Pope Francis has ordered a review of “Liturgiam Authenticam,” the controversial decree behind the most recent translations of liturgical texts from Latin into English and other languages. The commission, established by the pope just before Christmas, is also tasked with examining what level of decentralization is desirable in the church on matters such as this.
The mixed commission includes bishops from all the continents. Significantly, Pope Francis appointed Archbishop Arthur Roche, the secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, to be its president. The English-born archbishop is the number two official at the congregation; he has more experience in the liturgical field and a more open approach to liturgical questions than its prefect, Cardinal Robert Sarah.
The Vatican has not provided details on the commission, which is scheduled to hold its first meeting soon. Nor has it published the names of the commission’s members.Francis had two main reasons for setting up the commission, according to informed sources. First, in line with the Second Vatican Council, he wants to give greater responsibility and authority to bishops’ conferences. He stated this clearly in his programmatic document, “Evangelii Gaudium,” when he wrote:
The Second Vatican Council stated that, like the ancient patriarchal Churches, episcopal conferences are in a position “to contribute in many and fruitful ways to the concrete realization of the collegial spirit.” Yet this desire has not been fully realized, since a juridical status of episcopal conferences which would see them as subjects of specific attributions, including genuine doctrinal authority, has not yet been sufficiently elaborated. Excessive centralization, rather than proving helpful, complicates the Church’s life and her missionary outreach (No. 32).
In this context, the question that arises in terms of the liturgy is to clarify what is the role of the bishop of Rome in preserving unity in the church, given that Liturgy, the Roman rite, creates unity in the Latin church. The commission will address this issue.
Second, some bishops' conferences are unhappy with the translation of the Roman Missal required by “Liturgiam Authenticam.” They consider it too rigid and do not accept that there is such a thing as “sacral language.” They charge that “Liturgiam” seeks an almost literal translation of the Latin liturgical texts into the vernacular or local language of the different countries, often with unsatisfactory results. The Japanese, for example, had a long-running battle with the congregation over who should decide what is an acceptable Japanese translation of these texts. They and several other bishops’ conferences, are clearly unhappy with the directives of “Liturgiam” and the level of centralization involved in it.
Archbishop Roche, who was for 10 years chairman of the International Commission for English Language in the Liturgy, addressing the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops in September 2014, said the major difference between “Comme le Prévoit” (1969), which governed translation for the first liturgical books after the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), and “Liturgiam Authenticam,” which has since determined the translation of the Roman Missal in English, French and some Spanish-speaking countries, “was that the Holy See in its directives opted for a shift of the guiding principle of translation from that of ‘dynamic or functional equivalence’ in 1969 to the principle of ‘formal equivalence’ in 2001.”
He explained that “dynamic equivalence” was achieved when a translator detached the “content” of an utterance from the “form in which it was expressed.” But this approach has become “outmoded,” he said. Over the last 40 years, specialists in language “have become more aware that the form we choose for an utterance is itself expressive of our purpose in speaking.” The Holy See in “Liturgiam Authenticam” opted for “the formal equivalence,” he stated.
The new commission set up by Pope Francis will review this whole matter, together with the issue of inculturation and the question of what decentralization is desirable in matters relating to the liturgy.
Editor's note: The title of this article has been updated for purposes of clarity.