IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring
By Cindy Wooden
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The shouts of joy and cries of despair
that greeted Pope Francis’ recent changes to canon law regarding liturgical
texts appear to be exaggerated.
The changes can be read as part of Pope Francis’ efforts to
promote a “healthy decentralization” of church structures, said Indian Cardinal Oswald Gracias
of Mumbai. “It makes clear the responsibility of the (bishops’)
conferences” in preparing faithful translations. “But this is, more
or less, the procedure we have been following.”
“Just a few words have been changed” in canon law,
so “we will have to see how it goes in the concrete,” said the cardinal,
who is a member of the international Council of Cardinals advising the pope on
church governance and is a former member of Vox Clara, the committee that advises the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments
on liturgical translations in English.
The document, “Magnum Principium” (“The Great Principle”),
was released by the Vatican Sept.
9. It changes two clauses in canon 838 of the Code of Canon Law: from
“reviewing” translations, the Holy See now is asked to “recognize
adaptations approved by the episcopal conference”; and bishops’
conferences, rather than being called “to prepare and publish”
translations, are now called to prepare them “faithfully” and then to
approve and publish them “after the confirmation of the Apostolic See.”
In a note published with the text, Archbishop Arthur Roche, secretary of the
worship congregation, said under the new rules, the Vatican’s “confirmatio” of a
translation is “ordinarily granted based on trust and confidence” and
“supposes a positive evaluation of the faithfulness and congruence of the
texts produced with respect to the typical Latin text.”
Reactions varied widely. Steve Skojec, publisher and director of the blog OnePeterFive.com, called it
“a ticking time bomb”
and said, “When it comes to the liturgy of the universal church, episcopal
conferences are quite simply out of their depth.”
Michael G. Ryan, the pastor of the cathedral in Seattle, who had led a campaign to
delay implementation of the current English translation, asked in America
magazine, “Will our bishops respond to this invitation and take a hard
look at the woefully inadequate translation we are currently using? We can only
hope and pray that their pastoral concern and commitment to liturgical
celebrations that are both beautiful and intelligible will prompt them to walk
through the door that Pope Francis has opened.”
Neither Cardinal Gracias nor Msgr. Markus Graulich, undersecretary of the
Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, expect a change anytime soon in the
English translation of the Mass.
Pope Francis’ document, however, could have a more immediate
impact on what German- and French-speaking Catholics hear at Mass. The German
bishops shelved their translation in 2013; they will discuss the new document
at their general assembly in late September. A new French translation of the
Mass already was under discussion by the Vatican and French-speaking bishops’
conferences, but it has not yet been approved by the conferences and formally
submitted to the Vatican.
The new document “gives a little endorsement now to
(bishops’) conferences and, in that sense, it’s certainly in the direction of
what the Holy Father wants: that conferences take more responsibility and
healthy decentralization,” Cardinal Gracias told Catholic News Service
“The word ‘fidelity’ added (to canon law) is from ‘Liturgiam Authenticam,'”
he said, referring to the 2001
translations, which was issued by the worship congregation.The pope’s changes to canon law confirm its
teaching, although “minor modifications” are possible now.
“I have a feeling this will open the door” to
small national or regional changes, for example in the English text in Africa
versus India or North America, the cardinal said. “My personal opinion is
that it is very convenient to have one translation for the whole world, but if
there are such serious difficulties, I don’t think we should force them”
to accept a unified translation. He, like Msgr. Graulich, cited the example of bishops in Africa who
said that having the people respond to the priest, “And with your
spirit” creates difficulties in societies still influenced by animism or
belief in witchcraft.
“The door is slightly ajar now for some variety,” Cardinal
The idea, though, that any English-speaking bishop would
propose starting the English translation over again is “absolutely
ridiculous,” he said. The current Missal is “a great
improvement” over what existed before, and “nobody has an appetite
for big changes now.”
From a canon law point of view, the document “does not
really strengthen episcopal conferences, but it tries to put on a better base
the collaboration between the Holy See and the bishops’ conferences, because
there have been some problems in the last few years,” Msgr. Graulich said.
“It’s a question whether the Holy See can really evaluate, as bishops’
conferences can do, what is a proper translation.”
But, inserting the Latin word “fideliter” into canon law means the
translation has to be done in accordance with “Liturgiam Authenticam,” he said. “You
are not free to make a translation that ‘more or less’ reports the text, but
you have to do a translation that is as true as possible to the Latin
At the same time, Msgr. Graulich said, the new law
encourages collaboration between bishops and the Vatican in judging what
constitutes a faithful translation into a specific language.
The German translation that has been stalled since 2013 was
“a very literal translation,” he said. “If I as a celebrant
don’t understand what I read the first time, how will people in the pews
understand it if they only hear it?”
“You have structures of language in Latin — and
Italian and Spanish — that we don’t have in German,” he said, referring
to grammar and, especially, verb tenses.
The obligation, which Pope Francis formally added to canon
law, that translations be “faithful” to the Latin is the
responsibility of the bishops’ conference doing the translation, he said,
“but then, as the Holy See has to confirm that, it is a second check. It’s
more check and balance” than shifting power.
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