Evangelii Gaudium promotes authentic liturgy. A turning point toward a sixth Instruction on the Reform of the Liturgy?

by Andrea Grillo

viadelconcilio012In the structure of Pope Francis’s pontificate – it cannot be said frequently enough – the liturgy has a place, not of “direct discourse,” but rather of “indirect practice.” This is because the Pope is a “son of the Council,” which he incarnates in supple and concrete ways. In his Masses at Casa Santa Marta, his Wednesday audiences, and his Sunday homilies, as well as in his major discourses and specifically liturgical measures (for example, the modification of the rubrics of the Holy Thursday foot-washing), it is clear that Francis celebrates the liturgy with “the joy of the Gospel.”

But there is more. Francis’s “programmatic” text, Evangelii Gaudium, lays out an ecclesial vision of a church on mission – like a “field hospital” – in a way that draws new attention to the relationship between liturgy and life, and between liturgy and culture. This vision is expressed in Francis’s intention to decentralize curial power, entrusting to regional episcopacies competence that is even doctrinal in character. The appropriation of such decentralization within the teaching of Evangelii Gaudium itself is already highly significant.

All of this contrasts fundamentally with what has been happening in the area of liturgy for the past fifteen years, since the promulgation of the Fifth Instruction “For the Right Implementation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy,” Liturgiam Authenticam (2001). That document has effectively stalled at the universal level every effort at authentic inculturation of the liturgy. Liturgiam Authenticam called for a universal retooling the liturgy based on its Latin prototype – one that is inevitably static and closed off – by favoring an obstinately and scholastically literal translation and by pretending that the vernacular languages bear the same structure and rhetorical elements as Latin. This has been, from the beginning, a project lacking any solid foundation, not only in simple, human experience, but also in the tradition of the Church.

Never has the “receiving language” been treated with such disregard. It is as though knowledge of the original text is essential to understanding its translation! But when a language that is no longer taught by any mother to her child becomes the sole and decisive measure of the living languages, who can stand to live within such a “Clockwork Orange”? Who could have devised such an abstruse and self-referential system? If the entire structure is determined by a language that “has no future” – which is the case for Latin, a language without the capacity for renewal, a quality that some find reassuring, because that means it is also deprived of a history – how long will it be before tradition is reduced to nothing more than a “wax museum”?

After a troubled fifteen-year reign, Liturgiam Authenticam has reached the end of its line. Not only have legitimate criticisms been raised from the start, from both doctrinal and pastoral points of view, but the facts have demonstrated it to be, throughout these years, both flawed in theory and virtually inapplicable in practice. And where the matter has been forced despite these problems, the result has been liturgical texts that are technically “correct” documents – that is, consistent with poorly conceived norms – but which lack, as a result, any relationship with living language, real life, and the lived faith of those for whose use the texts are intended. At the root of everything is not a philological problem, but a theological and anthropological one: a rigid tradition and the presumption that the experience of the liturgical subject is unimportant.

Bishops today, throughout the world, find themselves between a rock and a hard place: they want to continue to “obey Rome,” of course; but they also want to and must serve the faith of their people. They know very well that obeying in Rome means producing unusable texts. But they also know that promoting real growth of their church means they must deviate substantially from the “Roman criteria.” The only possible solution is to “stop everything.” Ask for nothing from Rome, in order to avoid tripping up the distorted central control process, for fear that evolution will become devolution and that obedience will generate still more confusion and encourage only the most sectarian spirits.

The literalistic radicalism of Liturgiam Authenticam has generated division and despair, and this was easily predictable fifteen years ago. It is clear now that the most widespread sentiment among the leadeship of episcopal conferences throughout the world is fear. In fifteen years, Liturgiam Authenticam has produced – at least among the hierarchy – a real “angor liturgicus,” an anxiety and suffering that have now reached intolerable levels. The “joy of the gospel” cannot coexist with the “fear of the liturgy.” And if we start, in liturgical matters, with “luctus et angor” – a phrase which was included in the original title of what eventually became the conciliar Constitution Gaudium et Spes – how can we possibly take up the true and great revival of the conciliar gaudium and spes that Pope Francis calls us to? Evangelii Gaudium envisions a church on mission, capable of an authentic liturgy. But there can be no authentic liturgy until we reject the lifeless and defensive stance of Liturgiam Authenticam, which will only give us a church that is closed and locked in its own past, where the liturgy becomes a “diocesan museum,” with air conditioning and bulletproof glass cases.

