Today, with little advance notice, the Holy Father issued his Apostolic Letter motu proprio data Magnum principium. The upshot of the letter is that bishops’ conferences now have the authority to prepare translations of liturgical books, subject to confirmation by the Holy See. In technical terms, canon 838 has been modified to reflect this order. We are told in an anonymous note on canon 838 “in the light of conciliar and post-conciliar sources” that
The “confirmatio” is an authoritative act by which the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments ratifies the approval of the Bishops, leaving the responsibility of translation, understood to be faithful, to the doctrinal and pastoral munus of the Conferences of Bishops. In brief, the “confirmatio”, ordinarily granted based on trust and confidence, supposes a positive evaluation of the faithfulness and congruence of the texts produced with respect to the typical Latin text, above all taking account of the texts of greatest importance (e.g. the sacramental formulae, which require the approval of the Holy Father, the Order of Mass, the Eucharistic Prayers and the Prayers of Ordination, which all require a detailed review).
(Emphasis supplied.) In other words, Magnum principium appears to imagine CDW rubber-stamping what the bishops approve. We are told that this is a more authentic implementation of Sacrosanctum Concilium 22 § 2. Whether it is or not, this will be seen as a major victory for the progressives, who have, for fifty years, talked endlessly about adapting the liturgy to local conditions and doing away with the uniformity in liturgy that apparently scarred their youths. Now, the episcopal conferences will prepare translations, which the Holy See anticipates confirming “on trust and confidence” in the conferences’ judgments in the “faithfulness and congruence of the texts with respect to the typical Latin text.”
It is, of course, in our opinion a sort of strange sign for a pontificate that began with big gestures like Evangelii gaudium, Laudato si’, and even Amoris laetitia to turn to the project of making middle-aged felt-banner enthusiasts happy. That is to say that, so far, the Holy Father’s vision has seemed much grander than questions of which translation of the Mass of Paul VI is most pleasing to liberal liturgists. Additionally, the Holy Father has so far not seemed overly exercised about the endless struggles between progressives and more orthodox Catholics about Vatican II. Indeed, it is by no means clear that the Holy Father is hugely invested in the Vatican II question. At the same time, it is plain that retrenching the post-Vatican II liturgical order has been much on the Holy Father’s mind lately. Recall his speech to the Italian liturgists:
The direction traced by the Council was in line with the principle of respect for healthy tradition and legitimate progress (cf. SC, 23), in the liturgical books promulgated by Blessed Paul VI, well received by the very Bishops who were present at the Council, and now in universal use for almost 50 years in the Roman Rite. The practical application, supervised by the Episcopal Conferences of the respective Countries, is still ongoing, because reforming the liturgical books does not suffice to renew mentality. The books reformed in accordance with the decrees of Vatican II introduced a process that demands time, faithful reception, practical obedience, wise implementation in celebrations, firstly, on the part of the ordained ministers, but also of other ministers, of cantors and all those who take part in the liturgy. In truth, we know, that the liturgical education of Pastors and faithful is a challenge to be faced ever anew. Paul VI himself, a year before his death, said to the Cardinals gathered in the Consistory: “The time has now come to definitively leave aside divisive elements, which are equally pernicious in both senses, and to apply fully, in accordance with the correct criteria that inspired it, the reform approved by Us in the application of the wishes of the Council”.
And today, there is still work to be done in this direction, in particular by rediscovering the reasons for the decisions taken with regard to the liturgical reform, by overcoming unfounded and superficial readings, a partial reception, and practices that disfigure it. It is not a matter of rethinking the reform by reviewing the choices in its regard, but of knowing better the underlying reasons, through historical documentation, as well as of internalizing its inspirational principles and of observing the discipline that governs it. After this magisterium, after this long journey, We can affirm with certainty and with magisterial authority that the liturgical reform is irreversible.
The task of promoting and safeguarding the liturgy is entrusted by right to the Apostolic See and to the diocesan bishops on whose responsibility and authority I greatly rely at the present moment; national and diocesan liturgical pastoral bodies, educational Institutes and Seminaries are also involved.
(Emphasis supplied.) Setting to one side the Holy Father’s decision to minimize Sacrosanctum Concilium 22 § 1 in favor of episcopal conferences and to minimize the responsibility and authority of individual diocesan bishops, this speech seems to reflect the standard narrative of Vatican II. That is, a reform moving ever forward toward some more or less poorly defined endpoint.
