Roche: the responsibilities of bishops in the translations of Latin liturgical texts

Roche: the responsibilities of bishops in the translations of Latin liturgical texts
Roche: the responsibilities of bishops in the translations of Latin liturgical texts

The implementing decree of the Motu proprio “Magnum principium” has been published with which Pope Francis modified the competences of the Bishops’ Conferences and of the Congregation for Divine Worship regarding the translations of the liturgical books of the Roman Rite into the various languages. The prefect of the Dicastery explains its contents


This is a reform that wants to highlight the responsibility of the Bishops’ Conferences in the “great task”, in dialogue with the Apostolic See, of completing the complex work of translating the Latin liturgical texts of the Roman Rite into their own languages. This is what he says Archbishop Arthur Roche, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, illustrating the Decree implementing the Motu proprio to Vatican News A great beginning of 3 September 2017 with which Pope Francis modified can. 838 of the Code of Canon Law relating to the translations of liturgical books into the vernacular languages. The text, published today, in the liturgical memorial of Saint John Paul II, interprets and clarifies the modalities of implementation of these changes which concern the competences of the bishops and of the Vatican Dicastery.

The Decree, entitled After the Sovereign Pontiff, he recalled that, since “the grave responsibility in this matter belongs to the bishops, the Episcopal Conference must take on it directly, making use of the necessary collaboration of suitable persons, including experts trained in the translation of liturgical Latin”. The aim is “to guarantee in a given language the correct and integral expression of the faith of the Catholic Church, transmitted according to its teaching and the appropriate vocabulary”. It is then up to the Dicastery for Divine Worship recognitio and the confirmatio. The recognitio it consists of a revision of what was approved by the Bishops’ Conference and of the legitimacy of the procedure followed “taking into account the reasons dictated by the culture, tradition of the country and pastoral needs”. There confirmatio it consists “in the ratification given by the Apostolic See to the translation of biblical and liturgical texts, after having ascertained the legitimacy of the approval procedure followed by the Episcopal Conferences”.

In a letter of October 2017 on the correct interpretation of the Motu proprio, Pope Francis had specified that the new legislation now grants the Bishops’ Conferences the faculty to judge the goodness and consistency of translations from Latin, “even if in dialogue with the Holy See”. There recognitio – he explained – “it only indicates the verification and safeguarding of conformity with the law and communion of the Church”, which “should not lead to a spirit of ‘imposition’ on the Episcopal Conferences of a given translation made by the Dicastery, since this would undermine the right of the bishops “. On the other hand – he added – the confirmatio “Therefore no longer supposes a detailed examination word by word, except in evident cases which can be made present to the bishops for their further reflection”.

Monsignor Arthur Roche in this interview explains the contents of today’s decree.

Your Excellency, this implementing Decree sheds light on what was established in 2017 by the Pope’s Motu proprio Great beginning (3 December 2017). Before going into the details of the Decree, can we briefly recall what the Motu proprio has established?

In summary, we can say that the Motu Proprio A great beginning changed the formulation of some norms of the Code of Canon Law concerning the edition of liturgical books in the vernacular languages ​​and, for this reason, a series of changes was introduced to the text of canon 838, specifically in paragraphs 2 and 3. The same Motu Proprio recalls and exposes the basic principles for the translation of liturgical texts which, as a prayer of the Church, are regulated by the competent ecclesiastical authority. Basically, all this seeks to make the collaboration between the Holy See and the Episcopal Conferences easier and more fruitful. They have the great task of translating and also rendering effectively in their languages ​​what is found in the liturgical books of the Roman Rite. This task represents a great responsibility because, thanks to such translations, the revealed Word can be announced and the Church’s prayer can be expressed in a language that is understandable to the people of God.

So what are the relevant and substantial points of the implementing Decree?

The application decree, which bears the title After the Sovereign Pontiff and the date of 22 October, the memory of the Holy Pontiff John Paul II, presents the legislation derived from the modifications of A great beginning. We must especially emphasize how the legislation concerning the edition, the recognitio and the confirmatio liturgical books, a task that falls to the Episcopal Conferences and to the Apostolic See. The Decree consists of a Proemio and two parts; in the first, the Norms and procedures to be followed for the edition of the liturgical books, both for their translation and for the introduction of “deeper” adaptations, are presented, according to the provisions of number 40 of Holy Council.

In the light of this reform – and of the clarifications that Pope Francis wrote in the letter of October 2017 – how does the relationship between the Congregation for Divine Worship and the individual Episcopal Conferences develop in terms of translations of liturgical texts into foreign languages?

This reform of Pope Francis intends to highlight the responsibility and the competences of the Episcopal Conferences, both in the moment of evaluating and approving liturgical adaptations for the territory of their competence, and with regard to the preparation and approval of translations of the liturgical texts. On the other hand, it is up to our Dicastery to control (recognitio) the adaptations approved by the Episcopal Conferences and confirm (confirmatio) the translations made. Always in an atmosphere of collaboration and dialogue that favors the liturgical life of the Latin Church, as indicated by Pope Francis in A great beginning.

In these four years since the publication of the Motu proprio, how can its application be assessed?

My experience in recent years as Archbishop Secretary and, for some months, as Prefect, is very positive and enriching. In our daily work we experience the universality of the Church and, at the same time, the peculiarity of each local Church. The Bishops, as moderators, promoters and custodians of liturgical life in their respective particular Churches, have a great sensitivity, deriving from theological and cultural formation, which allows them to translate the texts of Revelation and the Liturgy into a language that responds to the character of the People of God that has been entrusted to them. to be, according to the wish of the Holy Father, an instrument at the service of the universal Church. The above can be summarized by saying that at the heart of this change is the desire to bring the People of God closer to the liturgy and the liturgy to the People of God.

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