FOR DIVINE WORSHIP
ON THE USE OF VERNACULAR LANGUAGES
Great Post-Conciliar Instructions
On 4 December
1963 the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council approved the Constitution on the
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
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.
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.
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 not infrequently may 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 neighboring 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
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.
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 thirty years' experience in the use of
the vernacular in liturgical celebrations.
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.
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.
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 up full or
partial introduction into liturgical use of a given language.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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 a quasi-mechanical
change in grammatical number, or by the creation of pairs of masculine and
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.
Translation of a Text
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 overtones 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
consideration should be the fact that liturgical texts are intended to be
publicly proclaimed aloud and even sung.
Particular Types of Texts
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.
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.
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.
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
typicae, 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.
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.
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 in future. 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.
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.