Pope Francis’s Motu Proprio on Translation

In a strategic move of great importance, Pope Francis today issued a motu proprio which will return authority over liturgical translations to the conferences of bishops, by means of a change in canon law.

In the motu proprio, Francis outlines briefly the history of the use of the vernacular in the liturgy since the Council. His motu proprio is given in order to more clearly enunciate the guiding principles that have come down to us from the time of the Council.

In this statement, Francis by no means disregards the importance of central authority and its unifying function. Yet he also acknowledges that the relationship between Rome and the conferences has not always been smooth: “It is no surprise that difficulties have arisen between the Episcopal Conferences and the Apostolic See in the course of this long passage of work.” The motu proprio addresses this concern so that “a constant cooperation full of mutual trust, watchful and creative, between the episcopal conferences and the dicastery” (the CDWDS) can be maintained.

Francis carefully balances the emphatic need to consider the practical usefulness of texts for the good of the faithful and to safeguard the integrity of each language, with the imperative to convey the original meaning of the text fully and faithfully, even after adaptation, so that the unity of the Roman Rite may shine forth.

Where the clarification comes into focus is in the final portion of the motu proprio, which presents a change in the wording, specifically, of Canon 838.3.

The new text reads as follows (my translation):

  • It is up to the Conferences of Bishops to faithfully prepare versions of the liturgical books in the vernacular languages, adapted suitably within the defined limits of the liturgical books, to approve and publish them for the regions of their relevance, after the confirmation of the Holy See.

The key elements that are new in this text are the word “approve” which was not there previously, and “faithfully” which is also newly added. In other words, the trust given to the conferences is both to do their work faithfully, and to approve it.

This motu proprio will effectively reverse some of the actions taken by Francis’s predecessor to centralize control over liturgical translations in Rome. It will likewise block any future attempts by the Congregation for Divine Worship to unilaterally enforce compliance with the instruction Liturgiam authenticam. It returns decision-making power in liturgical translations to the local bishops, as the Council envisioned in Sacrosanctum Concilium 36.4, which states that the local authorities “approve” translated texts for liturgical use.

In recent years, the field of translation has become a battleground for issues of liturgical inculturation and updating to the times. The fifth instruction on the right implementation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, “On the Translation of Liturgical Texts” (Liturgiam authenticam), has been a lightning rod for controversy, as it insisted upon a highly literal translation, outlawed inclusive language, held back ecumenical cooperation, and diminished the role of episcopal conferences. The English-speaking bishops produced a translation of the Missal according to Liturgiam authenticam in 2011. That effort was mired in conflict however, and the results received mixed reviews. The translation was praised by some for its elevated tone and scriptural allusions, but criticized by others as overly wedded to Latin syntax, clumsy to proclaim, and marred by errors. Meanwhile, translations prepared in other languages, such as German, French, and Italian, have been stalled due to clashes between the demands of the instruction and the pastoral judgment of the local bishops.

Earlier this year, Pope Francis authorized a committee, under the leadership of Archbishop Arthur Roche, secretary of the CDWDS, to review Liturgiam authenticam and make recommendations for its revision. The committee met and sent in their report, which was not made public, to the Pope. It is not clear to what extent this report may have influenced the motu proprio, but Francis does mention explicitly that he has “listened to the opinion of the commission of bishops and experts” he instituted before reaching his decision.

By taking the route of formally realigning the structures of accountability in canon law, Francis has provided immediate relief to those conferences which balked at the distortions of language and the pastoral ineptitude introduced by a rigid implementation of Liturgiam authenticam. What the final fate of Liturgiam authenticam will be, and whether a revised instruction will eventually be produced to supersede it remains to be seen. For now and for the foreseeable future, however, the Pope has removed all obstacles to the regional bishops’ prudent exercise of judgment and authority concerning translation.

The motu proprio comes shortly after Pope Francis’s speech to the Italian Liturgical Conference, in which he invoked his magisterial authority to affirm that the liturgical reforms of Vatican II are “irreversible.” Taken together, these two statements have considerably strengthened the hand of those in the Church who have fought to retain the freedom to adapt the liturgy to local realities and the times in which we live, a flexibility promised by Vatican II. It has also correspondingly weakened the position of those who advocate a “reform of the reform” including the desire to return to Tridentine-inspired principles of uniformity and centralized control in liturgical regulation.

Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the CDWDS, and frequent advocate for both Liturgiam authenticam and a “reform of the reform,” has also been put in a more disadvantageous position by these statements of the Pope.

In the English-speaking world, upcoming decisions concerning new translations prepared according to Liturgiam authenticam should now be watched closely, as their approval is not a foregone conclusion. If the bishops say “no” in the future, their word is law.



54 responses to “Pope Francis’s Motu Proprio on Translation”

  1. Fritz Bauerschmidt Avatar

    Thanks for this report. At least from my perspective, this helps to rebalance the relationship between the local episcopal conferences and the Holy See (which seems to be a major theme of Francis’s papacy). The Vatican still has the role of confirming translations, so if there is something Rome thinks it beyond the pale it won’t happen, but it makes the kind of micromanaging we have seen less likely. I wonder what will become of VoxClara?

    1. Thomas Strickland Avatar
      Thomas Strickland

      It will be renamed Vox obscura.

      1. Andrew Fredel Avatar
        Andrew Fredel

        Love this, Tom!!!

    2. Fr. Ron Krisman Avatar
      Fr. Ron Krisman


      This is the revised wording of canon 838 regarding the responsibility of the Apostolic See:

      “§2. It is for the Apostolic See to order the sacred liturgy of the universal Church, to publish the liturgical books, to grant the recognitio to adaptations approved by the conference of bishops, and to exercise vigilance that the liturgical regulations are observed faithfully everywhere.”

      You stated that “the Vatican still has the role of confirming translations.” That is not what the revised wording is saying. Previously the Apostolic See was charged with granting the recognitio to vernacular translations (libros liturgicos edere eorumque versiones in linguas vernaculas rercognoscere), but this competency of the Holy See to grant the recognitio to translations of the liturgical books is omitted in the revised text. Henceforth, the recognitio is limited to adaptations of the rites approved by the conferences of bishops.

      1. Fr. Anthony Forte Avatar
        Fr. Anthony Forte

        There is still the need for the confirmation of Rome:

        §3. It pertains to the Episcopal Conferences to faithfully prepare versions of the liturgical books in vernacular languages, suitably accommodated within defined limits, and to approve and publish the liturgical books for the regions for which they are responsible after the confirmation of the Apostolic See.

    3. Reyanna Rice Avatar
      Reyanna Rice

      Check the wording. I just read an article that says that the Vatican will “recognize” and specifically noted it contrasted to “confirm”.

  2. Bill deHaas Avatar

    Rita – one other interesting note. Francis is visiting Medellin, site of the Latin American Episcopal Conference (CELAM) meeting in 1968, that demonstrated the significance of the role of episcopal conferences in the Church and laid out directions for the next decades. These changes are in that same spirit and underline what Medellin was about.
    Link – https://hnp.org/seasonal-reflection-pope-francis-latin-american-church/ Notes the sea change from top down to bottom up

    Also, would like to mention that this change highlights the substantial work of ICEL and John Page – it only reinforces the significance of their life work and how it was a model for the church going forward. Hope that this change is some type of comfort given the backlash of the past 20 years.

  3. Erik Floan Avatar
    Erik Floan

    In a similar manner… there was guarded rejoicing in the land.

  4. Fr. Carl McCarthy Avatar

    Considering the issuance of Pope Francis’ moto proprio on liturgical translation the question is are pastors simultaneously given permission to restore usage of the collects, prefaces and eucharistic prayers of the Roman Missal 2nd edition. Could one of our liturgical gurus comment on this question.

    1. Fr. Thomas Petri, OP Avatar
      Fr. Thomas Petri, OP

      No. Nowhere in the liturgical law or in the motu proprio are priests permitted to make adaptations and changes by their own authority. Canon 846 is still in play. This concerns the nature of the competent authorities in the Church concerning adaptation and translation, namely, the Episcopal conferences and the Apostolic See.

      1. Anthony Ruff, OSB Avatar
        Anthony Ruff, OSB

        Fr. Thomas – you’re right at the level of what the law says in black and white. If I may say so, though, your tone sounds a bit rigid (at least online, I can’t see your facial expression or body language). But I think of the Gospel at Mass today which, like so many, has Jesus praising the breaking of religious law for the higher purpose of serving people.

