Action Alert!

Catholic World News News Feature

Vatican prods US bishops on liturgical translations May 22, 2006

In a letter to the president of the US bishops' conference, the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship has strongly underlined the importance of proper translations for liturgical texts.

Cardinal Francis Arinze warned Bishop William Skylstad that his office could not approve new translations unless they conform to the principles set forth in Liturgiam Authenticam, the Vatican instruction of March 2001. The cardinal also said that existing texts must be brought into conformity with Liturgiam Authenticam, and the US bishops will not receive permission to continue using defective texts.

The letter from Cardinal Arinze, of which CWN has obtained a copy, refers to conversations the cardinal had with Bishop Skylstad and other representatives of the US bishops' conference in April 2006. Those conversations evidently referred to the June 2006 meeting of at which the US bishops will vote on new translations of liturgical texts.

In light of serious divisions among the US bishops on questions of and the prospect of a tense debate on the proposed new texts, Cardinal Arinze's letter reminds Bishop Skylstad that Liturgiam Authenticam sets forth the authoritative principles of translation. "Both this congregation and the bishops' conferences are bound to follow its directives," the cardinal says.

While many Catholic experts have praised the new translations that will be proposed for approval at the June meeting of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), the new texts have also been criticized by influential liturgists. Bishop Donald Trautman, the chairman of the USCCB liturgy committee, has voiced his own serious misgivings about the new translations, indicating his preference for the texts currently in use.

Apparently hoping to ward off the possibility of major amendments to the proposed texts, Cardinal Arinze warns Bishop Skylstad that his office is "not competent to grant the recognitio for translations that do not conform to the directives of Liturgiam Authenticam.

In defense of existing translations, liturgists (again including Bishop Trautman) have suggested that a change in translations could prove unsettling to Catholics who have become accustomed to the current liturgical texts. Cardinal Arinze's letter anticipated that argument, responding that "it is not acceptable to maintain that people have become accustomed to a certain translation for the past thirty or forty years, and therefore that it is pastorally advisable to make no changes."

Cardinal Arinze reminds the USCCB president that the Vatican has found "good and strong reasons for a change" in the translations of the Roman Missal and other liturgical texts. While indicating a willingness to discuss minor amendments to the proposed translations, he insists that "the revised text should make the needed changes."

The prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship closes his letter with a request for cooperation from the American clergy. "The attitudes of bishops and priests," he writes, "will certainly influence the acceptance of the texts by the lay faithful as well."