Motu proprio “Magnum Principium”—a translation

Herewith my hasty and rough translation of the pope’s new motu proprio, Magnum Principium. Comments to follow in due course.


The great principle, confirmed by the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, according to which liturgical prayer, as adapted to their comprehension, should be understood by the people, required the grave duty be entrusted to the Bishops for introducing the vernacular into the liturgy, and to prepare and approve the [vernacular] versions of liturgical books.

The Latin Church was aware of the sacrifice incumbent on the partial loss of its proper liturgical language,  used all over the world across the centuries, but it willingly opened the door to [vernacular] versions, as part of the rites themselves, becoming, along with the Latin language, the voice of the Church as it celebrates the divine mysteries.

At the same time, especially in light of the various opinions clearly expressed by the Council Fathers concerning the use of the vernacular in the liturgy, the Church was aware of the difficulties that could arise in this matter. On the one hand, there was need to balance the good of the faithful of whatever age and culture, and their right to conscious and active participation in liturgical celebrations, with the substantial unity of the Roman Rite. On the other hand, the vernacular tongues often could only gradually become liturgical languages, and so be able to shine like liturgical Latin with its elegance of style and the gravity of expression that nourishes the Faith.

To that end, some liturgical laws, instructions, circular letters, directions and confirmations of liturgical books in the vernacular languages ​​issued by the Apostolic See have been issued since the time of the Council, both before and after the laws laid down in the Code of Canon Law. The criteria set out have been and will remain in general use and, as far as possible, must be followed by the liturgical commissions as appropriate tools so that, amid the wide variety of languages, the liturgical community can attain a style of expression that is adapted in a way congruent to the individual languages, while maintaining integrity and faithful accuracy, especially in translating some of the most important texts in each liturgical book.

The liturgical text, since it is a ritual sign, is a means of oral communication. But for the believers who celebrate the sacred rites, the word is still a mystery. When in fact the words are spoken, especially in the reading of Sacred Scripture, God speaks to men, Christ himself in the Gospel speaks to his people who, on their own behalf or through the celebrant, respond in prayer to the Lord in the Holy Spirit.

The purpose of the translations of liturgical texts and biblical texts, in the liturgy of the word, is to announce to the faithful the word of salvation in obedience to the faith and to express the prayer of the Church to the Lord. To this end, it is necessary to communicate faithfully to a particular people, by means of their own language, that which the Church intended to communicate to another people by means of the Latin language. Although fidelity can not always be judged by single words but rather in the context of the whole act of communication, and according to its literary genre. However, some special terms should also be considered in the context of the Catholic faith, since each translation of liturgical texts must be in line with sound doctrine.

It should not be surprising that during this long process there have been difficulties between the Bishops’ Conferences and the Apostolic See. In order that the Council’s decisions about the use of the vernacular ​​in the liturgy may be valid even in the future, there is a need for an ongoing cooperation marked by mutual, attentive and creative trust between the Bishops’ Conferences and the dicastery of the Apostolic See which exercises the task of promoting the sacred liturgy, that is, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. Therefore, in order to continue the renewal of the whole liturgical life, it seemed timely that some principles dating from the time of the Council might be more clearly reaffirmed and put into practice.

One must certainly pay attention to the advantage and the good of the faithful, nor can we forget the rights and duties of the Bishops’ Conferences which, together with the Bishops’ Conferences of regions sharing the same language and with the Apostolic See, must ensure that the nature of each language is preserved, that the sense of the original text is fully and faithfully rendered, and that the liturgical books thus translated, even after any changes, manifest brightly the unity of the Roman Rite.

To make the collaboration between the Apostolic See and the Bishops’ Conferences easier and more fruitful in this service they render to the faithful, having listened to the opinion of the Commission of Bishops and Experts which I established, by the authority entrusted to me, I decree that the canonical discipline at present operative in canon 838 of the Code of Canon Law be made clearer, so that, according to what is stated in the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, in particular articles 36 §§ 3, 4, 40 and 63, and in the Motu Proprio Sacram Liturgiam, 9, the Apostolic See’s competence is better manifested both in the translations of liturgical books and in the more profound changes, including any new texts which may eventually be inserted in them, as established and approved by the Bishops’ Conferences.

In this sense, in the future canon 838 will read as follows:

Can. 838 – § 1. Adjusting the sacred liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church: this is the proper responsibility for the Apostolic See and, according to the law, the Diocesan Bishop.

§ 2. It pertains to the Apostolic See to regulate the sacred liturgy of the universal Church, to publish liturgical books, to review changes lawfully approved by the Bishops’ Conference, and to ensure that liturgical regulations are observed faithfully everywhere.

§ 3. It belongs to the Bishops’ Conferences to prepare with fidelity the editions of the liturgical books in the current languages, suitably adapted within the defined limits, and to approve and publish liturgical books, for the relevant regions, after confirmation by the Apostolic See.

§ 4. [It belongs] To the diocesan Bishop in the Church entrusted to him, within the limits of his jurisdiction, to lay down liturgical norms to which all must adhere.

Both article 64 §3 of the Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus and the other laws, especially those contained in the various liturgical books, are to be interpreted in light of this. Likewise I decree that the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments should modify its proper Regulations based on the new discipline, and to assist the Bishops’ Conferences to fulfil their responsibility and to strive to promote even more the liturgical life of the Latin Church.

All that I have determined by this apostolic letter in the form of motu proprio, I order should have fixed and permanent force, notwithstanding anything to the contrary, even if worthy of special mention, and that it be promulgated by its publication in L’Osservatore Romano, coming into force on 1 October 2017, and thereafter published in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis .

Given in Rome, at St. Peter’s, on 3 September 2017, the fifth year of my pontificate.

†Francis

10 thoughts on “Motu proprio “Magnum Principium”—a translation

  1. If the worst comes to the worst this will isolate the SSPX who will never accept more changes to the Liturgy. The FSSP and other traditionalist congregations will be watching with some consternation I think. I pray too that we might be wrong. Division will result.

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  2. What is so terrible about making provision in vernacular Masses for the faithful which they can understand when most of them do not understand Latin and hence what is going on in a Latin Mass ?

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  3. My mistake. Please pardon me. I thought this blog was going the way of another where the vernacular Mass is derided,openly considered to be inferior,to be replaced at all costs by Mass in Latin which in reality most Catholics do not understand in any event and never did.

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    1. I certainly do not deride the vernacular per se. Ironically Cranmer shows that it can be done well. But when translations become political and/or banal then the original becomes safer and more attractive. There are good reasons why Latin is to be preferred to any vernacular, but my point is not to demean the vernacular per se. Pax!

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    2. To the extent that there are problematic aspects in the Pauline missal, it relates less to the use of vernacular per se, but more fundamental aspects (overhaul of all the propers, the three year lectionary, the new calendar, the offertory, the loss of the prayers at the foot of the altar, the excessive options, the responsorial psalm, and so on) of the missal itself. To put it another way, a reasonably faithful translation of the 1962 missal would be far more amenable to me than a completely Latin celebration of the Novus Ordo.

      If you ever have the chance to attend a Mass in the Ordinariate use (especially using the most traditional options) you can see what traditional liturgy looks like in vernacular English.

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