        I was up to say the conventional Mass at the abbey today and, for the record and typically, I followed every word and every rubric of the missal. There’s a place for that, so that people can pray without being distracted and so we can all get along in peace. But still – I think that even when we Christians do follow the law, it has to be with a light touch, lots of love, and a realization that that isn’t really the biggest priority of Jesus in the Gospels.

        My two cents.

        Fr. Anthony

      2. Fr. Thomas Petri, OP Avatar
        Fr. Thomas Petri, OP

        That’s a lot to presume about me Fr. Anthony in what was a simple answer to a simple question. Nothing in the MP or canon simultaneously gives permission for us to return to the previous collects. But thank you for your judgment.

      3. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
        Karl Liam Saur

        “breaking of religious law for the higher purpose of serving people.”

        But that raises the perennial question of when people, even sincerely, rationalize the breaking of law in service of mixed ends, not all necessarily virtuous.

        And the other perennial question of how broadly and deeply the consent of the flock is obtained for such actions on their putative behalf, as the flock will be left behind to clean up any damage after the shepherd has been moved to another flock.

        Yes, I’ve been around this carousel too many times. And from both directions, as it were.

      4. Fritz Bauerschmidt Avatar

        Anthony, I’m not sure what your basis was for calling Fr. Petri’s simple statement of fact “rigid.” It seems to me that, as with so many things associated with Pope Francis, the response to this Motu Proprio has been fear and loathing from traditionalists and irrational exuberance from progressives (the mirror image, of course, of the response to things B16 said). The capacity of people to project their hopes and fears onto Popes is remarkable. There really is nothing rigid about a gentle reminder of reality.

        As Fr. Petri noted, there is nothing in this that suggests a a local option for the old Sacramentary translation. It doesn’t even suggest that we’ll see any major new translation of the Missal, though it might make it a bit easier to fix some of the worst parts (such as the dicey theology of the collect for Immaculate Conception–which is purely a translation problem).

        To use Thomas Kuhn’s terminology, this is still “normal science,” not a paradigm shift.

      5. Anthony Ruff, OSB Avatar
        Anthony Ruff, OSB

        Fr. Petri,
        Thank you for your clarification. If I was wrong in picking up a rigid tone, I apologize. When it comes to liturgy I follow the law, and I too answer questions from others about liturgical law accurately.
        But I usually add a comment suggesting that these laws aren’t absolute and pointing out that a bit of common-sense fudging in real-world situations has been going on for 2,000 years now, and the Gospels suggest a place for that.
        I think the Church is big enough for both our approaches.
        Fr. Anthony

      6. Anthony Ruff, OSB Avatar
        Anthony Ruff, OSB

        Yes, it’s still normal science with Pope Francis and not quite a paradigm shift. But it’s not nothing, either. Normal science has bigger and smaller jumps forward, and much of what he’s doing feels like a pretty big jump. There’s a reason why people on the right and on the left are reacting strongly to Francis. Some of it’s based on projection but a good bit of it is based on what he’s actually saying and doing.

      7. Fritz Bauerschmidt Avatar

        Anthony, agreed it is not nothing. I just don’t think either the hand-wringing or the jubilation are justified. As for me, I’m inclined to think it is a good change, particularly given what happened to the 2010 version of the Missal approved by the episcopal conferences once it got sent to Rome.

      8. Anthony Ruff, OSB Avatar
        Anthony Ruff, OSB

        Agreed, Fritz. Jubilation would be over-done. I think the right tone is to be hopeful about the future, and to work for unity and peace around all this. I hope that I and we and everyone can work together and get beyond the winners/losers mindset. “We” didn’t win. The church did – everyone. But very much about the future is an open question – it depends on how the Holy See and how the bishops’ conferences work with these new guidelines. Let’s get behind them and support them, and pray for the best.

    2. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
      Karl Liam Saur

      No mention of it, and I doubt the bishops are going to spill capital to permit it. Much more likely would be a consideration of a MR4 (perhaps in time for the probable Extraordinary Jubilee of 2033? – it would require an aggressive appetite to make the Ordinary Jubilee of 2025…and I don’t see the English-language episcopate having been transformed sufficiently to vouch for the existence of such an appetite). Look forward, not backward.

