The role of the conference of bishops in the translation of liturgical texts

by Bishop Brian Dunn

Editor’s note: In this careful canonical analysis, Bishop Brian Dunn of Antigonish, Novia Scotia, Canada determines the role of national bishops’ conferences in approving vernacular liturgical texts. He concludes:

Liturgiam authenticam marks a much more “activist” approach for the Roman curia in the preparation of translations of liturgical texts than has been the rule since Vatican II. The Council had entrusted this task to the conferences of bishops (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 36, §4), but now the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments has made abundantly clear its intention to become directly involved itself in the details of translation, particularly for the major vernacular languages such as English, French, and Spanish. In spite of this more activist approach, conferences of bishops still have the legitimate right to approve texts of translation, after which they are presented to the Apostolic See for recognitio.

Click here to read “The role of the conference of bishops in the translation of liturgical texts” by Bishop Brian Dunn.


  1. Bishop Dunn’s article could be read as passing the buck to the Vatican, and it is true that Vatican encroachments are the main cause of the debacle. But the failure of the bishops to resist these was a spineless betrayal of their office. “Conversio textus latini in linguam vernaculam in liturgia adhibenda, a competenti auctoritate ecclesiastica terriroriali, de qua supra, approbari debet” (Sacrosanctum concilium 36.4); that is, translation from Latin to the vernacular should be approved by the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority. The Vatican has arrogated that competence to itself, leaving to the bishops only the right to make “observations” on texts pushed through by the Vatican, observations which the Vatican has freely ignored. Moreover, the latest batch of mistranslations, accepted by the Vatican but not even seen by the bishops, further gravely contradicts the letter and still more the spirit of the Council.

  2. I sometimes wonder about the process. How can the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority approve a translation, only to have it dramatically changed or tossed out all together by the “recognitio” process? The bishops have authority to approve, but a Vatican committee has the power to unapprove. Is this disfunctional or what?

  3. Question… in seeing some of the collects…

    they either end in “Through our Lord.” or “Who lives and reigns”

    Is that the only two endings? Are they all that abrupt? We all know that the people in the pews are listening for “forever and ever” or one of the other formularies… are the above what is going to appear in 2011? It’s just odd.

      1. So they’re shorthand for??? … in other words they’ll stay the same formularies as they are in the current Sacramentary?

    1. For collects addressed to Christ, I was hoping we’d get, “Through the same.” I guess we didn’t.

  4. The new book will be called the Roman Missal, and the term Sacramentary will no longer be used. Keith Pecklers points out that the term collect(Roman Stational Liturgy) comes from the term collecta, which described the processional assembly and consisted of an ad collectum, a prayer said prior to the procession moving to the designated stational church.

  5. Most of the earliest Sacramentaries and Missals simply concluded the collects Per… or even a single glyph indicating for the presider to simply conclude in the customary way.

  6. I’ve only just seen this. My problem with this analysis is the last step. Bishop Dunn seems to acknowledge that under the Vatican II constitution, canon law and other various post-conciliar curial documents on the liturgy, the Holy See has the right to regulate the liturgy generally, and must grant recognitio or approval to all liturgical translations, for which the bishops have the primary responsibility. However, he then seems to conclude that the Holy See can’t require changes in order to grant recognitio and can’t “impose” a translation on the bishops. I think it would be just as reasonable an interpretation of the right of recognitio that it implies a right to demand certain changes in the bishops’ work product in order to grant the recognitio. Thus, it would seem to me that if the Holy See takes into consideration the work product of the bishops and grants recognito subject to certain changes, I think arguably the Holy See is complying with the requirements of Sacrosanctum Concilium and canon law. If the Holy See were to completely ignore the bishops work and impose something completely different, then I think that might be more problematic, although I could envision situations where the bishops and the Holy See were completely at loggerheads, and the good of the faithful might require extraordinary action by the Holy See, based on its general power of regulation of the liturgy and the Pope’s supreme governance of the Church as Vatican I taught.

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