Pope Francis has sent a letter to Cardinal Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship (CDW), correcting his misunderstandings of the recent motu proprio “Magnum Principium.” Cardinal Sarah published an article in the French journal L’Homme Nouveau, as Pray Tell reported, arguing for a maximal ongoing role for the CDW and continuity with previous norms. He also wrote a letter to Pope Francis.
(Pray Tell first reported on Francis’s groundbreaking motu proprio here. Rita Ferrone uncovered similarities between the motu proprio and the 1969 Vatican instruction on translation in this Commonweal piece.)
In the controversial 2001 document Liturgiam authenticam (LA), the Holy See contravened the Second Vatican Council by giving itself the right to grant the recognitio to liturgical translations and to impose translations upon episcopal conferences. The 2011 English Missal was an example of such imposition – after the English-speaking episcopal conferences submitted their translations to the CDW, in a process which for its part was micromanaged by the CDW, the conferences received back a different text that had over 10,000 changes from their submission.
Pope Francis is making it abundantly clear that this is no longer to happen. The 2011 English Missal would not have been issued in its present translation on Pope Francis’s watch, it is safe to say.
The pope’s letter to Cardinal Sarah is quite strongly worded. He makes it clear that there is a difference between confirmatio and recognitio. Only the former is the the right of the Holy See, and it is not interchangeable with the recognitio it previously granted. The pope says that he wishes to “abolish the practice adopted by your dicastery [i.e., office – ed.] following Liturgiam authenticam” in this regard.
The authority of LA is clearly restricted by the pope’s recent motu proprio. It is no longer the case that “translations must conform in all points to the norms of Liturgiam authenticam.” Pope Francis writes that “individual numbers of Liturgiam authenticam must be carefully reconceived, including nos. 79-84.” The passages cited are those dealing with the responsibilities of episcopal conferences and of Rome. The wording (“including”) suggests that the reconception the pope calls for includes but is not necessarily limited to those six articles of LA.
In a weighty passage which seems to cast LA in a new light, the pope writes that fideliter (“faithfully”) in his motu proprio “implies a threefold fidelity: in primis, to the original text; then to the particular language in which it is translated, and finally to the comprehension of the text by the recipients.” Although there are passages in LA mentioning all of these concerns, the pope’s clear wording, with the second and third elements being the receptor language and its comprehension, shifts the emphasis away from an undue emphasis on the first element (the original Latin text) at the expense of the other two.
Here’s an interesting wrinkle: how is “in primis” to be understood? Is it simply the first in a list of three items? Or is it the most important of the three? “In primis” in Latin is generally held to mean “above all.” But this term is translated as “firstly” in the 2011 English Missal in the Roman Canon: “which we offer you firstly…for your holy catholic Church…” Defenders of LA and of the 2011 Roman Missal may ironically be stuck having to say that faithfulness to the original text is simply one concern, not the most important, because the CDW blew it on this point in its supposedly strict application of LA.
Here’s another interesting wrinkle. The pope writes in his letter that the Commentaire, presumably a reference to the article by Cardinal Sarah in the French magazine, was erroneously attributed to Sarah. Are we to understand that Cardinal Sarah did not write that widely-discussed article, though he has not said this publicly since its publication?
Pray Tell offers a translation of the Italian text:
Vatican City, October 15, 2017
To His Eminence the Most Reverend
Cardinal Robert SARAH
Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship
and the Discipline of the Sacraments
I received your letter of September 30, in which you wished to express your gratitude for the publication of Motu Proprio Magnum Principium and to send me a note of elaboration on it, Commentaire, striving for a better understanding of the text.
In expressing my thanks for the commitment and the contribution, I would simply like to express, and I hope clearly, some observations on this note that I consider to be important especially for the proper application and understanding of the Motu Proprio and to avoid any misunderstanding.
