Pope Francis recently promulgated an apostolic letter issued motu proprio, entitled Magnum Principium, on the role of territorial bishops’ conferences in creating and approving vernacular translations of Roman Rite liturgical books. As I read the letter (and I am quite open to correction from those whose specialty is liturgical law) the new text changes canon 838 in the present Code of Canon Law in order to clarify the respective roles of territorial bishops’ conferences and the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments [hereafter CDWDS] in bringing forth vernacular translations of Roman Rite liturgical books for the future (i.e., from the time that Magnum Principium was promulgated [3 September 2017] and brought into force [1 October 2017]). Its concerns are not retrospective, i.e, translations such as the Roman Missal 2010/2011, having been okayed both by the territorial bishops’ conferences and the CDWDS, remain in force.
In a short preface to the actual change in the Code of Canon Law, Pope Francis contexualized his legislative act in terms of attending to the good the faithful might derive from vernacular translations of Roman Rite liturgical texts as well as the development of various vernaculars as liturgical languages able to communicate fully and faithfully what the Latin text articulates: “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…. 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…must ensure and establish that, while the character of each language is safeguarded, the sense of the original test is fully and faithfully rendered and that even after adaptations the translated liturgical books always illuminate the unity of the Roman Rite.”
Rita Ferrone has been especially helpful in showing how the papal reflections in Magnum Principium seem to reaffirm at least parts of the approach to liturgical translation articulated by the Consilium for the Implementation of the Constitution on the Liturgy in Comme le prevoit, issued 25 January 1969. As is well known, that document technically guided vernacular liturgical translation from the early 1970s until Liturgiam Authenticam was issued on 28 March 2001. (Gerald O’Collins’ Lost in Translation makes it clear that for a period of some years before it was formally issued, the principles Liturgiam Authenticam would articulate appeared to be used to reject a number of vernacular liturgical translations.) In 2001 as well for the English-speaking world, the CDWDS created the Vox Clara Committee to assist the Congregation in considering English-language liturgical texts. Vox Clara in turn created a translation manual intended only for English vernacular liturgical translations called the “Ratio Translationis for the English Language” approved 5-7 July 2005 by the CDWDS.
In the light of this situation I would simply like to know: What documents presently guide official English vernacular translations now and will for the foreseeable future? One might assume that Liturgiam Authenticam and the “Ratio Translationis” remain the guiding documents, except the quality of what following those guidelines has produced (e.g., the Roman Missal 2010/2011) is highly disputed (frankly, as was the translation generated under Comme le prevoit). The papal remarks in issuing Magnum Principium seem to suggest a re-evaluation if not a restoration of Comme le prevoit, but there has been no formal repudiation of Liturgiam Authenticam or the “Ratio Translationis”. It is unclear to me if various territorial bishops’ conferences have the right (or the interest or the will) to produce a set of guidelines for vernacular translation for their own territory. Doing so might create an unfortunate situation where English vernacular liturgical translations would vary widely from conference to conference, causing confusion for travelers attending Mass in various parts of the world. The International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) continues its work of proposing English vernacular liturgical translations to the territorial bishops’ conferences who are then free to accept, reject or modify these proposals for use in their own territory. Does ICEL have yet another set of translation guidelines that might be formally recognized and employed?
My concern is fairly simple. There are a number of translations “in the pipeline” for approval by territorial bishops’ conferences. Presumably all of these translations have been made according to the principles articulated in Liturgiam Authenticam and the “Ratio Translationis.” Since the guidelines proposed in these documents are under dispute, what new sets of guidelines might we expect, who would formulate them, and what do the bishops’ conferences want to do with the translations guided by Liturgicam Authenticam and the “Ratio Translationis” still to be proposed?