UPDATE: It is worth reading Ed Condon’s commentary on the UK’s Catholic Herald regarding this Motu Proprio: What no one’s noticed about the new liturgy rules. He explains that, if followed faithfully, this would actually make new liturgical translations more difficult since it requires “unanimous” agreements among bishops. This, of course, assumes bishops are faithful to the document in Rome…which we know isn’t always the case.
Today the pope issued a “motu proprio” titled Magnum Principium which effectively lessens the centralized power of the Congregation of Divine Worship (CDW, of which Cardinal Sarah is prefect) as it pertains to approved liturgical translations and revisions. Pope Francis (who seems to favor a decentralized Catholic Church) wishes to allow councils of bishops in various countries to make official liturgical translations in their respective vernacular language rather than the CDW having the ability to dictate which translations from the official Latin texts (because, after all, we are the Latin Church) are allowed in different places of the world. What has just happened may or may not be a big deal. Time will tell.
Despite Pope Francis wishing for greater unity in the Church, this document will likely do the opposite just as many other ideas following the Second Vatican Council have done. At best, this will work to enshrine the disunity of Masses in various languages. At worst, this will open the door for all sorts of chaotic translations or even practices at Mass. The document begins attempting to cite the wishes of Vatican II:
The great principle, established by the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, according to which liturgical prayer be accommodated to the comprehension of the people so that it might be understood, required the weighty task of introducing the vernacular language into the liturgy and of preparing and approving the versions of the liturgical books, a charge that was entrusted to the Bishops.
Is “the great principle” simply a synonym for “the spirit of”, it sure seems like it. And we all know where “the spirit of Vatican II” has gotten us in the past 50 years. This, of course, ignores the explicit directive of the Second Council contained within the document Sacrosanctum Concilium where it states:
36. 1. Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites.
A bit more from the beginning of Magnum Principium:
The Latin Church was aware of the attendant sacrifice involved in the partial loss of liturgical Latin, which had been in use throughout the world over the course of centuries. However it willingly opened the door so that these versions, as part of the rites themselves, might become the voice of the Church celebrating the divine mysteries along with the Latin language.
So, it kicks off by stating the obvious sacrifice the Church has made with attempting to suppress its mother tongue since V2. Remember, Bl. Pope Paul VI himself even prefaced the changes by discussing how unfortunate this was going to all be! Then it states that this means forthcoming translations of liturgies were to be celebrated along with the Latin language. I’m no liturgical expert but it seems to me that these allowances for vernacular translations were in spite of the official Latin texts, not along with.
It is no secret that liturgical and theological progressives in the Church have been pining to sanitize the association with Latin in the Church. They feel it is archaic, distant, and cold…unwelcoming. With every small decision they have been able to make, and in spite of the direct wishes of the Second Vatican Council, they have worked to silence the tongue of their ancestors, a language which is perfectly fit for the Holy Liturgy. Just think of Judaism ignoring Hebrew or Islam ashamed of Arabic.
Here’s exactly what changed in the Code of Canon Law as pointed out by CNA:
[Canon 838, 2] has been changed to read: “It is for the Apostolic See to order the sacred liturgy of the universal Church, publish liturgical books, recognize adaptations approved by the Episcopal Conference according to the norm of law, and exercise vigilance that liturgical regulations are observed faithfully everywhere.”
Similarly, 838, 3 previously read: “It pertains to the conferences of bishops to prepare and publish, after the prior review of the Holy See, translations of liturgical books in vernacular languages, adapted appropriately within the limits defined in the liturgical books themselves.”
The text will now read: “It pertains to the episcopal conferences to faithfully prepare versions of the liturgical books in vernacular languages, suitably accommodated within defined limits, and to approve and publish the liturgical books for the regions for which they are responsible after the confirmation of the Apostolic See.”
The changes apportion a greater portion of responsibility for the preparation and approval of liturgical translations to episcopal conferences, rather than the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments.
It might not seem like a big deal and we might not notice any difference anytime soon (or, hopefully, ever) in the United States (our council of bishops being the USCCB) but there are countries with bishops councils that are going to be excited to immediately use this document in an unfaithful manner. For instance, look what the bishops of Argentina and Germany have done immediately in the wake of chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia.
This, however, cannot create havoc for too long because while Francis is choosing more and more progressive dinosaurs to be bishops their immediate predecessors (wolves) are dying off. Soon there will be mostly only faithful, joyful, serious, and orthodox priests to choose from to make bishops (and, from bishops, cardinals). But what about the “silver lining” in the title? Well, I predict this will only work to fuel the speed at which the laity, seminarians, priests, and bishops are becoming interested in the treasure of our inheritance, the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM). Let’s say some bishops conferences in Europe (where they are more likely to use this document in an unfaithful manner) decide to make some wacky and despicable changes to the Holy Mass. This could only take place in the novus ordo (ordinary form) celebration of it. The TLM won’t change. Where do priests or seminarians turn to if their council of bishops wants them to do something that doesn’t sit easy with them? Where do the faithful turn to when the Mass becomes even more protestantized, banal, and ugly? The answer, of course, if obvious.
As I stated above, the bishops who loath the treasures, traditions, liturgy, and languag of the Church will soon go away. It is inevitable. There is no future in watered-down, beige Catholicism. To quote Rod Dreher’s funny and completely accurate tweet:
In the meantime, let’s see how this all plays out. ☩
For more (and much insightful) commentary, check out Father Z’s notes on this.