      Among other things, at a pastoral level giving that permission would a be an additional massive layer of privilege to celebrants over congregants in terms of choice of texts, and would exacerbate the issue of aural and visual dimensions of participation. ON that basis, I could certainly see many progressively-inclined liturgy-minded folks strongly opposing the idea – this is not an area where we can safely assume progressive unanimity as there are different progressive values in tension.

      Besides, the constituency for the collects of MR2 (1975) is not so much about superiority of content, which is often not much to write home about, but of the syntactical problems of the collects in MR3, which would seem to be more likely to be revised in a MR4.

      1. Todd Flowerday Avatar

        Quite right. I expect to be serenely retired and likely dead before MR4 appears in English. Strangely, I have no feeling of loss in terms of my hope that the English MR2, as the first post-conciliar permanent translation, would have launched us into an era of good liturgy, getting better. In my younger days, I would have enjoyed being in the vanguard of a new liturgical movement. Today, I feel okay handing off to people now in school. Go Catholicism 2040!

        I’m sad, but not surprised at the hand-wringing I’ve seen on conservative sites this morning. It’s not like these texts are going to change overnight. And the Latin of 1962 and 2002 will remain as is. The reform2 component is taking this as a loss, and I suppose that’s their call. I’ve dealt with three decades of disappointment, so I’ve felt the pain.

        For the near future, this rather puts many of us in the shoes of the pre-conciliar reformers. Hopeful for a future somewhat far off. Work that tests our resolve in the current trenches. A sensitivity to movements within our communities and in the larger Church. It worked for the people cited in our papers, theses, and books. It provides an opportunity for the more important vector in 21st century Roman Catholicism: a recovery of the mission of Christ. The liturgy is adequate for our needs. What is needed more, perhaps, is a more personal and intentional accompaniment in our evangelization efforts.

      2. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
        Karl Liam Saur

        “Hopeful for a future somewhat far off.”

        And, if the prospect of ego-gratification can be sifted out of the equation (by virtue of, say, mortality), that’s much better for true hope.

  5. Fr. Ron Krisman Avatar
    Fr. Ron Krisman

    Fr. Forte,

    Yes, the confirmatio of the Apostolic See is still necessary, but not its recognitio. In other words, the Apostolic See confirms the decision of the conference of bishops to approve a vernacular translation. But it no longer has competence to review and approve the translation itself (recognitio). Recognitio is reserved to the accommodations the conference may make (within defined limits).

    1. Devin Rice Avatar
      Devin Rice

      In my reading of the interpretative text by Archbishop Roche, it appears that Rome will continue to have some input into vernacular translations:

      ‘The “confirmatio” is an authoritative act by which the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments ratifies the approval of the Bishops, leaving the responsibility of translation, understood to be faithful, to the doctrinal and pastoral munus of the Conferences of Bishops. In brief, the “confirmatio”, ordinarily granted based on trust and confidence, supposes a positive evaluation of the faithfulness and congruence of the texts produced with respect to the typical Latin text, above all taking account of the texts of greatest importance (e.g. the sacramental formulae, which require the approval of the Holy Father, the Order of Mass, the Eucharistic Prayers and the Prayers of Ordination, which all require a detailed review).’

      Assuming I diagrammed correctly the portion “supposes a positive evaluation of the faithfulness and congruence of the texts produced with respect to the typical Latin text, above all taking account of the texts of greatest importance”, it seems that the Holy See is the one positively evaluating the faithfulness of the texts.

    2. Fr. Anthony Forte Avatar
      Fr. Anthony Forte

      And if Rome withholds its confirmatio because of a defect in the translation? Yes, the Apostolic See will not be as active in the preparation of the translation but it has not been reduced to a rubber stamp.

  6. Alan Johnson Avatar
    Alan Johnson

    Stable door/horse.

  7. Mike Burns Avatar
    Mike Burns

    Does this mean that the current English translation is recallable? Please.

