In an extraordinary rebuke to one of his own Curial cardinals, the Pope has aimed to “explain simply, and hopefully clearly… some errors” in his Worship chief’s understanding of Magnum Principium, his recent motu proprio on liturgical translations, indicating the new norms granting new oversight to bishops’ conferences as a fresh development and declaring several key pieces of the operative rules in 2001’s Liturgiam authenticam “abrogated.”
A year since Francis’ last open clash with his top liturgical aide, a personal letter from the pontiff to the CDW prefect Cardinal Robert Sarah (above, ad orientem), dated 15 October, was published this morning by the Italian outlet La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana and subsequently confirmed by the Holy See Press Office, as well as being placed on the Italian homepage of Vatican Radio. (Ironically enough, even as this Ordinary Sunday takes precedence, today marks the feast of St John Paul II, under whose authority LA was promulgated.)
Noting a recent, lengthy commentary in which Sarah stated that LAremains “the authoritative text concerning liturgical translations,” the Pope responded by relating that paragraphs 79-84 of the 2001 norms – those which deal precisely with the requirement for a vernacular rendering’s recognitio by Rome – were now abolished, going on to note that Magnum “no longer upholds that translations must conform on all points with the norms of Liturgiam authenticam, as was the case in the past.”
In the new balance of responsibility, Francis said, Sarah’s contention that “the words recognitio and confirmatio, without being strictly synonymous [to explain the Vatican’s role], are nevertheless interchangeable” – in essence, that little had changed from LA – was not the case. As the pontiff explained, “the faculty” now belongs to the respective bishops’ conferences “to judge the goodness and coherence of terms in the translation of the original, albeit in dialogue with the Holy See”; in other words, not a unilateral call on Rome’s part, even at the process’ final stage.
Given considerable focus in the new norms’ wake on the use of the word “fideliter” – that is, a conference’s charge of weighing a translation’s fidelity to the original – in Magnum‘s revision of the Code of Canon Law, the pontiff writes that the term, as judged by an episcopal conference, implies a “triple” meaning: “first, to the original text; to the particular language in which it is translated, and finally to the understanding of the text by its audience.”
In light of LA‘s revision of translation principles – which placed a premium on accuracy to the original Latin text over a “dynamic equivalence” approach that allowed a looser standard to ensure widespread comprehension – the Pope’s new interpretation is of particular significance.
While Francis began his letter by thanking the Guinean cardinal for his “contribution,” it bears recalling that, on Magnum‘s release in early September, Sarah – who Papa Bergoglio himself named to CDW in late 2014 – was conspicuous by his absence: an explanatory note on the new norms was instead issued by his deputy, the English Archbishop Arthur Roche. A former bishop of Leeds and chairman of ICEL – the global coordinating body for English-language translations – Roche was likewise received by Francis in a private audience earlier this month by himself.
Given the broad circulation of Sarah’s earlier interpretation on the new norms – in particular, among circles routinely critical, or even hostile, toward the pontiff – Francis closed the letter by asking the cardinal to transmit his response to the outlets which previously ran Sarah’s piece, as well as to the episcopal conferences and CDW’s staff and membership.
The letter published today marks the third instance of Sarah’s responses to Francis meeting a very public retort from the Pope. In early 2016, as CDW promulgated the decree formally allowing women to participate in the washing of the feet on Holy Thursday, an attached letter from the pontiff to the cardinal revealed that Papa Bergoglio’s directive for the change had been held up for over a year.
Six months later, Francis (through the Press Office) issued a “clarification” that Sarah had been “incorrectly interpreted” in calling for priests to adopt the ad orientem stance in celebrating Mass, which the cardinal urged days earlier at a conference for traditionalists in London.
In a major speech to Italian liturgists late last summer, Francis declared, “with certainty and magisterial authority,” that the Vatican II reforms are “irreversible” – adding that, for the church, “the liturgy is life, and not an idea to be understood.”