This is now the conditio sine qua non: either a new, sixth instruction on liturgical reform is written, or we will be increasingly dominated by fear, paralysis, and immobility. And the good Roman officials, locked in their offices, will continue to spend their time passing judgment on individual words, the signs of peace, the different forms of singing, the overlooked Latin structures … their gaze directed only toward the past, without joy, fearful of the slightest liturgical abuse, ignoring the customs and the great and inexhaustible experience of men and women. But even these officials are among the victims: Liturgiam Authenticam has “forced them” to work this way! How is it possible that it takes a letter from the pope explicitly asking for the reform of a rubric in order for them to “open their eyes” and take a breath? Surely the Congregation’s task should be one of stimulus, of openness, of momentum. How can there be, in a Church that sees itself essentially on mission, a congregation that specializes only in locks and alarm systems? I believe that a rediscovery of our “vocation to joy” can only happen if that congregaton is able to adopt, finally, a new instruction. Too much time and energy has been spent over the past fifteen years on efforts to avoid applying principles that are inapplicable, both in theory and in practice.

In the present stage of our history, we do not need liturgical lamentations; we need hymns to joy. I know that many experts, theologians, and pastors would be ready and willing to collaborate in preparing an instruction that translates Evangelii Gaudium into practical guidelines for an area so important as the liturgy. We need, in short, a text that puts into practice the Sacrae Liturgiae Gaudium! And we need to bring to an end these disciplinary and institutional contortions that only result in paralysis and lost time, and that are founded not on joy but on fear, not on hope but on resignation.

Rather than creating “unrealities” – like artificial languages based on Latin that do not exist and will never exist, even by the decree of a Roman congregation – let us heed the invitation to give primacy to reality, to truly step outside the walls we have built around us, to breathe pure air, to speak in living languages, to be among our brothers and sisters, to take in the smell: let us write, now, a new instruction. It is the only way we will be able to restore a little common sense.

Translated and reprinted with permission of Munera. Rivista Europea di Cultura. Andrea Grillo teaches liturgy at Sant’ Anselmo in Rome. He is the author of Beyond Pius V: Conflicting Interpretations of the Liturgical Reform, published by Liturgical Press.



  1. The point he makes about “ignoring the customs and the great and inexhaustible experience of men and women” is especially important. There is a great reservoir we do not tap. Could a new instruction get us there? I think it would help, but would not be sufficient (which is not any reason not to do it, or not to advocate it, but a note that more will be needed).

    The mentality that uderlies the instruction and its implementation would have to change. The Pope has already given us leadership on a renewed mentality, but there has been such a fatigue factor from standing on our heads trying to implement LA, that I think people are fearful about following Pope Francis on this and have repeated the mantra so often of “nothing can be done” that they now believe it.

    Grillo isn’t as depressed as we are because his language group has not yet been forced to accept a wooden and lifeless translation in the name of supposedly “authentic” liturgy.

    Grillo’s essay is essentially a cri de coeur, and much of it is rhetorical in style. Yet it is backed up by a sound idea: linking the Pope’s encyclical to liturgy, and the “right implementation” of Sacrosanctum Concilium. This link needs to be made forcefully, and I hope others will continue to think and write about this. It would be wrong to fault Grillo for not saying more about how this all could be done. For the purposes of this short essay he does assert the practicability of a new instruction, noting that the gifts are available, and the people are there who could write it. He is right about that.

  2. At least one good thing Liturgicam Authenticam established is that translation principles are not fixed in stone and can be changed. Not that we needed LA to establish it, but one would be hard pressed to invoke LA and *persuasively* contend they cannot be….

    1. @Doug O’Neill:

      You do realize that the article you reference is a joke? Yes, there is a Latin ATM to the left-hand side of St Peter’s Basilica (but most folk would never get to see it because it is beyond the Swiss Guards and thus for “inhabitants” only, and in any case it also operates in Italian and English) and yes, there is a Latin dictionary of terms such as helicopter, but all the translations given (flirt, etc) have been made up by the article’s author and others.

      Latin is a dead language because people do not speak it as part of normal social intercourse. I know no one who would say “Pass the marmalade” in Latin at breakfast (though I can think of a few folk who would like to, if only anyone else could understand). We now have a Synod of Bishops with linguistic groups, precisely because so few even understand Latin any more. General seminary formation in Latin ended in the 1970s, though the language is still taught in some places. Studying in Rome these days demands a knowledge of Italian, not Latin.

      1. @Paul Inwood:
        Forget the “dead” stuff. That’s for linguists to decide. If new words are being created in Latin, it is renewable, and thus the author is in error.