    1. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
      Karl Liam Saur


  8. Robert ADDINGTON Avatar
    Robert ADDINGTON

    In his reply to Fr Thomas Petri, I assume Fr Anthony means ‘conventual Mass’, not ‘conventional Mass’.

    1. Fritz Bauerschmidt Avatar

      Well, he did say that he read all the words and followed all the rubrics.

  9. Paul Inwood Avatar
    Paul Inwood

    One striking thing in the text of the Motu Proprio was this:

    It is no surprise that difficulties have arisen between the Episcopal Conferences and the Apostolic See in the course of this long passage of work. In order that the decisions of the Council about the use of vernacular languages in the liturgy can also be of value in the future a vigilant and creative collaboration full of reciprocal trust between the Episcopal Conferences and the Dicastery of the Apostolic See that exercises the task of promoting the Sacred Liturgy, i.e. the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, is absolutely necessary.

    The very clear implication here is that there has been little or no trust between episcopal conferences and the SCDWDS. It’s an astounding admission. If Francis’s initiative is to bear fruit, a way will have to be found of persuading conferences and their advisers that the SCDWDS is in fact trustworthy. That ought to mean a much more transparent way of working on the part of the Congregation, just for a start. I am hopeful that the fact that the commentary on the motu proprio was signed by the Secretary, Archbishop Roche, rather than the prefect, is a sign of greater openness to collaboration with conferences instead of “dictatorship”. I am also hopeful of real dialogue and collaborative working because the agendas driven by certain of the Congregation’s employees and consutors seem to be a thing of the past (see my remark in the other thread on the motu proprio).

  10. Steve Hartley Avatar
    Steve Hartley

    What if we just said wait? 🙂

  11. Fritz Bauerschmidt Avatar

    John Allen’s take.

    His takeaway:

    In particular, the edict limits the Vatican’s role at the end of the process, when a bishops’ conference submits a proposed translation for approval. No longer will the Congregation for Divine Worship submit an extensive list of required amendments to the text at that stage; instead, it will simply say “yes” or “no.”
    Given that in most cases, Rome won’t want to delay an entire translation, many observers believe it’s now more likely that, whatever the bishops decide in the end, that will be what the Vatican accepts.

    And then there’s this:

    And, just to beat someone to the punch, yes, I do get the towering irony here – Francis delivered this blow for collegiality by an exercise of raw papal power. However, in his own mind, he doubtless did so not out of personal whim but on behalf of local bishops everywhere, as well as what he sees as the legacy of the Second Vatican Council.

  12. Mike Burns Avatar
    Mike Burns

    In light of so many issues with our current translation of the Roman Missal, I am wondering if the USCCB might revisit their 1998 translation that was sacked by Vox Clara.

    1. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
      Karl Liam Saur

      The bishops who approved that translation have largely been replaced. 1998 may be a reference source for revising the collects for MR4 in the coming decades, but that’s about it.

  13. Charles Jordan Avatar
    Charles Jordan

    Regarding: “If the bishops say “no” in the future, their word is law.”
    – Well, ‘no’ is law, until law becomes ‘yes’.
    – Each bishop for his local church will quickly authorize necessary changes in the current translation to at least let the text be more readable and inline with catechesis while waiting for an improved and less problematic translation.

  14. Franklin P. Uroda Avatar
    Franklin P. Uroda

    Thank the Blessed Trinity for whatever clarity results. Ever read Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales with out first studying Middle English? I had a tough time with the Douay Rheims Bible, and without the copious footnotes in modern Catholic Bibles, I’d still have a tough time understanding all the innuendos embedded in the English translations. When it came to my Catholic Sunday worship, I really needed Joseph Jungmann’s two-volume work to understand what goes on.

  15. Jim Pauwels Avatar
    Jim Pauwels

    “I order, with the authority entrusted to me, that the canonical discipline currently in force in can. 838 of the C.I.C. be made clearer so that, according to what is stated in the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, in particular in articles 36 §§3.4, 40 and 63, and in the Apostolic Letter Motu Proprio Sacram Liturgiam, n. IX, the competency of the Apostolic See surrounding the translation of liturgical books and the more radical adaptations established and approved by Episcopal Conferences be made clearer, among which can also be numbered eventual new texts to be inserted into these books.”

