Update on the French and Italian Missal Translations

News from France

Before Pope Francis issued his motu proprio on liturgical translation, Magnum principium, in September 2017, a new Missal translation into French had been drawn up according to the demands of the 2001 Vatican instruction, Liturgiam authenticam – but it was never published.

The problem was that the translation faced some of the same difficulties that the English translation has faced, namely, awkwardness and artificiality — and misunderstandings — when proclaimed in the receptor language. The francophone bishops wished to retain certain texts that they found more acceptable from the prior translation. The Congregation for Divine Worship said no. The matter reached an impasse.

When the Pope’s motu proprio  returned to the conferences of bishops the role of preparing and approving translations (cf. Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy 36.4), an opening was created by which this impasse could be bridged. Representatives from each of the French-speaking conferences have spent the past year working together behind closed doors on a revision of the Missal translation. At the most recent meeting of the French conference, the final vote was cast to approve this translation which will now be sent to the Congregation for Divine Worship for recognition.

In effect, this will be the first significant test of Francis’s re-calibration of the translation process.  There are many questions: Will it go smoothly? Is the revised version more idiomatic and therefore more acceptable to native speakers — but at the same time less slavish to the principles of Liturgiam authenticam?  If the latter is true, will the CDW simply reject it? How does the Congregation actually understand its new role in relation to the conferences, post-Magnum principium?

One may also wonder what it portends for the future: Will this become an example for the English-speaking church of how one can successfully revise a translation within the confines of Liturgiam authenticam? Or will it demonstrate more vividly than ever that it’s necessary for Liturgiam authenticam to be replaced with a new instruction?

The Italian Translation

This week’s meeting of the Italian bishops’ conference has the approval of a new Missal translation on its agenda as well.

Interestingly, it appears that this will occur within a broader discussion of the overall direction of the liturgical reform. What is the overall direction? It’s a good question! The work of liturgical translation fundamentally hinges on larger questions about inculturation, unity in diversity, evangelization, the human person, our understanding of language and how it develops, our understanding of tradition and how to maintain it, and the proper interpretation of the Second Vatican Council.

Pope Francis, by word and example, has given direction in many of these realms. Yet liturgy remains an area of conflicting expectations. It will be interesting to see what comes of this discussion.

(The opening statement by the Italian Conference president, emphasizing the lengthy work and study that has gone into the Italian Missal, was reported here.)


  1. View from the Pew
    Regarding: “…working together in secret…”
    – What would CDW make of or do with this bit of information?

    1. Thank you, Charles. The expression I used may have been a bit too dramatic. What I meant was that there have been no drafts made public, and the results are under wraps. I’ve changed the post to more accurately reflect this.

      1. But it was known (by the CDW) that they were working on a “new revised” translation? So there really was no secret other than that no one saw this new translation until now beside this group?

      2. I don’t know what the CDW did or did not know about this process, but it was not a secret that the translation was being revised. The work itself, its results, is what has been closely guarded.

      3. The French-speakers have been working in secret for years. I remember writing here about this a long time ago. The team back then was tackling their work systematically and responsibly, with no haste to complete (2015 was a projected date, by the time all the approvals had gone back and forth, but it was expected/hoped that it would be later than this).

        And doesn’t anyone remember the later thread that I started here in 2013 that got shut down and then removed altogether? An anonymous member of the AELF commission had made a lot of material available online via a website in another country. However, it was felt that having all this visible to us and the world could jeopardize the delicate negotiations that were in progress as well as compromise the anonymous member responsible for the leak, and so the entire thread, texts and all, was removed. (The texts are still available on Dropbox: September 2012, comments from the Congregation January 2013, February 2013 revision……)

        If the Francophones are still working in secret, then perhaps this is an indication that relations between them and the Congregation are not as good as they now appear to be between Anglophones and the Congregation. I also have the strong impression that, far from rubber-stamping what bishops’ conferences can now decide in the wake of Magnum Principium, the Congregation is still nevertheless going through texts submitted for ratification word by word. (The rumour is that they are “processing” forty editions of the Missale Romanum editio tertia in different languages.) I would be delighted to be proved wrong about this, because there’s a whole question of trust in play here.

  2. But can we trust a committee of bishops to produce a good text? There is nothing wrong with the French text that has been in us for a long time and that was composed with input from the poet Patrice de la Tour du Pin.

  3. I would be very curious to know the French-Canadians’ reactions to the proposed translations. They do have a particular reason for insisting on ‘coupe’ rather than ‘calice’ within the Narrative of the Institution — as just one ‘localized example’.

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