LITURGIAM AUTHENTICAM: BACKGROUND AND OVERVIEW
Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments

Liturgiam authenticam
On the Use of Vernacular Languages in the Publication of the Books of the Roman Liturgy

BACKGROUND

The great Post-Conciliar Instructions

On 4 December 1963 the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council approved the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium. In order to facilitate the implementation of the liturgical renewal desired by the Council Fathers, the Holy See has subsequently published five documents of special importance, each successively numbered as an "Instruction for the Right Application of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council".

The first of these, Inter Oecumenici, was issued by the Sacred Congregation of Rites and the "Consilium" for the Implementation of the Liturgy Constitution on 26 September 1964, and contained initial general principles for the orderly carrying out of the liturgical renewal. Three years later, on 4 May 1967, a second Instruction was issued, Tres abhinc annos. This described further adaptations to the Order of Mass. The third Instruction, Liturgicae instaurationes, of 5 September 1970, was issued by the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship, the body that succeeded the Sacred Congregation of Rites and the "Consilium". It provided directives on the central role of the Bishop in the renewal of the Liturgy throughout the diocese.

Subsequently the intensive activity of the revision of the Latin editions of the liturgical books and their translation into the various modern languages was the main vehicle for the liturgical renewal. After the general completion of this phase, there came a period of practical experience, which necessarily required a considerable space of time. With Pope John Paul II's Apostolic Letter Vicesimus quintus annus, issued on 4 December 1988 to mark the 25th anniversary of the Council's Constitution, there began a new gradual process of evaluation, completion and consolidation of the liturgical renewal. On 25 January 1994, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments carried this process forward by issuing the Fourth "Instruction for the Right Application of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council", Varietates legitimae, concerning difficult questions on the Roman Liturgy and inculturation.

A Fifth Instruction

In February 1997 the Holy Father asked the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments to carry forward the process of the liturgical renewal by codifying the conclusions of its work in collaboration with the Bishops over the years regarding the question of the liturgical translations. This matter had been in course, as mentioned, since 1988.

As a result, on 20 March 2001 the Fifth post-Conciliar "Instruction for the Right Application of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy" of the Second Vatican Council, Liturgiam authenticam, was approved by the Holy Father in an audience with the Cardinal Secretary of State and, on 28 March, it was issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. It takes effect on 25 April 2001.

The Instruction Liturgiam authenticam serves to set forth authoritatively the manner in which the provisions of article 36 of the liturgy Constitution are to be applied to the vernacular translation of the texts of the Roman Liturgy. That article states:

§ 1. The use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin Rites, while maintaining particular law.

§ 2. However, since the use of the vernacular may frequently be of great benefit to the people either in the Mass or in the administration of the Sacraments, or in the other parts of the Liturgy, a wider use may be made of it especially in the readings and instructions [to the people], in certain prayers and sung texts, according to the norms on this matter to be set forth in detail in the chapters following.

§ 3. With due regard for such norms, it pertains to the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority mentioned in article 22, § 2, in consultation, if the case arises, with Bishops of neighbouring regions which have the same language, to make decisions regarding whether and to what extent the vernacular language is to be used. Their decisions are to be approved that is, confirmed by the Apostolic See.

§ 4. A translation of a Latin text into the vernacular for use in the Liturgy must be approved by the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority mentioned above.

It should be mentioned that there have been a number of legal and other developments in the meantime, among them measures which have further defined the "competent territorial ecclesiastical authorities" of which the Constitution speaks. In practice these have become what are known as the Bishops' Conferences today.

OVERVIEW

The Fifth Instruction begins by referring to the initiative of the Council and the work of the successive Popes and the Bishops throughout the world, recalling the successes of the liturgical reform, while at the same time noting the continued vigilance needed in order to preserve the identity and unity of the Roman Rite throughout the world. In this regard, the Instruction takes up the observations made in 1988 by Pope John Paul II calling for progress beyond an initial phase to one of improved translations of liturgical texts. Accordingly, Liturgiam authenticam offers the Latin Church a new formulation of principles of translation with the benefit of more than 30 years' experience in the use of the vernacular in liturgical celebrations.