    I have a couple of questions about this passage:

    * What is meant by “more radical adaptations”?

    * Does that last prepositional phrase “among which can also be numbered eventual new texts …” imply that episcopal conferences have the authority to compose original texts for the liturgy?

    1. Rita Ferrone Avatar
      Rita Ferrone

      Jim those are excellent questions. The first is a reference to the provision for inculturation contained in the Constitution and fleshed out further in Varietates Legitimae, the instruction on inculturation. These texts are about the need for adaptation to culture, and that adaptation can take place at a superficial level and also at a “deeper level.” Think of the Roman Rite of Zaire, as an example of the deeper level, which includes ritual actions and such, as well as texts.

      The second point, about original texts, is an interesting one. Original texts are allowed for by Liturgiam authenticam, and they are allowed for by VL, but when the English translation was taking shape Arinze I believe told ICEL that no original texts would be accepted for the English language. It was a harsh and unexpected slap down, as original texts already existed in the English Missal, and they were, accordingly, all removed — despite the fact that LA allows it! The Italian sacramentary contains beautiful and noteworthy examples of original texts, alternative opening prayers and such, so it was not as if the English speakers alone composed prayers. Now that the Prefect of the CDW no longer has the whip hand, such arbitrary denials will presumably be revisited by the English speaking bishops. I could imagine a lovely companion volume being authorized — even if the current texts are not revised — of original collects.

      1. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
        Karl Liam Saur

        “I could imagine a lovely companion volume being authorized — even if the current texts are not revised — of original collects.”


      2. Jim Pauwels Avatar
        Jim Pauwels

        Rita, thanks so much, that is very interesting.

        I have thought for a long time that the Memorial Acclamation “Christ has died / Christ is risen / Christ will come again” is a strong English acclamation, and thought it a loss when it was omitted in 2011. I’d welcome its return.

      3. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
        Karl Liam Saur

        While I wouldn’t mind the optional dropping of the Memorial Acclamations. I get what they are supposed to be/do, but as the years pass I’ve come to see them more as a “let’s be sure the congregation doesn’t doze off in the middle of this long prayer, because they can’t hold their attention that long, you know, and without this they’ll think they aren’t part of this” moment that’s less convincing as a liturgical matter. They would be one of the first things I’d offer on the bonfire of compromise. (The audible canon would be among the things at the other end of that list; and I say that while averring that an inaudible canon is not invalid, so I am not intending to contravene Trent. Hey, I’d love a cantillated canon (a capella, of course; no soundtrack, please), but it’s been a long time since I’ve been privileged to experience that.)

  16. Jim Pauwels Avatar
    Jim Pauwels

    Here is John F Baldovin, SJ’s take on the motu proprio in America magazine:


  17. Patrick Dalphoy Avatar
    Patrick Dalphoy

    Looks like the Vatican is turning into something like democratic governments in which the new leadership will just overturn what the previous pope did. Maybe the next pope will change it back. This seems like a really bad precedent. I think it’s weird that in this era where nothing is permanent and every change is accelerating people think the right path for the Church is to change just as fast.

    1. Steve Hartley Avatar
      Steve Hartley

      I agree Patrick. This is a very divisive move by the Pope. It will further have the effect of dividing the Church into national churches based on language and bishop confrences. The swing of the pendulum far left on many fronts, especially in the sacred liturgy, will move the Cardinals to elect Bergoglio’s polar opposite who will then feel there’s precedent for overturning his predecessors magisterium with flick of a pen. The liberal penchant for inorganic change is going to come back and bite them. Just when continuity and some stability were being restored to the sacred mysteries; adaptations, options, new compilations, and a multiplicity of ever changing languages are being enabled to further erode the Roman nature of the Roman Rite. How sad.

  18. Jonathan Day Avatar
    Jonathan Day

    Some of this debate reminds me of ultra-traditionalist (e.g. SSPX) views on religious liberty: if we are operating in, say, a Muslim or secular state, we argue for religious freedom and use democratic mechanisms to obtain it; but once the state has become Catholic, we cheerfully suppress both religious freedom and democracy because, after all, error has no rights.

