With Cardinal Sarah’s most recent statement on liturgical translation, it is safe to say that the gap between him and Pope Francis has just gotten a bit wider. Pope Francis’s recent Motu Proprio on translation, Magnum Principium, was seen by most commentators as a decentralization of the translation process, with most authority now devolved away from the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship to bishops’ conferences.
But Sarah, the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, issued yesterday a “humble contribution for a better and correct understanding of the Motu Proprio Magnum Principium.” In this piece, which appeared in the French Catholic journal L’Homme Nouveau, the cardinal argues that the Pope’s alteration of the Congregation’s translation authority to a last-step “confirmatio” of the work of bishops’ conferences does not mean that the Congregation simply rubber stamps their work. In his understanding, the Congregation retains the right to impose texts upon conferences as a condition for granting its confirmation.
Cardinal Sarah gives an example from the Creed:
“If the expression “consubstantialem Patri” is translated into French with: “de même nature que Père” (“of the same nature as the Father”), the Holy See can – and must (cf. no. 6) – impose the translation “consubstantiel au Père” (“consubstantial with the Father”), as a condition sine qua non of its confirmatio of the Roman Missal, in French as a whole.”
The cardinal claims that Pope Francis’s Motu Proprio does not lessen the authority of the 2001 Vatican instruction Liturgiam Authenticam. This is the document responsible for the 2011 Roman Missal text which even Abbot Cuthbert Johnson, a member of the Vatican translation commission “Vox Clara,” admitted is “a little abstruse and pretentious.” Sarah argues that the Motu Proprio brings about no significant change, with respect to Liturgiam Authenticam, concerning the standards to be imposed.
But as Rita Ferrone uncovered in a highly important articles that appeared in Commonweal this past week, the pope’s recent Motu Proprio mysteriously has buried within it something of a ticking time bomb, waiting to be discovered by textual sleuths. When Magnum Principium speaks of translation principles, it oftentimes paraphrases, or cites nearly word for word, the document Comme le Prévoit from 1969 –but with no footnote acknowledging the borrowing.
The 1969 document called for greater respect for local cultures and the inherent nature of vernacular languages than does Liturgiam authenticam (2001). The literalness called for by Liturgiam authenticam has resulted in the stilted and hard to understand translations of the 2011 Roman Missal which end up making it more difficult for the original meaning of the Latin texts to be grasped. Liturgiam authenticam had proclaimed itself to be a replacement for all earlier documents such as Comme le Prévoit, but Pope Francis obviously wants to put something of the spirit of that 1969 document back into play.
An example of Pope Francis’s reliance on Comme le Prévoit, Ferrone cites the following passages from Magnum Principium and Comme le Prévoit:
MP 7: “… Fidelity cannot always be judged by individual words but must be sought in the context of the whole communicative act and according to its literary genre.”
CLP 6: “A faithful translation, therefore, cannot be judged on the basis of individual words: the total context of this specific act of communication must be kept in mind, as well as the literary form proper to the respective language.”
Andrea Grillo, professor of liturgy at the pontifical athaneum of Sant’ Anselmo in Rome, is critical of Cardinal Sarah’s understanding of the pope’s recent Motu Proprio. In a commentary published yesterday he stated,
“By proposing a reading of the motu proprio “Magnum Principium” which totally empowers him with every right, he [Cardinal Sarah] shows that he is now playing ‘offside’ with respect to the path the Church has formally resumed since October 1 in liturgical reform and translation.”
Grillo ties this to a tendency among some figures in the church during this papacy:
“For nearly five years, a small group of theologian, pastors, and officials tries to ‘immunize’ itself from the magisterium of Francis.”
As seen with other documents of Francis such as Evangelii Gaudium, Laudato sii, and especially Amoris Laetitia, Grillo believes that this group empties documents of any significance.
Grillo charges that the Cardinal
“shows that he has not received the heart of the document at all and is totally disoriented about what the new task is.”
He asks rhetorically,
“Do we want the head of a Roman Congregation to be a prefect who seriously misunderstands papal texts, creates new conflicts with bishops’ conferences, … and declares himself, a fortiori, unavailable for the work of accompanying and of clarifying the new style which is needed?
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Finding suitable liturgical translations has proven to be a long and difficult path for the English-speaking Catholic Church. One must hope that the differences in translation theory between a pope and a cardinal prefect, or between one pope and the next, are not simply contentious oppositions, but elements in a constructive and dynamic exchange.
As I recently wrote in response to a Pray Tell commenter:
I hope it’s not one boomerang effect after another, with translation jerking back and forth in successive papacies.
I’m hopeful it won’t be that. I think we all have to start thinking about the high ground that might unite us all, with texts that are broadly “accurate,” beautiful, worthy, inspiring, and good English whether original texts or based on Latin. I’m hopeful that we’ll never go back to 1974-type English texts, and that we’ll not lose all the good we gained with the 1998, 2008, and 2011 attempts at translation.
After all this rigamarole, the Christian must hope that something good awaits us all.