      2. @Paul Inwood:
        A point of clarification. While teaching in Rome is no longer in Latin, a limited proficiency is required for completion of many first cycle courses and for admission into most second cycle courses. With a few exceptions, however, it is a fairly basic level and doesn’t change the argument.

  3. What language will the new sixth instruction be written in? Will there be an official version? If so, who gets to decide the language of that?

    No, such simplistic reasonings as Grillo’s are not the stuff of serious liturgical scholarship and praxis.

    1. @Peter Kwasniewski:
      Peter, you can disagree with other scholars, even strongly, and you can present reasons for your position. But dismissing something by calling it unserious is not a helpful contribution. We all know that future instructions will be written in Latin, since that’s the custom. But that tells us nothing about how it or any other document should be translated, or how the central administration should relate to local cultures.

      1. @Anthony Ruff, OSB:
        The real state of Latin in the Church is revealed in the fact that its Latin documents are almost always translations. I have no particular objection to that, and perhaps there is even some advantage in having a text in Latin, but it is fiction to pretend that these “official” texts are “originals”. Modern languages are almost always the languages of composition. I remember the supreme Latinist Fr Reggie Foster complaining vociferously about a document of John Paul II that was composed in Polish, translated into German, and then sent to the Office of Latin Letters for the translation-of-a-translation into Latin. Mythologizing the role of Latin in “serious liturgical scholarship and praxis”, as Peter Kwasniewski often does, is removed from reality. For what it’s worth, I say this as a competent Latinist myself.

      2. @Anthony Ruff, OSB:
        Thank you, Father — let me try to be more clear about the problem I have with Dr. Grillo’s position.

        He appears to be arguing not only that Latin is, practically speaking, not the language most of us speak, but that it cannot and should not be a liturgical language (and, moreover, that a hieratic, poetic, formal vernacular cannot and should not be a liturgical language, either). This is an ideological stance. It is a statement of disrespect towards 1,500 years of the Catholic worship tradition and towards the minority in the Church today who still love and cherish the Latin liturgy in its preconciliar form. It is, moreover, a sharp departure from the Second Vatican Council’s prescription that Latin be retained (albeit complemented by the vernacular) and that Gregorian chant be given pride of place. Thus, I find his entire approach vitiated from the start by his principles and assumptions, which do not appear to be those of the Church. It would seem, by a logical consequence, that he would like to see liturgy radically pluralized — as indeed Cardinal Kasper and others are comfortable with different doctrine being taught in different parts of the Catholic world. All of this is hard to distinguish from dogmatic relativism. The language of the liturgy may look like an “accidental,” but it is a sign and symbol of something far greater, namely, the unity of the Catholic faith and the Catholic world, in spite of all of our differences of culture, nationality, and custom.

        Moreover, Dr. Grillo should try telling an orthodox Jew that he cannot and should not pray in biblical Hebrew, or a Moslem that he cannot and should not pray in classical Arabic. Ultimately, the languages we learn and use are either the ones we need for practical reasons, or the ones that bring us closer to something beautiful that we love. Someone who fell in love with Goethe might take the effort to learn German in order to read him in the original. The application to Latin is not hard…

  4. Mi pare evidente che la questione non riguarda la lingua di LA, ma la lingua della liturgia. Anche Dante scriveva in latino per dinostrare che la poesia latina era finita…

  5. Strictly speaking, it’s not for linguists to decide. It’s for communities of speakers to decide.

    Is there a region anywhere in the world where Latin is used as everyday speech? Latin itself as the living language, not a word here or there.

  6. In their zeal to promote the study and use of Latin, some of the commenters posting on this thread are taking us off track. The issue is NOT whether or not to suppress Latin. The issue is what shall dominate our translation policies and protocol.

    If the concern to reproduce Latin syntax and vocabulary, ideas and sentence structure strangles the vernacular liturgy, it helps neither Latin nor those who love Latin. It’s as simple as that.

    The living liturgy as celebrated by faithful disciples living in today’s world, the liturgy as “act” rather than the liturgy as printed page, is not served IN THE VERNACULAR by using Latin as a means of control and uniformity.

    At Vatican II, in the language debate, the pro-Latin forces argued for Latin as precisely that: a means of insuring doctrinal uniformity. They lost that debate. And rightly so. Because the fathers who argued against it, persuasively, argued that our unity resides not in worship in a single language, but is a gift of the Holy Spirit still at work today, as at Pentecost, in a multiplicity of languages.

