News from France
Before Pope Francis issued his motu proprio on liturgical translation, Magnum principium, in September 2017, a new Missal translation into French had been drawn up according to the demands of the 2001 Vatican instruction, Liturgiam authenticam – but it was never published.
The problem was that the translation faced some of the same difficulties that the English translation has faced, namely, awkwardness and artificiality — and misunderstandings — when proclaimed in the receptor language. The francophone bishops wished to retain certain texts that they found more acceptable from the prior translation. The Congregation for Divine Worship said no. The matter reached an impasse.
When the Pope’s motu proprio returned to the conferences of bishops the role of preparing and approving translations (cf. Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy 36.4), an opening was created by which this impasse could be bridged. Representatives from each of the French-speaking conferences have spent the past year working together behind closed doors on a revision of the Missal translation. At the most recent meeting of the French conference, the final vote was cast to approve this translation which will now be sent to the Congregation for Divine Worship for recognition.
In effect, this will be the first significant test of Francis’s re-calibration of the translation process. There are many questions: Will it go smoothly? Is the revised version more idiomatic and therefore more acceptable to native speakers — but at the same time less slavish to the principles of Liturgiam authenticam? If the latter is true, will the CDW simply reject it? How does the Congregation actually understand its new role in relation to the conferences, post-Magnum principium?
One may also wonder what it portends for the future: Will this become an example for the English-speaking church of how one can successfully revise a translation within the confines of Liturgiam authenticam? Or will it demonstrate more vividly than ever that it’s necessary for Liturgiam authenticam to be replaced with a new instruction?
The Italian Translation
This week’s meeting of the Italian bishops’ conference has the approval of a new Missal translation on its agenda as well.
Interestingly, it appears that this will occur within a broader discussion of the overall direction of the liturgical reform. What is the overall direction? It’s a good question! The work of liturgical translation fundamentally hinges on larger questions about inculturation, unity in diversity, evangelization, the human person, our understanding of language and how it develops, our understanding of tradition and how to maintain it, and the proper interpretation of the Second Vatican Council.
Pope Francis, by word and example, has given direction in many of these realms. Yet liturgy remains an area of conflicting expectations. It will be interesting to see what comes of this discussion.
(The opening statement by the Italian Conference president, emphasizing the lengthy work and study that has gone into the Italian Missal, was reported here.)