First of all, it is important to point out the importance of the clear difference that the new Motu Proprio establishes between recognitio and confirmatio, well established in articles 2 and 3 of canon 838, in order to abolish the practice adopted by your dicastery following Liturgiam authenticam (LA) which the new Motu Proprio intended to change. We cannot therefore say that recognitio and confirmatio are “strictly synonymous (or) are interchangeable” or that “they are interchangeable at the level of responsibility of the Holy See.”
In fact the new canon 838, through the distinction between recognitio and confirmatio, asserts the changed responsibility of the Apostolic See in the exercise of these two actions, as well as that of the episcopal conferences. Magnum Principium no longer argues that translations must conform in all points to the norms of Liturgiam authenticam, as was previously the case. For this reason, individual numbers of Liturgiam authenticam must be carefully reconceived, including nos. 79-84, in order to distinguish what is required by the code for translation and what is required for legitimate adaptations. It is therefore clear that some of Liturgiam authenticam’s numbers have been abrogated or are taken up into the terms in which they were reformulated by the Motu Proprio’s new canon (eg. no. 76 and also no. 80).
On the responsibility of the bishops’ conferences to translate “fideliter,” it should be pointed out that the judgment of fidelity to Latin and any necessary corrections had been the task of the dicastery, but now the norm grants to episcopal conferences the right to judge the quality (bontà) and consistency between one term and another in the translation from the original, even if this is in dialogue with the Holy See. Confirmatio no longer supposes a detailed word-by-word examination, except in the obvious cases that can be brought to the bishops for their further reflection. This applies in particular to the relevant formulas, such as the Eucharistic Prayers and in particular the sacramental formulas approved by the Holy Father. Confirmatio also takes into account the integrity of the book, that is, verifying that all components that make up the typical edition have been translated (1).
Here it can be added that, in the light of the motu proprio, “fideliter” of § 3 of the canon implies a threefold fidelity: in primis, to the original text; then to the particular language in which it is translated, and finally to the comprehension of the text by the recipients (see Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani nos. 391-392).
In this sense, recognitio only indicates verification and preservation of conformity to the law and communion of the Church. The process of translating relevant liturgical texts (eg. sacramental formulas, the Credo, the Pater Noster) into a language – from which they are considered authentic translations – should not lead to a spirit of “imposition” upon the episcopal conferences of a given translation made by the dicastery, as this would undermine the right of the bishops sanctioned in the canon and, already prior to that, Sacrosanctum Concilium 36 § 4. Moreover, let us recall the analogy with canon 825 § 1 concerning the version of Sacred Scripture, which does not require confirmatio by the Apostolic See.
It is mistaken to attribute to confirmatio the purpose of recognitio (i.e. to “verify and safeguard compliance with law”). Of course, confirmatio is not merely formal, but necessary for publication of the translated liturgical book: it is granted after the version has been submitted to the Apostolic See for the ratification of the bishops’ approval in a spirit of dialogue and aid to reflection, if and when necessary, respecting their rights and duties, considering the legality of the process followed and its various aspects (2).
Finally, Your Eminence, I reiterate my fraternal gratitude for your commitment and note that the Commentaire which has been published on some websites, and erroneously attributed to you, I kindly ask you to provide this response to the same sites, and also to send it to all episcopal conferences, and the members and consultors of your dicastery.
(1) Magnum Principium: The goal of the translation of liturgical texts and of biblical texts for the Liturgy of the Word is to announce the word of salvation to the faithful in obedience to the faith and to express the prayer of the Church to the Lord. For this purpose it is necessary to communicate to a given people using its own language all that the Church intended to communicate to other people through the Latin language. While 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, nevertheless some particular terms must also be considered in the context of the entire Catholic faith because each translation of texts must be congruent with sound doctrine.”
(2) Magnum Principium: “Without doubt, attention must be paid to the benefit and good of the faithful, nor must the right and duty of episcopal conferences be forgotten who, together with episcopal conferences from regions sharing the same language and with the Apostolic See, must ensure and establish that, while the character of each language is safeguarded, the sense of the original text is fully and faithfully rendered and that even after adaptations the translated liturgical books always illuminate the unity of the Roman Rite.”