VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis offered several points of clarification in an Oct. 15 letter responding to questions raised by Cardinal Robert Sarah on the new process of translating liturgical texts from Latin into vernacular languages.
The Holy Father discussed points regarding the approval of new translations and the relationship between translations and Latin texts.
He clarified that, while in the past, it was the task of the Vatican’s liturgical office to judge whether or not a translation is faithful to the original Latin, bishops’ conferences themselves have now been given the faculty of “judging the goodness and consistency of one and the other term in the translations from the original, in dialogue with the Holy See.”
Dated Oct. 15, the Pope’s letter was in response to one he had received from Cardinal Sarah, the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, at the end of September thanking the Pope for his recent document Magnum Principium (MP), on the translation of liturgical texts, and offering a commentary on how to interpret it.
The document, issued motu proprio (of the Pope’s own accord) and published Sept. 9, granted bishops’ conferences the task of both preparing and approving texts that had been “faithfully” translated from the original Latin, while cementing the role of the Apostolic See in confirming the translations approved by bishops.
In his commentary, Cardinal Sarah had contended that the new process for translating liturgical texts still follows the rules put into place with the 2001 Instruction Liturgiam Authenticam (LA), which said the vernacular versions must faithfully reflect the language and structure of the Latin texts.
Cardinal Sarah also looked at the role of the Holy See and bishops’ conferences in both “recognizing” (recognitio) and “confirming” (confirmatio) modifications to liturgical texts, arguing that the term recognitio used in the new canons involves adaptions of texts, while confirmatio involves translations.
Because of this, the terms are different, even if they are “interchangeable with respect to the responsibility of the Holy See,” Cardinal Sarah said. He also maintained that the recognitio of liturgical texts implies a preliminary consultation with the Holy See before translation processes begin, with the confirmatio of the Holy See being the final step.
In his letter to Cardinal Sarah, the Pope thanked him for his commitment and for sending the commentary, but offered some simple “observations” on the commentary, “which I consider to be important, especially for the proper application and understanding of the motu proprio and to avoid any misunderstanding.”
The first point Francis made was that Magnum Principium “abolished” the process for translating used by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments after Liturgiam Authenticam was published in 2001. Magnum Principium, he said, “sought to change” this process.
The Pope said of the terms recognitio and confirmatio that it cannot be said that they are “strictly synonymous or interchangeable or that they are interchangeable at the level of responsibility of the Holy See.”
The distinction between recognitio and confirmatio, he said, emphasizes “the different responsibility” that the Apostolic See and episcopal conferences have in liturgical translations.
“Magnum Principium no longer claims that translations must conform on all points to the norms of LA, as was done in the past,” the Pope said, explaining that, because of this, individual numbers in LA have to be “carefully re-understood.”
He said this includes Nos. 79-84, which deal specifically with the requirement for a vernacular translation to have the recognitio of Rome. These numbers, Francis said, “have been abrogated” and “re-formulated” with the publication of MP.
The confirmatio of the Vatican, then, “no longer supposes a detailed word-by-word examination,” he said, except in obvious cases that can be brought to the bishops for further reflection. This, the Pope said, applies to texts such as the Eucharistic Prayers or sacramental formulas.
Pope Francis said the new norms imply “a triple fidelity,” first of all to the original Latin text, to the particular languages the text is translated into, and to the comprehension of the text by its recipients.
In this sense, the recognitio of the texts only implies “the verification and preservation of conformity” to the Code of Canon Law and the communion of the Church, he said.
Francis also emphasized that in the process of translating liturgical texts, there should be no “spirit of imposition” on bishops’ conferences of a translation done by the Vatican’s liturgical department.
The Pope said “it is wrong to attribute to the confirmatio the purpose of the recognitio,” which is to “verify and safeguard” in accordance with the law. He also stressed that the confirmatio is not “merely a formal act, but necessary for the edition of the translated liturgical book,” and is granted after the version has been submitted to the Apostolic See for a confirmation of the bishops’ approved text.
Pope Francis closed his letter by noting that Cardinal Sarah’s commentary had been published on several websites and asked that the cardinal transmit his response to the same outlets, as well as to members and consultors of the Congregation for Divine Worship.