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Revisiting principles for liturgical translation

VATICAN (SE): In calling for a review of the work of the 2001 instruction from Pope Benedict XVI that saw a radical change in the translations of the texts of the Roman Missal from Latin into English, French and, in some countries, Spanish, Pope Francis has ordered a review of the principles governing the mode of liturgical translation.

America magazine reported that while there has so far not been any formal announcement of the review and the membership of the commission has not been announced, it will be chaired by Archbishop Arthur Roche, the secretary to the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments.

The appointment of the English archbishop is in itself a statement, as he is known to have a broader vison of the liturgy than the prefect of the congregation, Robert Cardinal Sarah.

During last year, Cardinal Sarah called on priests worldwide to return to the pre-Vatican custom of celebrating Mass with their backs to the people.

At an address given in London on July 5, the Ghanaian cardinal said, “I can say that when I was received in audience by the Holy Father last April, Pope Francis asked me to study the question of a reform and of how to enrich the two forms of the Roman Rite.”

He also spoke of what he called the reform of the reform of Vatican II, which Pope Francis has since rejected as a valid approach.

The retiring Vatican press officer, Father Federico Lombardi, said at the time, “Some of his expressions have, however, been incorrectly interpreted, as if they intend to announce new indications different to those given so far in the liturgical rules and in the words of the pope regarding the celebration of Mass.”

The local Church in England was quick to distance itself from Cardinal Sarah’s remarks. The archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Cardinal Nichols, urged priests not to follow the suggestion in an advisory released on July 11 last year.

Pope Francis has since cleared out the old membership of the congregation. While keeping the executive in place, he replaced all 27 of its members on October 28 last year.

In a total transformation of its makeup he has spread the representation across every continent in the world and, it now appears is ready to move.

In is well known that bishops’ conferences in some places are unhappy about the current translation of the Roman Missal, calling it too rigid and questioning the concept of sacral language referred to in the 2001 instruction, Liturgiam Authenticem (Authentic Liturgy).

The bishops of Japan have been especially vocal about their belief that decisions on the acceptability of sacred text should be made in Tokyo not Rome.

They have led the way in questioning what some other conferences have complained has become an excessive centralisation of decision-making.

It is clear that this is an area that Pope Francis wants to look at more closely, as he has spoken strongly and often of the role and authority of bishops’ conferences.

In The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium) he wrote that bishops’ conferences are in a position to contribute in many and fruitful ways to the concrete realisation of the collegial spirit.

However, the juridical status of their authority in doctrinal matters has at this stage not been adequately elaborated on.

In a strange twist of history, excessive centralisation is being seen as more of a hindrance than a help to the Church’s missionary outreach.

However, Father Larry Nemer points out in an article published in the Australian Journal of Mission Studies in July 2007 that up until 1900 Rome had been happy to be guided by missionaries in the field.

Father Nemer explains that since Rome was dependent on the missionaries and not sure if they would follow its recommendations anyway, the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith was happy with this arrangement.

In addition, because of the short life span of missionaries in many parts of the world, letters sent to them often arrived after death, becoming irrelevant.

But after 1900 changes took place and the congregation began to play a proactive role in the governing of these territories and instruct them on what decisions to make. This is the area that Pope Francis wants to revisit.

But Archbishop Roche also believes the principles of translation need further investigation.

He told the Canadian bishops in a talk in 2014 that it is not just the simple distinction between the dynamic functional equivalent principle (equivalent colloquial expression of meaning), which governed the 1969 instruction after Vatican II, and the literal (word for word) principle of the 2001 instruction.

Archbishop Roche pointed out that detaching the content of an utterance from the form of expression is considered outmoded by many modern linguists, as they have become more aware that the utterance is an expression in itself.

Pope Francis wants to look at these matters in the context of inculturation, decentralisation and his own role in preserving unity in the Church as bishop of Rome.

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