Liturgiam authenticam supersedes all norms previously set forth on liturgical translation, with the exception of those in the fourth Instruction Varietates legitimae, and specifies that the two Instructions should be read in conjunction with each other. It calls more than once for a new era in translation of liturgical texts.

It should be noted that the new document substitutes for all previous norms while integrating much of their content, drawing them together in a more unified and systematic way, underpinning them with some careful reflection, and linking them to certain related questions that so far have been treated separately. Moreover, it is faced with the task of speaking in a few pages of principles applicable to several hundred languages currently used in liturgical celebration in every part of the world. It does not employ the technical terminology of linguistics or of the human sciences but refers principally to the domain of pastoral experience.

In what follows, the general development of the document is followed, but not always the exact wording or order of points.

Choice of Vernacular Languages

Only the more commonly spoken languages should be employed in the Liturgy, avoiding the introduction of too many languages for liturgical use, which could prove divisive by fragmenting a people into small groups. A number of factors should be kept in mind when choosing a language for liturgical use, such as the number of priests, deacons and lay collaborators at ease in a given tongue, the availability of translators for each language, and the practical possibility, including cost, of producing and publishing accurate translations of the liturgical books.

Dialects which do not have the backing of academic and cultural formation may not be formally accepted as liturgical languages, although they may be used for the Prayers of the Faithful, sung texts or parts of the homily.

The Instruction next gives a careful updated outline of the process to be followed by the Conferences of Bishops in communion with the Holy See in deciding upon full or partial introduction into liturgical use of a given language.

The Translation of Liturgical Texts

The heart of the Instruction is a fresh exposition with a reflective tone of principles that should govern the vernacular translation of liturgical texts. From the outset this section stresses the sacred nature of the Liturgy, which the translated texts must carefully safeguard.

The Roman Rite, like all the great historical liturgical families of the Catholic Church, has its own style and structure that must be respected in so far as possible in translation. The Instruction repeats the call of earlier papal documents for an approach to the translation of liturgical texts that sees it not so much a work of creative inventiveness as one of fidelity and exactness in rendering the Latin texts into a vernacular language, with all due consideration for the particular way that each language has of expressing itself. The special needs that must be addressed when making translations intended for newly evangelized territories are mentioned, and the Instruction also discusses the conditions under which more significant adaptations of texts and rites may occur, referring the regulation of these issues to the Instruction Varietates legitimae.

Using Other Texts as Aids

The usefulness of consulting ancient source texts is acknowledged and encouraged, though it is noted that the text of the editio typica, the official modern Latin edition, is always the point of departure for the translation. When the Latin text employs certain words from other ancient languages (e.g., alleluia, Amen, or Kyrie eleison), such terms may be retained in their original languages. Liturgical translations are to be made only from the editio typica of the Latin and never from other translations in turn. The Neo-Vulgate, the current Catholic version of the Latin Bible, should be employed as an auxiliary tool in preparing biblical translations for use in the Liturgy.

Vocabulary

The vocabulary chosen for liturgical translation must be at one and the same time easily comprehensible to ordinary people and also expressive of the dignity and oratorical rhythm of the original: a language of praise and worship which fosters reverence and gratitude in the face of God's glory. The language of these texts is, therefore, not intended primarily as an expression of the inner dispositions of the faithful but rather of God's revealed word and his continual dialogue with his people in history.

Translations must be freed from exaggerated dependence on modern modes of expression and in general from psychologizing language. Even forms of speech deemed slightly archaic may on occasion be appropriate to the liturgical vocabulary.

The liturgical texts are neither completely autonomous nor separable from the general context of Christian life. There are in the Liturgy no texts that are intended to promote discriminatory or hostile attitudes to non-Catholic Christians, to the Jewish community or other religions, or which in any way deny universal equality in human dignity. If incorrect interpretation arises, the matter should be clarified, but this is not primarily the business of translations. The homily and catechesis are there to help fill out and explain their meaning and to clarify certain texts.