    Hence strong papal power was A Good Thing when Pope Benedict XVI effectively set many priests against their bishops by ruling, in Summorum Pontificum, that parish priests didn’t need their bishops’ permission to use the old form of Mass. It was A Good Thing when Liturgiam Authenticam suppressed the previous norms for liturgical translation. But strong papal power is A Bad Thing when Pope Francis uses it to restore much authority for translations to local episcopal conferences.

    Rather than debating papal power, center versus periphery, etc., what about the substance of Pope Francis’s move? Fr Baldovin’s article in America – thanks for that link, Jim – quietly made an important point. Referring to the misguided Liturgiam Authenticam, he wrote:

    In any case it would be a good time for the Vatican to issue a more balanced statement on translation in line with the pope’s obvious desire to respect the “entire communicative act” (surely a reference to “Comme le Prévoit”) as well as to be faithful to sound doctrine.

    That ‘more balanced statement’ would be A Very Good Thing.

    1. Steve Hartley Avatar
      Steve Hartley


      Pope Benedict wasn’t the one exalting collegiality on the one hand and ruling with an iron fist with the other. Besides, Summorum Pontificum only had a moderate incremental effect, on those who chose to assist at the Ancient Use, which in time was meant to bring about a reconciliation within the Church. Whereas this move doesn’t seem conciliatory at all. It blatantly contradicts his immediate predecessors implementation of Sacrosanctum Concillium in a manner that would preserve the authentic liturgy of the Roman Rite. Autocratically issuing this decree before the ink dries on our new translation is only exacerbating the tensions that exist; and leaving it so open ended as to its implementation, is only going to serve to keep the language wars alive for years to come. It’s messy. But, just maybe we can work together to create a version that is poetic, unclunky, not a dumbed down version, that faithfully expresses the depth of the Roman Rite. But, the track record being what it is, I doubt it. It’s just more instability and more flux. I’m sorry about the rant. But, that’s how I feel.

      1. Christopher Lazowski OSB Avatar

        “The new the new leadership will just overturn what the previous pope did.” This sounds very much like what went on during the 13th and 14th centuries. After Lateran IV in 1215, the question arose: who was the proprio sacerdoto who could hear the Easter confession: the parish (secular) priest, or the usual confessor (likely a friar)? This rapidly became part of a broader controversy involving rights of burial and preaching.
        In 1231, Bishop Ralph Niger of London ordered the friars in his diocese to swear an oath of obedience to him; the friars appealed to Gregory IX, who exempted them by the bull Nimis iniqua. In 1250, Innocent IV reinforced the friars’ rights by Cum a nobis petitur, then attempted a compromise in Etsi animarum (1254). In 1255, Alexander IV revoked Etsi animarum by Quasi lignum vitae. In 1281, Martin IV’s Ad fructus uberes granted the friars total freedom to preach and hear confessions.
        In 1300, Boniface VIII revoked Ad fructus uberes by Super cathedram. In 1304, Benedict XI revoked Super cathedram by Inter cunctos, granting the friars total freedom from episcopal oversight. In 1311 Clement V restored the provisions of Super cathedram by Dudum. In 1317 John XXII re-isssued Dudum, which remained in effect until it was incorporated into the 1917 Code.
        So for about a century, popes undid and redid what their predecessors had done. Which leads me to say, when people make a big deal of contemporary popes doing the same thing: So what? I believe it was Robert Taft who once said that history is never normative, but it is always instructive. It also can provide a sense of proportion.

      2. Jack Feehily Avatar
        Jack Feehily

        In SP, Pope Benedict with all good intentions, made it appear that the reforms of the Roman Rite authorized by SC are not really applicable to clergy and people who “like” the Mass of old. It is one thing to declare that in the TLM the law of faith and prayer is intact, and quite another to conclude that this rite is beyond the reach of the council and its reforms. So we have a relatively tiny band of individuals touting the vast superiority of the TLM over the NO, and a significantly larger group of “traditionalist” bishops and priests pining for a return to a more TLM like new Mass and imposing a reform of the reform on the dioceses and parishes whose people they serve. They contend such things as a particular form of joining ones hands and the use of more “traditional” vestments and the lavish use of incense translates into greater “reverence”. They like to call the new rite “Protestant” and those who celebrate it as emcees and entertainers. They seem to believe that chant is a prerequisite when in the church of old it was seldom if ever employed in parish Masses. They like the idea that the TLM emphasizes a pyramidal model of church governance and relegates the principal of “full, conscious, and active participation” in the liturgy to something that need only be expressed inwardly.
        Pope Francis is simply putting the universal church back on track by balancing the oversight of the Holy See with the appropriate initiatives able to be exercised by his fellow apostles and their respective conferences. This will not lead to Gallicanism. It will lead to a universal church comprised of local churches in union with the local church at Rome with its unique authority and prerogatives as a safeguard not for uniformity but authentic unity.

