Excellent Article on Translation at Vatican Website

At the website of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments [CDW] is a very fine article on collaboration between the Curia and bishops’ conferences in the area of liturgical translations. It is by Fr. Giacomo Incitti, professor of canon law at Urbaniana University and consultor of the Vatican’s Congregation for Clergy, and also reported to be a member of the committee the pope appointed to re-examine Liturgiam authenticam.

The Vatican website has it up in both Italian and English. Here it is in English: “Magnum Principium: For a Better Mutual Collaboration between the Roman Curia and Bishops’ Conferences.”

Fr. Incitti recalls the teachings of the Second Vatican Council that the Roman curia is at the service of the pope and of the world’s bishops, noting that doctrinal development on the juridical and doctrinal authority of bishops’ conferences is “ongoing.”

The central issue is the nature of the action taken by Rome when bishops’ conferences submit translation The recognitio on the part of the Vatican authorities involves an attentive and detailed examination of a submission, but the confirmatio does not.

The main take-away on the significance of Pope Francis’s motu proprio Magnum Principium [MP] is that vernacular translations require only confirmatio from Rome now, and no longer recognitio. Adaptations, on the other hand, still require the Roman recognitio.

Before MP: Now, since MP:
Translations required from Rome: recognitio confirmatio
Adaptations require from Rome: recognitio recognitio

Incitti is critical of Vatican overreach. There is this, for example:

“Liturgiam authenticam no. 80 was contrary to the Code [of Canon law] and thus gave rise to an abusive practice, whereby it was foreseen that ‘The practice of seeking the recognitio from the Apostolic See for all translations of liturgical books accords the necessary assurance of the authenticity of the translation…’” Yes, he wrote “abusive.”

Incitti sees Francis’s move from recognitio to confirmatio as a “return to the reading of Sacrosanctum Concilium.” Indeed,

“[T]he Motu Proprio itself establishes its governing criteria: return to the Council.”

The charge has been made by some that Vatican II was betrayed by a “spirit of the Council” or a “Council of the media.” This charge usually comes from quarters calling for more Roman surveillance and less regional diversity. Incitti’s piece suggests that a return to the Council might in fact mean a move in the opposite direction.

Incitti reminds us that it was proposed during Vatican II – and rejected – that territorial authorities (later called episcopal conferences) would propose to the Holy See whether and to what extent vernacular would be used. The Council decided, rather, that bishops themselves would make this decision, and their decision would in turn be approved, i.e. confirmed, by the Apostolic see. Not recognized.

As Incitti wryly puts it,

“It does not require a great effort to understand that the terminology chosen by Pope Francis takes up that of the Council.”

At Vatican II a council father asked whether translations from Latin into vernacular were to be submitted to the Holy See for approval. The Commission drafting the liturgy constitution replied that this was not the case. According to Incitti, the liturgy constitution “establishes that the exclusive competence [for approval of translations] lies with the local church authority, no intervention on the part of the Apostolic See being foreseen.”

Then here’s a fascinating bit of church politics. The apostolic letter Liturgiam sacram of Paul VI of January 25, 1964, as published in L’Osservatore Romano, said that vernacular translations were to be recognoscendas and probandas – “reviewed and approved” in the translation now at the Vatican website. The recognitio was already back – only a few weeks after the fathers of Vatican II had decided otherwise!

Council fathers protested this reversion by the pope to the wording which they had just explicitly rejected at the Council. In response to the outcry, the text of the pope’s letter was changed when it was officially promulgated in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, so that the role of the Apostolic See is again to “approve, that is confirm” (probanda, seu confirmanda) the decision by the bishops to approve translations. (This is not the version at the Vatican website.)

In Incitti’s view, the “recognitio” that made its way back into canon 838 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law “lacked sufficient justification.” So Francis has now removed it from canon law.

Incitti considers it “wise counsel” that involvement of the Curia in approving translations should be avoided, “based on a lack of competence in all the necessary languages.” As he comments in a footnote, “How many students in Roman faculties, from so-called mission territories, were involved … in evaluating the translations approved by their Bishops!” Might as well name that too.

Incitti concludes:

At the conclusion of this study, it would seem reasonable to place Magnum principium within the context of Pope Francis’s ongoing work of renewal in the Church. … The ‘motu proprio’ favors collaboration between the Roman Curia and the Conferences of Bishops, reestablishing the criterion indicated by the Council according to which the translation of liturgical texts is not the competence of the Roman Curia but of the Bishops united in their Conference. It is on the Bishops… that there falls not only the duty but the responsibility of translation, which, precisely because it is a fruit of their episcopal office enjoys, of its nature, the presumption of fidelity. To the Apostolic See there remains the duty of the confirmatio.












    1. The Congregation for Divine Worship must be in a very odd state indeed if it publishes an (excellent) article on its own website, which in one of its footnotes (p. 5, n. 20) cites the letter of Pope Francis to the sitting prefect correcting his own erroneous public interpretation of “Magnum principium”.

