The March 2021 Letter to Our Brother Priests, no. 89, a quarterly liaison letter of the Society of Saint Pius X with the clergy of France, has published a very interesting article on the translation of the new missal into French. The Letter is being published by FSSPX.News in three parts.
The first part of this letter showed how French translators got into the bad habit of translating new liturgical texts in a broad, even very broad, way—sometimes leading to barely orthodox formulas. And for 20 years, they have been obstructing the changes that were asked of them to bring the French more in line with the Latin original. This second part presents this deaf opposition to Roman directives.
A Silent Fight
This behind the scenes fight, a fierce fight, but taking place in almost total media silence, has nevertheless experienced some sporadic flashes, at least if one made the effort to read La Croix newspaper exhaustively and carefully. An article of May 26, 2016 explained that a first version proposed by the French-speaking bishops had been rejected by Rome in 2007. The bishops had made only a few cosmetic changes, hoping that the Apostolic See “would swallow the pill” without making any difficulties.
However, the Instruction Liturgiam authenticam was intended precisely to cut short these “translations/betrayals,” and so there was no question of Rome remaining with the disastrous status quo. A new French-speaking commission had set to work on the translation. This commission ended up “giving birth” to a text which was submitted for Roman revision in 2015 and 2016. The French hoped to win and announced that the new French version of the Missal would appear without fail in 2017. But the Roman authorities, and most especially, Cardinal Sarah, had no intention of letting their arms be twisted.
On January 19, 2017, the same journalist revealed in La Croix that Pope Francis had just set up a commission within the Congregation for Divine Worship to “overcome the blockages,” which the journalist translated (in a completely partial way) as “relax the rules of liturgical translation.”
On September 9, 2017, La Croix revealed that the Pope had promulgated the motu proprio Magnum Principium, as the journalist claimed, in order to “strengthen the authority of bishops in liturgical matters.” However, this is by no means what emerges from a careful reading of this motu proprio. Not only is the authority of the bishops not diminished in this order, but neither is that of the Congregation for Divine Worship as ultimate judge. The Pope writes, in fact: “I order, with the authority entrusted to me, that the canonical discipline currently in force in can. 838 of the CIC be made clearer so that, according to what is stated in the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, in particular in Articles 36 §§ 3.4, 40 and 63, and in the Apostolic Letter Motu Proprio Sacram Liturgiam, no. IX, the competency of the Apostolic See surrounding the translation of liturgical books and the more radical adaptations established and approved by Episcopal Conferences be made clearer, among which can also be numbered eventual new texts to be inserted into these books.” It is quite false and dishonest to claim that this perfectly balanced text (“à la Roman”) would consecrate the victory of the episcopal conferences over the Congregation for Divine Worship.
La Croix’s biased version was taken up by Msgr. Aubertin, who wrote: “Pope Francis’s motu proprio, Magnum Principium, somewhat modified the provisions of the Instruction Liturgiam authenticam by giving three principles of fidelity to the text of the Editio typica …. It is up to the Episcopal Conferences to harmonize these three fidelities .... As soon as the work is done, the Congregation for Divine Worship grants the confirmatio.”
But the explanation given by the Congregation for Divine Worship, to clarify the new version of canon 838 (written to implement the motu proprio Magnum Principium) is notably different, and much more exact, in our opinion. “The new formulation of the canon, they write, allows a more adequate distinction, as regards the role of the Apostolic See, between the proper domain of the recognitio and that of the confirmatio: 1) the recognitio… concerns legitimate liturgical adaptations, which may be wanted by episcopal conferences…. The Apostolic See is therefore called to grant the recognitio, that is to say to review and evaluate such adaptations, with a view to safeguarding the substantial unity of the Roman rite. 2) The confirmatio concerns translations of liturgical texts.… The Apostolic See thus intervenes to confirm, after careful examination - which is not a simple formal act - the texts previously prepared and approved by the bishops.”
The Principles of the New Translation
Fr. Henri Delhougne, “coordinator of the translation project,” clearly explained the principles which were to guide the new French translation. The first principle laid down by the Instruction Liturgiam authenticam, he writes, “has different emphases from those of the Instruction on the Translation of Liturgical Texts for Celebration with the People, promulgated by the same Congregation on January 25, 1969. … The difference was formulated in a synthetic way by the current secretary of the Congregation: between the text to be translated and its translation, we went from the principle of a dynamic equivalence (1969) to that of a formal equivalence. In other words, the translation must be closer to the Latin text of the Roman Missal.…The main reason for this change… is the desire to better safeguard the unity of the Roman liturgy in the diversity of local languages.”
Cardinal Sarah, for his part, added the following remark: “The current translation has therefore been revised with great care in order to be more faithful to the Latin original, while taking into account the specific characteristics of the French language. The effort of the Dicastery over which I preside is to highlight the sacredness, dignity, and splendor of the liturgy.”
The Congregation for Divine Worship explains the spirit in which this new translation was carried out. “The starting point of the new translation is the Latin text of the Missale romanum. The entire Missal has been retranslated from the guidelines contained in the Instruction Liturgiam authenticam. This one insists on exact translations, faithful to the Latin text of the typical edition, and therefore precise. The Missal must be translated completely and very precisely, that is, with neither omission, nor addition, to the content, nor through the introduction of paraphrases or glosses. The translations were done using words that were to be easily understood, but at the same time respected the dignity and beauty as well as the exact doctrinal content of the texts.... The current translation has therefore been revised with great care in order to be more faithful to the Latin original, while taking into account the genius of the French language.”