Gender

Many languages have nouns and pronouns capable of referring to both the masculine and the feminine in a single term. The abandonment of these terms under pressure of criticism on ideological or other grounds is not always wise or necessary nor is it an inevitable part of linguistic development. Traditional collective terms should be retained in instances where their loss would compromise a clear notion of man as a unitary, inclusive and corporate yet truly personal figure, as expressed, for example, by the Hebrew term adam, the Greek anthropos or the Latin homo. Similarly, the expression of such inclusivity may not be achieved by quasi-mechanical changes in grammatical number, or by the creation of pairs of masculine and feminine terms.

The traditional grammatical gender of the persons of the Trinity should be maintained. Expressions such as Filius hominis (Son of Man) and Patres (fathers) are to be translated with exactitude wherever found in biblical or liturgical texts. The feminine pronoun must be retained in referring to the Church. Kinship terms and the grammatical gender of angels, demons and pagan deities should be translated, and their gender retained, in light of the usage of the original text and of the traditional usage of the modern language in question.

The Translation of a Text

Translations should try not to extend or to restrict the meaning of the original terms, and terms that recall publicity slogans or those that have political, ideological or similar over-tones should be avoided. Academic and secular style-books on vernacular composition should not be used uncritically, since the Church has distinctive things to say and a style of expression that is appropriate to them.

Translation is a collaborative effort that should maintain continuity as much as possible between the original and vernacular texts. The translator must possess not only special skills, but also a trust in divine mercy and a spirit of prayer, as well as a readiness to accept review of his work by others. When substantial changes are needed to bring a given liturgical book into conformity with this Instruction, such revisions must be made all at once so as to avoid repeated disturbances or a sense of continual instability in liturgical prayer.

Scriptural Translations

Special consideration is given to the translation of the Scriptures for use in the Liturgy. A version should be developed which is exegetically sound and also suitable for the Liturgy. Such a translation should be used universally within the area of a single Bishops' Conference and be the same for a given passage in all parts of the liturgical books. The aim should be a distinctive sacred style in each language that is consonant, as far as possible, with the established vocabulary of popular Catholic usage and major catechetical texts. All doubtful cases regarding canonicity and the ordering of verses should be resolved by reference to the Neo-Vulgate.

Concrete images found in words referring in figurative language that speaks, for example of the "finger", the "hand", the "face" of God, or of his "walking", and terms like "flesh" and the so on, should usually be translated literally and not replaced by abstractions. These are distinctive features of the biblical text that are to be maintained.

Other Liturgical Texts

Norms for the translation of the Bible as used in the Liturgy apply also in general to the translation of liturgical prayers. At the same time it must be acknowledged that while liturgical prayer is formed by the culture which practices it, it is also formative of culture so that the relationship is not merely passive. As a result, liturgical language can be expected to diverge from ordinary speech, as well as to reflect its better elements. The ideal is to develop a dignified vernacular fit for worship in a given cultural context.

Liturgical vocabulary must include the major characteristics of the Roman Rite, and should be drawn from patristic sources and harmonized with biblical texts. The vocabulary and usage of the vernacular translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church should be respected as far as this is feasible, and the proper distinctive terms should be used for sacred persons or things, rather than employing the same words as for the persons or things of everyday domestic life.

Syntax, style and literary genre are also key elements to be considered in rendering a faithful translation. The relationship between clauses, especially as expressed through subordination and devices such as parallelism, must be accurately conveyed. Verbs must be translated precisely in respect of person, number and voice while some latitude will be needed in rendering more complex syntactical structures.

A prime consideration should be the fact that liturgical texts are intended to be publicly proclaimed aloud and even sung.

Particular Types of Texts

Specific norms are then given for the translation of Eucharistic Prayers, the Creed, (which is to be translated in the first person singular: "I believe ... "), and the general ordering and layout of liturgical books and their preliminary decrees and introductory texts. This is followed by a description of the preparation of translations by Bishops' Conferences and the processes to be used for obtaining the approval and confirmation of liturgical texts from the Holy See. The present special requirements of papal approbation for sacramental formulae are reaffirmed, as is the insistence on the desirability of a single translation of the Liturgy, especially the Order of Mass, within each language group.