    What LA did is to transfer the same anxiety about fragmentation and doctrinal confusion into the translation arena, while championing Latin as the unique repository of truth (“authenticity”) in the liturgy. “Preserving” the liturgy according to LA is accomplished by tying the liturgy tightly to Latin, as if Latinity is a lifeboat — the guarantor of what is doctrinally true and pure in the tradition.

    This is nonsense. The Holy Spirit is more gloriously manifold than this, and is still abroad in the varieties of people and languages on earth. LA was always intended to strangle inculturation, from the day it was produced up until today. That’s the real issue, not whether or not you can say “hot pants” in Latin, or whether seminarians can pass a competence exam.

    1. @Rita Ferrone:

      Thank you, Rita, for your well-written and trenchant analysis. Indeed, as you write, “If the concern to reproduce Latin syntax and vocabulary, ideas and sentence structure strangles the vernacular liturgy, it helps neither Latin nor those who love Latin.” As I interpret Andrea Grillo in his aforementioned article, the shoehorned current English translation of the Missale Romanum reduces Latin to a caricature, a result most of us (I hope) have desired to avoid.

      The revolution of vernacular worship in the Reformation often resulted in two orders of worship: one in a vernacular and one in Latin. Martin Luther had his formula Missae and “Deutsche Messe”; Thomas Cranmer back-translated an early Book of Common Prayer into Latin for use in collegiate chapels. I doubt that many in the postconciliar Church want to cede Latin to traditionalism. Perhaps the solution is to regularly celebrate Mass in Latin according to the Ordinary Form in places where people who read Latin well are gathered, such as Catholic universities and seminaries.

      Most parishes are homes for people who, for the most part, do not read Latin and often desire fully vernacular worship. This desire must be both respected and given due reverence through sound translation. The reformers perceived the need for worthy parish vernacular worship acutely. It is unfortunate that the postconciliar Catholic Church has often glanced over this reality and its hidden possibilities for different situations for Latin and vernacular worship.

  7. Spot on Rita!

    To be fair, Andrea Grillo brings a red herring (allec rubeum, or perhaps it’s an ignoratio elenchi) into the conversation when he refers to

    ”… a language that “has no future” – which is the case for Latin, a language without the capacity for renewal, a quality that some find reassuring, because that means it is also deprived of a history …

    This may have led some commenters to conclude that Grillo is attacking Latin – curious, given that he peppers his excellent essay with Latin terms. I see no objection in his article to Latin as a neutral language of record or as an option for liturgy.

    But part of Latin’s neutrality stems from the fact that it is always translated. Virtually nobody today “speaks” Latin without an intermediate decoding step. And by “speaking” I don’t mean the ability to read a well-known text – the Roman Canon, for example, or the Aeneid – without much intermediate thought-translation, but the much tougher task of engaging in an unplanned, unprepared conversation in the language.

    Are there more than 2 or 3 people in the world who can do accurate simultaneous translation between, say, Swedish and Latin? I doubt it. As other commenters have noted, have any recent Vatican documents – including Liturgiam Authenticam itself – been composed in Latin, without a start in another language? I doubt it.

    Translation to and from Latin is always with us and always critical; it can’t be wished away. Here we get to Grillo’s central point: Latin itself doesn’t tell us how to translate Latin into another language. This is where the idiocy of Liturgiam Authenticam surfaces – it even tells translators to mirror the capitalisation of the Latin texts!

    I’ve used the following example before; I’ll use it once more and never again on Pray Tell. To translate J’ai accepté à passer une soirée chez ma tante as “I have accepted to pass a soiree at the house of my aunt” doesn’t show fidelity to the French; it mocks the vocabulary, style and structure of the language. And that’s what Liturgiam Authenticam and the new Mass translation do to English – and to Latin.

    1. @Jonathan Day:
      I am reminded of my Latin professor in college, married to another professor in the Classics department, as they were awaiting their first child and announced their intention to raise their child to speak Latin as mother tongue.

      (A rather different situation from salvaging the mother tongue of an endangered ethnos from extinction.)

    2. @Jonathan Day:
      My Hachette / Oxford dictionary gives more than one meaning for accepter: 2 “to agree to” . So “I agreed to spend an evening at my aunt’s home” might work. Alternatively we add the missing word to get ‘I accepted an invitation…”. For Bertie Wooster an invitation from Aunt Agatha was to be avoided at all costs. One from Aunt Dahlia (and the prospect of Anatole the chef) was quite different. We may need context here.

  8. Does the Ordinariates liturgy: Divine Worship, not provide an example of English that is ” a hieratic, poetic, formal vernacular “? And without being forced into a latinate straightjacket.

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