Andrea Grillo on Translation

Pray Tell ran a translation a bit ago of a piece by Andrea Grillo on the need for a new instruction on translation. Grillo is nothing if not tenacious on this topic – he has posted eight installments so far in what has become a series of strongly-worded statements on liturgical translation.

In the most recent installment, Grillo reports on an impasse between the German bishops and the Vatican. Here’s my translation of part of the last piece – I don’t claim to be an expert in Italian, so I welcome improvements and corrections to my text. It would only be appropriate to get it right, given the topic! Emphasis in the original.

“Impasse” between German Conference and the Congregation for Worship

Last November, the German bishops presented to the Congregation for Divine Worship a very serious situation: with the current criteria and guidelines for judgment on translations – which relate primarily to the new edition of the Roman Missal – it is not possible to proceed further. If the imposed criteria are observed, it will produce incomprehensible translations. If you want to make the text more comprehensible, you must violate the established criteria. This is how a state of embarrassment and contradiction is brought about, such that the outcome cannot be anything other than total paralysis. The story has it that the German bishops have openly told the prefect, Cardinal Sarah, of their determination not to submit any more texts for the ‘recognitio’ as long as the criteria of judgment are governed by Liturgiam authenticam.

Clearly this is a very important position. It signals an underlying problem which cannot be dealt with seriously without taking up head-on the issue of a new Instruction which would profoundly alter the manner of translating and evaluating translations.

If is true that the Cardinal Prefect responded by proposing to the bishops, at the conclusion of the meeting, “a heartfelt meditation on the importance of obedience in the Church,” it must be recognized that the question is not at all that of obedience, but rather that of the impracticability of norms which you cannot obey without causing embarrassment and greater harm.



    1. @Todd Flowerday:
      I agree. Hopefully this will gain momentum among more regional conferences of bishops, now that Pope Francis is advocating a restoration of the prerogatives once exercised by these conferences in the immediate decades after Vatican 2. However, given the present composition of the USCCB, I don’t have much hope that we will see initiatives to revisit the previous (unanimously) approved 1998 English translation – nor any requests to revise the 2010 English texts that we are stuck with.

      1. @Richard Novak:
        There’s a significant group, of the US bishops that is waiting this pope out, and another group that is scared to move if there’s a change of direction in the next pontificate.

  1. If this is authentic, then Cardinal Sarah ought to think carefully about what he is saying. ‘Obedience to the Church’ does not only, or even firstly, mean ‘obedience to the Vatican’s Dicasteries.’

    The German Bishops seem to have raised the question of ‘reception’ of teaching. Though the new English translation a great improvement over its predecessor in terms of content, there is still much work to be done on its ability to communicate. Without that its advantages are lost.

    When even highly literate priests tell me that ‘half way through today’s collect I realised I hadn’t a clue what I was talking about’ (an e-mail I received during late Advent when the new version came in) – then, well …


  2. “a heartfelt meditation on the importance of obedience in the Church,”
    That a cardinal should seriously imagine that the Vatican is the church ………..
    It probably means he will get a bunch of Spanish speakers to concoct a translation with the Latin in one hand and a Latin-German dictionary in the other, and then impose the result.

  3. Hoping that Andrea Grillo’s report is true, then best wishes to the German Bishops in their ongoing discussions (?) with the CDWDS; one Japanese Bishop talked of a dialog with the deaf – deaf to cultural context, the world of thought behind the Japanese language.
    Re Alan Griffiths comment, after praying the Collect I also often wonder what I have just prayed, fairly certain that my congregation of ex-pats, over half of them are not native English speakers, are also in in the dark.
    In my role as head of the Diocesan Liturgical Commission I am currently preparing a series, in Japanese of commentaries on the Collects for the Sundays in Ordinary Time. Not too sure how useful the present English trans will be as a poing of reference. Thankfully I have a very good Latinist to call on as I try to unwrap each prayer.

    1. @Brendan Kelleher svd:
      How was Et cum spiritu tuo translated into Japanese?

      I understand that that could not be done literally in Japanese.

      I am having trouble posting the reply. I want to ask how was et cum spiritu tuo translated into Japanese. I understand that it would not be done literally in Japanese.

      1. @Halbert Weidner:

        I’d also be interested to know what the Japanese say there.

        By comparison, in Korea, we say, “And also with the priest” or if it’s in response to a deacon, “And also with the deacon.”

        It is very possible to translate literally (a la Liturgiam Authenticam) “Et cum spiritu tuo” into Korean, but we do not use that because, I remember someone from the CBCK explaining somewhere, invoking one’s spirit doesn’t quite jibe with our people, our culture, our traditional thinking/national sentiments or something like that.

        As far as I know (which, admittedly, is very little, but still!), there’s been no pressure from CDW/Vatican to change things in more scrupulous obedience to LA.

        Guess that is one of the upsides of being on the peripheries and therefore, being ignored by the powers that (used to) be and their very, almost exclusively Euro/Western-centric vision of liturgy.

  4. Just one minor alteration to your translation. Instead of “serious harm”, read, “greater harm”(“un danno maggiore”).

    Since Cardinal Sarah promotes “a heartfelt meditation on the importance of obedience in the Church”, I wonder where he sees himself in relation to Pope Francis and the washing of feet, “in order to fully express the significance of the gesture Jesus performed in the Upper Room”, as Francis wrote in his letter?

  5. If the above report is indeed accurate, then I think Cardinal Sarah, needs to retire, and I’m saying this as a conservative High Church, Catholic.


  6. Only if the English-speaking bishops had done the same thing under Benedict. I sincerely believe that Liturgiam authenticam, while well intentioned, has been a disaster.
    Once again, the germans are standing up for change and reform and to be heard by Rome(Reformation, Vatican II).
    The 1998 Sacramentary was sent to Rome for the ‘recognitio’ only to be shot down because it did not meet the new requirements of Liturgiam authenticam.
    All so sad…..

      1. @john robert francis:
        I’ll trust your timetable, but my recollection is that the document was submitted in 1997, that bishops were told in 1998 that since the MR3 was forthcoming their work would not be approved. We know the 2010 English Missal didn’t even bother to follow the rules in place at that time. I am sure some in the curia are blissfully unaware how the whole narrative lacks professionalism, let alone charity or honesty.

  7. I strongly suspect that the total rejection of the 1988 Sacramentary was due to the optional alternative prayers devised for it, and not the translation of the Latin. The rejection simply dismisses the Sacramentary as ‘not a translation’, and it is true that it is not JUST a translation. In my opinion where it is a translation, 1988 is generally much better than what we have had imposed on us, without the full consent of the bishops.

  8. Good for the German bishops. Would that the English-speaking bishops had done the same.

    English words mean what English-speaking people understand them to mean, not what Italian or Spanish-speaking cardinals in Rome say they mean. What would happen if a group of English-speaking prelates tried to tell the Italians how to pray in their own language? A certain well-known Italian gesture of contempt comes immediately to mind!

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