The Organization of Translation Work and Commissions

The preparation of translations is a serious charge incumbent in the first place upon the Bishops themselves, even if they naturally often draw on the services of experts. In all work of translation at least some of the Bishops should be closely involved, not only personally checking the final texts, but taking active part in the various stages of preparation. Even if not all the Bishops of a Conference are proficient in a given language used within its territory, they must take collegial responsibility for the liturgical texts and the overall pastoral language policy.

The Instruction sets out clearly the procedures (in general those in use until now) for the approval of texts by the Bishops and the forwarding of the texts for review and confirmation by the Congregation for Divine Worship. The document devotes some space to expressing the significance of the referral of liturgical matters to the Holy See, in terms partly based on the Pope John Paul II's Motu Proprio Apostolos suos of 1998, in which the nature and function of Bishops' Conferences was clarified. The referral procedure is a sign of the Bishops' communion with the Pope and a means to strengthening it. It is also a guarantee of the quality of texts and aims at ensuring that the liturgical celebrations of the particular Churches (dioceses) be in full harmony with the tradition of the Catholic Church down through the ages and throughout the world.

Where cooperation is appropriate or necessary between Bishops' Conferences using the same language, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments alone erects joint or "mixed" commissions, usually following up on a request from the Bishops. Such commissions are not autonomous and are not a channel of communication between the Holy See and the Bishops' Conferences. They have no decision-making capacity, but are solely at the service of the pastoral office of the Bishops. They are concerned exclusively with the translation of the Latin editiones tvpicae, not with the composition of new vernacular texts, nor the consideration of theoretical questions or cultural adaptations; and the establishment of relations with similar bodies of other language groups lies outside their competence.

The Fifth Instruction recommends that at least some of the Bishops making up the commission be chairmen of the liturgical commission of their Bishops' Conference. In any case the "mixed" commission is run by Bishops, in accordance with statutes confirmed by the Congregation for Divine Worship. These statutes should normally have the approval of all participating Bishops' Conferences, but if this is not feasible, the Congregation for Divine Worship may both draw up and approve statutes on its own authority.

Commissions of this kind, says the document, operate best by coordinating use of resources available to individual Bishops' Conferences, so that one Conference, for example, may produce a first draft of a translation which is subsequently refined by the other Conferences of Bishops to arrive at an improved and universally serviceable text.

Such "mixed" commissions are not intended to replace national and diocesan liturgical commissions and therefore cannot take on any of the functions of the latter.

Because of the importance of the work, all involved in the activity of a "mixed" commission on a stable basis, other than the Bishops, must obtain a nihil obstat from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments prior to taking up their duties. Like all connected with the commission, they serve only for a fixed term and are bound by a contract to confidentiality and anonymity in completing assignments.

Existing commissions must bring their statutes into conformity with this instruction and submit them to the Congregation for Divine Worship within two years from the issue date of the Instruction.

The document also stresses the Holy See's own need for liturgical translations, especially in the major world languages, and its desire to be more closely involved in their preparation of future translations. It also refers in general terms to various kinds of bodies which the Congregation for Divine Worship may set up to resolve translation problems of one or more languages.

New Compositions

A section on the composition of new texts notes that their purpose is solely to respond to genuine cultural and pastoral needs. As such, their composition is the exclusive province of Bishops' Conferences rather than the "mixed" translation commissions. They are to respect the style, structure, vocabulary and other traditional qualities of the Roman Rite. Particularly important, because of their impact on the person and on the memory, are hymns and chants. There is to be a general review of vernacular material in this field and Bishops' Conferences are to regulate the question with the assent of the Congregation within five years.

The Instruction concludes with a number of brief technical sections giving guidelines on publication of editions of liturgical books, including copyright, and on procedures for the translation of the liturgical texts proper to individual dioceses and religious communities.


