inferior product. (And of course it has its own inaccuracies, as that leaked internal report showed.) It is unworthy of LA.

      Maybe the future high ground will be some sort of revision of 98 that takes a different policy on some points, incorporates the gains of 2010, tweaks some freedoms that are no longer possible, but has the best literary qualities of 98. And it might be better not to call this a revision of 2010 or a revision of 1998, but a totally new product… whatever the proportions are with which it draws on various predecessors.

      And of course since LA allows original vernacular texts, in principle the doors are wide open for an approval in toto of the 3-year cycle of lectionary-based Opening Prayers, where there is no issues whatsoever of translation.

      It’s kind of inspiring, actually, to think about what might now be possible.

      awr

      1. @Fr Ruff: And of course since LA allows original vernacular texts, in principle the doors are wide open for an approval in toto of the 3-year cycle of lectionary-based Opening Prayers, where there is no issues whatsoever of translation.

        Given what LA 22 and 98, and Varietates legitimae 53-54 and 63 have to say about the composition of original texts, I find that exceptionally unlikely. There is no “true cultural or pastoral necessity” for the lectionary-based Collects that I can think of. It is also something that goes against one of the stated aims of Coetus XI (the group of the Consilium responsible for the post-conciliar reform of the lectionary), which was to avoid a rigid and artificial thematisation in the liturgy (cf. Bugnini, The Reform of the Liturgy 1948-1975 [Liturgical Press, 1990], p. 422).

        But it would be nice to think that some sort of translation truce is possible over the next decade. Perhaps by that point, there might be a 4th editio typica of the post-Vatican II Missale, and we might even be in a position to think about (re-)translating it!

      2. One huge advantage of Lectionary-harmonized prayers is to highlight the Scriptures in a significant way. Let face it: Vatican II sparked a renewed interest in the Bible among Catholics. Prayers that point to the Scriptures and their images will deepen and intensify faith. Clunky wording and clueless tinkering is like Father Talk-Show-Host or open mic at the cantor stand: performance that calls attention to itself and obscures Christ in the liturgy.

        An ancient hallmark of the Church of Rome was its ability and willingness to draw upon various traditions and bring them to a wider world. Insularity, ego, secrecy, and vindictiveness are unbecoming of a Church that gave such heroic and saintly witness in the early centuries of Christianity.

  2. My attention was caught by this phrase: In the meantime, ICEL must continue to translate texts that are “intended to be proclaimed orally and to be heard in the liturgical celebration”

    “Continue” ? But that is precisely what ICEL has not been doing in recent times. The texts are designed to be, perhaps, comprehensible when read on the printed page, but certainly not to be comprehensible when heard aurally. But that has to be the primary criterion.

    I think everyone agrees that we do not want to return to a read-along liturgy where noses are buried in books or sheets, their owners thereby divorced from the liturgical action and symbols taking place before their eyes if they only looked up. Joseph Gelineau used to recount the story of a priest who celebrated Mass with his nose buried in the Missal from beginning to end. In the end the people’s exasperation showed when one of the dialogues ran
    Le Seigneur soit avec vous [The Lord be with you]
    Et avec votre livre [And with your book].

  3. Sincere thanks to Bishop Brian Dunn for his excellent article. I will be especially interested to see how “the acknowledgment that Pope Francis seems to have given a renewed emphasis to the importance of the comprehension of the text by the recipients” will impact any newly proposed translations.

  4. Bishop Dunn is showing us the way forward. As a Canadian, I take satisfaction in reading this article by the bishop of a small diocese in Atlantic Canada. Let’s hope other English-speaking bishops will follow his lead.

  5. For the life of me I can’t see anything better than the 1998 sacramentary. After being tried for several years 2010 is a resounding failure in helping people to pray. I can’t imagine there is any parish in the US that can’t afford a new saramentary.

  6. Bishop Dunn makes reference in the post to “the will of Pope Francis who has been calling for one translation for each language group, illuminating the unity of the Roman Rite.”

    I would like a reference for this. It is not in Magnum principium.

    There are no less than four translations in Spanish in existence — including one particular to Argentina. As far as I know, Pope Francis has made no demand that there be only one Spanish translation.

    Neither do I recall him expressing his will that English must have only one translation. If this were true, it would entail the recall of the translation now in use by the Anglican Ordinariate. There is no evidence of this that I am aware of.

    If Pope Francis has “been calling for one translation for each language group” perhaps someone can point me to the source where he says this.

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