Of course, it is entirely possible that this reflects some sort of reaction to the response to the grander elements of the Holy Father’s program. Curia reform appears to be something better discussed than implemented. Despite the increasingly extreme weather observed in the United States and elsewhere, there seems to be little interest in Rome or Washington in taking up Laudato si’ and the environmental question again. Amoris laetitia has turned into an extremely complicated, unpleasant situation, with prelates and theologians debating seriously the implications of private letters and unanswered dubia, among other things. Indeed, recently the American bishops had an invitation-only conference in Orlando about Evangelii gaudium; they wanted to promote its reception and understanding by Catholic leaders. Whatever that means. It is a strange thing to do, over four years into a pontificate, to return to a “programmatic” document, as if the intervening priorities of the pontificate never happened. It is possible, we think, that the Holy Father has turned to the question of liturgy, so long a topic almost entirely controlled by party spirit, to accomplish some things broadly pleasing to his core constituency.
Candidly we were not surprised to see Magnum principium. It does not reflect the broad scope of the Holy Father’s vision, but even visionaries have to help their supporters. (Cf. p. 70 of Syme’s Roman Revolution.) We were, however, hugely surprised to read this in Magnum principium:
The goal of the translation of liturgical texts and of biblical texts for the Liturgy of the Word is to announce the word of salvation to the faithful in obedience to the faith and to express the prayer of the Church to the Lord. For this purpose it is necessary to communicate to a given people using its own language all that the Church intended to communicate to other people through the Latin language. While fidelity cannot always be judged by individual words but must be sought in the context of the whole communicative act and according to its literary genre, nevertheless some particular terms must also be considered in the context of the entire Catholic faith because each translation of texts must be congruent with sound doctrine.
It is no surprise that difficulties have arisen between the Episcopal Conferences and the Apostolic See in the course of this long passage of work. In order that the decisions of the Council about the use of vernacular languages in the liturgy can also be of value in the future a vigilant and creative collaboration full of reciprocal trust between the Episcopal Conferences and the Dicastery of the Apostolic See that exercises the task of promoting the Sacred Liturgy, i.e. the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, is absolutely necessary. For this reason, in order that the renewal of the whole liturgical life might continue, it seemed opportune that some principles handed on since the time of the Council should be more clearly reaffirmed and put into practice.
(Emphasis supplied.) What a startling admission from the Holy See. The Holy See has been, in its approach to translations of liturgical texts, defending the “entire Catholic faith” because “each translation of texts must be congruent with sound doctrine.” For some reason, “difficulties have arisen” between episcopal conferences and the Holy See in this work. That is, episcopal conferences and the Holy See have been at odds about whether or not liturgical texts are “congruent with sound doctrine”? What an extraordinary, unsettling admission. And what an extraordinary, unsettling solution: devolution of authority over liturgical translations to the same episcopal conferences that have been involved in “difficulties” with the Holy See.
In all of this, we cannot help but be reminded of Paul VI’s statement introducing his great Credo of the People of God. (It seems that Paul VI has been on our mind just as he has been on the Holy Father’s mind.) When he spoke, Paul said, in terms that are no less frank than the terms the Holy Father likes to use:
Likewise, we deem that we must fulfill the mandate entrusted by Christ to Peter, whose successor we are, the last in merit; namely, to confirm our brothers in the faith. With the awareness, certainly, of our human weakness, yet with all the strength impressed on our spirit by such a command, we shall accordingly make a profession of faith, pronounce a creed which, without being strictly speaking a dogmatic definition, repeats in substance, with some developments called for by the spiritual condition of our time, the creed of Nicea, the creed of the immortal tradition of the holy Church of God.
In making this profession, we are aware of the disquiet which agitates certain modern quarters with regard to the faith. They do not escape the influence of a world being profoundly changed, in which so many certainties are being disputed or discussed. We see even Catholics allowing themselves to be seized by a kind of passion for change and novelty. The Church, most assuredly, has always the duty to carry on the effort to study more deeply and to present, in a manner ever better adapted to successive generations, the unfathomable mysteries of God, rich for all in fruits of salvation. But at the same time the greatest care must be taken, while fulfilling the indispensable duty of research, to do no injury to the teachings of Christian doctrine. For that would be to give rise, as is unfortunately seen in these days, to disturbance and perplexity in many faithful souls.
(Emphasis supplied.) Despite Paul’s statement, perhaps intended to contradict the narrative of progress moving ever forward, eventually leaving behind the truths of the faith in favor of “a kind of passion for change and novelty,” it is clear that the progressive wing of the Church holds firm to the view the Church in the wake of the Council must move ever forward into change and novelty, even at the cost of increasing disquiet and disturbance and perplexity in many faithful souls.
The ratchet, dear reader, only moves one way.