 

NEW LITURGY INSTRUCTION FOR REFINING VERNACULAR TRANSLATION
LOR

An Italian newspaper greeted the publication of Liturgiam Authenticam as a call for a "high fi" liturgy. Here is the press release for the document on the translation of liturgical texts. The Latin text Liturgiam Authenticam can be found on the Vatican web page (www.vatican.va) under the heading the Congregation for Sacraments and Divine Worship. There one can also find the press release and the supplements to the press release and English and French translation of the original document on the web-site.

The press at large latched onto the need to make changes in the translations so they correspond with the original Latin texts. One found examples like "And with your spirit" and "I believe" mentioned right away.

There was a fear of greater Roman centralization and a fear of not enough consultation between Rome and other churches. Events like the discussion of corrections to the Ordination Rites and the arguments about the membership of mixed commissions show that consultation has been constant.

In fact, the general principles the new text sets forth seem to smack of good common sense. If the Roman Rite is to survive throughout the Latin Church, then the prayers of the Rite in all their rich doctrine and expressiveness have to survive. One of the principles is that "translation of the liturgical texts of the Roman liturgy is not so much a work of creative innovation as it is of rendering the original texts faithfully and accurately into the vernacular language". Another principle expressed as a regret is that "the omissions or errors which affect certain existing vernacular translationsespecially in the case of certain languageshave impeded the progress of inculturation that actually should have taken place".

One finds a third principle that is based on the objectivity of the Easter Mystery and the ongoing intercession of Christ the High Priest re-presented in the liturgy. Christ conforms us to himself. "The words of the Sacred Scriptures, as well as other words spoken in liturgical celebrations, especially in the celebration of the Sacraments, are not intended primarily to be a sort of mirror of the interior dispositions of the faithful; rather, they express truths that transcend the limits of time and space". A North American commentator rightly quoted the late Abraham Joshua Heschel: "The liturgy is not supposed to say what we mean, we are supposed to mean what the liturgy says". Good translation does not mean a slavishly literal equivalency, but the Instruction does move translators in the direction of a greater fidelity to the Latin prayers of the Roman Rite. The press release notes that while "liturgical prayer is formed by the culture that practices it, it is also formative of culture so that its relationship is not merely passive".

The debate over inclusive language has had a drastic impact on translations. There are two parts to the debate, one about horizontal language, one about vertical language. In the press release one finds the cautions that have to be made against abandoning terms that refer to the masculine and the feminine with the same term. The Congregation urges that traditional collective terms should be retained in instances where their loss would compromise a clear notion of man as a unity, inclusive and corporate, yet truly personal figure. The examples the Congregation gives are the use of the Hebrew term adam, the Greek anthropos, and the Latin homo. "Similarly, the expression of such inclusivity may not be achieved by quasi-mechanical changes in grammatical number, or by the creation of pairs of masculine and feminine terms".

On the question of vertical language, the Instruction notes that the "traditional grammatical gender of the persons of the Trinity should be maintained". It cites concrete examples like Filius hominis (Son of Man) and Patres (fathers) which are to be translated exactly wherever found in the biblical or liturgical texts. The feminine pronoun should be kept for the Church. Kinship terms and the grammatical genders of angels, demons and pagan deities should be translated and their gender retained, in the light of the usage of the original text and of the traditional usage of the modern language in question. Notice that the last norm calls for a dialogue between the text and the language. It recognizes the complexities which beset the whole process while fidelity to the text guides the process.

A third issue are the rules for the make-up of the mixed commissions which prepare the translations. The main example is ICEL. They are commission in which bishops and experts participate. The Instruction wants to make sure that the experts are persons who are attuned to fidelity to the Latin text and understand that the Holy See has a stake in the task of translating the liturgy.

For the serenity of the faithful who look to Rome for sure guidance, the Holy See should be involved in the process and not just at the end, when the process has been celebrated as already finished. The new rules assure the involvement of the Holy See. In the Catholic Church collegiality does not exclude the involvement of the Head of the college but implies it. Moreover, on the juridical level, when the Holy See gives a faculty to the Bishops' Conferences, it does not mean that the Holy See loses the ability to exercise the same faculty.

The document does not abolish thirty years of work, but learns from it and helps to refine and perfect it.

 
Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
30 May 2001, page 13

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