      The other article about “Magnum principium” on the Congregation’s site is no less interesting. In an informative article in “Commonweal” (https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/faithful-translation), Rita Ferrone pointed out the passages of “Magnum principium” that quote “Comme le prévoit”, and so make the essential points of this text, hitherto of uncertain canonical status (as a document of the Consilium, published without a protocol number, and apparently rescinded by Liturgiam authenticam), part of liturgical law. But I don’t think anyone has pointed out that the title of Francis’ motu proprio is itself a quotation from Blessed Paul VI’s address to the Consilium on 19 April 1967. Mario Lessi Ariosto’s “Rights and Duties Arising from the Nature of the Liturgy” quotes the relevant passage:

      “quae certo est quaestio digna ad quam diligenter attendatur, sed non eiusmodi ut solvi possit qui magno illi principio adversetur , per Concilium confirmato, ex quo preactio liturgica, ad populi captum accommodata, intellegi quaeat et qui alteri repugnet principio dicimus ex quo animi sensus intimi et sincerissimi sermone qui in ipsa vulgi consuetudine viget exprimantur”.
      “Latin is an issue certainly deserving serious attention, but the issue cannot be solved in a way that is opposed to the great principle affirmed by the Council, namely, that liturgical prayer, accommodated to the understanding of the people, is to be intelligible. Nor can it be solved in opposition to another principle called for by the collectivity of human culture, namely, that peoples’ deepest and sincerest sentiments can best be expressed through the vernacular as it is in actual usage.”

      So for Paul VI, the “great principle” or underlying issue is that of the intelligibility of the liturgy; the use of vernacular languages is to be understood within that context of intelligibility. Rather a lot of the present English translation of the Missal fails on that score.

  1. I especially like the phrase, precatio liturgica, ad populi captum accomodata, intellegi quaeat… Pope Paul is still right despite contrary assertions that persist to this very day. Not so far from Cranmer’s quaint statement that the liturgy should be understanded of the people.

    Thank you for posting the Latin!

  2. Incitti’s essay also takes up the subject of the diaconal ministry of the Curia. I don’t know how common this language is in canon law circles, but I had never heard the work of the Curia described as “diaconal” before.

    Pope Francis’s recent Christmas address to the Curia expounded the very same theme, and even used some of the language of Magnum principium to describe the ideal of how the curia should function in relation to the local churches.

    From his recent address it seems clear that the Pope is interested in developing this idea of the curia at the service of the local churches.

    I’m thoughtful about how long the reform of the curia is taking. It has seemed, well, too long. and I have wondered who or what is holding it up. But now I am beginning to wonder whether it is not so much a delayed fulfillment, but rather an iterative process, and Francis is discovering the way to reform by steps and stages himself.

    Magnum principium addresses a specific problem within a framework of general principles of renewal characteristic of Francis and his pontificate: return to the Council, the model of service, the attentive inclusion of those on the peripheries.

    But on the other hand it seems at least possible that the effort to address the particular issue of who oversees translation has in fact generated a more penetrating grasp of what is at stake in the reform of the curia more generally.

  3. “But now I am beginning to wonder whether it is not so much a delayed fulfillment, but rather an iterative process, and Francis is discovering the way to reform by steps and stages himself. ”

    Rita is probably right about this. But I also think that there are two aspects to this reform. There is the institutional aspect, but there is also an aspect of conversion of hearts and minds. This second aspect is necessarily a long haul (not everyone is St. Paul) and it’s the fundamental element of the reform. Without it, whatever the G7 comes up with is almost bound to fail. I would say that Francis started working on this from the very beginning of his pontificate, and that the morning masses at St. Martha’s should be seen as the source of the desired reform. Perhaps he wants to bring his collaborators to see themselves as a eucharistic community, gathered around their bishop, and that their diaconia in service to the Servant of the servants of God for the whole Church flows from their sacramental participation in his episcopal ministry.

    Sometimes (often?) people think Francis isn’t interested in liturgy. If that means he isn’t interested in discussing the optimum length of maniple fringe, they’re right. But perhaps history will show that he is one of the most profoundly liturgical popes in the Church’s history.

    1. Wise words. The vision of a diaconal ministry flowing from Eucharistic communion is a beautiful one, and I’d like to think it is the operant vision.

      Francis does seem to be proceeding on two fronts: change of heart, and reform of structures. Your observation is key: Conversion of heart must accompany any systems adjustment or structural reform if these are to bear fruit. May it happen!

  4. I appreciate your posting this article, but your stress on the Vatican overreach is possibly guilty of a too-literal translation of the Italian. You write :Yes, he wrote “abusive.” In fact he wrote “Era contrario al codice e, pertanto, generatore di una prassi abusiva, il n. 80 di Liturgiam authenticam…”, which means rather “It was contrary to the Code, and therefor gave rise to an illegal/illegitimate practice”. The word “abusivo” is the normal Italian word for what is contrary to law, though it can also be used of behaviour which is ‘abusive’, but this latter can hardly be intended by Incitti.

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