      3. Gerard Flynn Avatar
        Gerard Flynn

        Thanks, Christopher, for that delightful and instructive whistle-stop tour of earlier popes and their projects.

  19. Jonathan Day Avatar
    Jonathan Day

    Steve, I share the hope that experts who are competent in English – to the level of a highly educated native speaker – and who are deep in Latin and the liturgy could work together to produce an English version of the Mass that is understandable and that conveys the richness of the source texts. The 1998 translation went a long way in that direction, demonstrating that what you hope for can be done. Some say it went too far. In any event, it was suppressed.

    I don’t think anything will be implemented on the Missal itself, for many years. The cost, disruption and complexity of implementing the current translation was far too high to be repeated any time soon. So we will be saddled with the current inaccurate gabble for some time. Those of us who prefer to attend Mass in Latin, either the Mass of Paul VI or the older form, avoid the whole translation issue. But Mass in Latin is not for everyone, or even “for many”.

    Regardless of implementation timing, I hope you would agree that mistakes ultimately need to be corrected. This is the traditionalists’ constant theme on liturgical reform: that the implementation of Sacrosanctum Concilium was wrong, or that SC itself was wrong, or that Vatican II was, as a whole, a mistake, or Pope Pius XII’s reforms were wrong, or that Pope Pius X made mistakes … you have to choose just how “traditional” you want to be.

    And Liturgiam Authenticam is a colossal mistake. It promotes neither deeper understanding of the Latin nor readable vernacular translations. That point has been made, again and again, here on PTB and in more academic forums. My opposition to LA is not ideological but philological. The timing can be debated, but, in the long run, LA must go. If Magnum Principium begins that process, so much the better for it.

    1. Brian Duffy Avatar
      Brian Duffy

      I remember an eminent OP telling me that a former Cowley Father had been given a blessing by Cardinal Medeiros to translate the then new missal based on ancient English Catholic texts. I don’t think he got too far due to money problems. Also, it was a huge undertaking for one person although he had set the model of Monsignor Knox before him.

      Mr. Day’s first sentence in his comment above brought that memory back to me. There is a need for people competent in English and Latin to work together. I always hope that someone finds a cache of Cranmer’s translations of the Sarum books, perhaps hidden in a coffin.

  20. Rita Retzlaff Avatar
    Rita Retzlaff

    Question: Since I am not an authority on the encyclicals, I was wondering if saying “Kyrie Eleison & Agnus Dei was what Vatican II promulgated & not the English version??? My concern over giving this power to the Bishops can still lead us back to pre Vatican II and that appears to be happening since many Bishops do not agree with Pope Francis. I feel we are in a dangerous area.
    To me Vatican II was for the people of God in conjunction with the clergy & that is not has been happening.

  21. Paul Inwood Avatar
    Paul Inwood

    I’ve just posted in Alan Hommerding’s thread on the psalms about interviewing Lucien Deiss in 2003. Amongst the many things he said to me on that occasion was the following exchange:

    PI: So you are of the opinion that the bishops themselves are capable of making their own decisions about what is good for their people?

    Deiss: No, I don’t think it’s the bishops’ place to make these decisions. I think they should be approving or rejecting decisions made by those who work under them, who are working on behalf of the people and reflecting their desires.

    PI: So these decisions ought to come from the people themselves?

    Deiss: I don’t think the word “people” is the right one. I think these decisions should be rooted in Christian pastoral practice.

  22. Frank Cioppa Avatar
    Frank Cioppa

    Does this recent motu proprio do anything more than ratify what has been going on all along? What countries have submitted the texts they use to the Vatican for approval? How many have waited for approval before putting their own translations into use?

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