Pope amends church law on Mass translations, highlights bishops' role

IMAGE: CNS/Nancy Phelan Wiechec

By Cindy Wooden

MEDELLIN, Colombia (CNS) — In changes to the Code of Canon
Law regarding translations of the Mass and other liturgical texts, Pope Francis
highlighted respect for the responsibility of national and regional bishops’

The changes, released by the Vatican Sept. 9 as Pope Francis
was traveling in Colombia, noted the sometimes tense relationship between
bishops’ conferences and the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments
over translations of texts from Latin to the bishops’ local languages.

The heart of the document, which applies only to the
Latin rite of the Catholic Church, changes two clauses in Canon 838 of the Code
of Canon Law. The Vatican no longer will “review” translations
submitted by bishops’ conferences, but will “recognize” them. And
rather than being called to “prepare and publish” the translations,
the bishops are to “approve and publish” them.

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.”

Pope Francis made no announcement of immediate changes to
the translations currently in use.

The document is titled “Magnum Principium”
(“The Great Principle”) and refers to what Pope Francis called the
“great principle” of the Second Vatican Council that the liturgy
should be understood by the people at prayer, and therefore bishops were asked
to prepare and approve translations of the texts.

Pope Francis did not overturn previous norms and documents
on the principles that should inspire the various translations, but said they
were “general guidelines,” which should continue to be followed to
ensure “integrity and accurate faithfulness, especially in translating some
texts of major importance in each liturgical book.”

However, the pope seemed to indicate a willingness to allow
some space for the translation principle known as “dynamic
equivalence,” which focuses on faithfully rendering the sense of a phrase
rather than translating each individual word and even maintaining the original
language’s syntax.

“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,” the pope wrote, “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.”

The pope said the changes would go into effect Oct. 1, and he
ordered the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments to “modify
its own ‘Regulations’ on the basis of the new discipline and help the episcopal
conferences to fulfill their task as well as working to promote ever more the
liturgical life of the Latin church.”

The greater oversight provided earlier by the Vatican was
understandable, Pope Francis said, given the supreme importance of the Mass and
other liturgies in the life of the church.

The main concerns, he said, were to preserve “the substantial
unity of the Roman rite,” even without universal celebrations in Latin,
but also to recognize that vernacular languages themselves could “become liturgical
languages, standing out in a not-dissimilar way to liturgical Latin for their
elegance of style and the profundity of their concepts with the aim of
nourishing the faith.”

Another teaching of the Second Vatican Council that needed
to be strengthened, he said, was a recognition of “the right and duty of
episcopal conferences,” which are called to collaborate with the Vatican.

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.

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