French-speaking bishops disagree on Roman Missal translation

The French translation of the Roman Missal is currently on hold because of differences of opinion between Rome and the French-speaking bishops.

Jun 13, 2016

FRANCE: The French translation of the Roman Missal is currently on hold because of differences of opinion between Rome and the French-speaking bishops.

The prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments has reiterated the stipulation that “the new translations must respect the Latin text without fail.”

The new translation of the Roman Missal, supposed to take effect on the first Sunday of Lent 2017, could well be postponed until Advent 2017. Officially, pushing back the date is a practical measure for publishers who would then only have one missal to print for the year 2017-2018. In actual fact, a muted battle pits French-speaking bishops against the congregation which refuses, for the moment, to grant the text its recognitio.

Yet another bump in the road for the French version of the 2002 Latin edition of the missal. After a first translation was refused by Rome in 2007, a new commission got to work, regularly presenting a text to the bishops. This is no easy task considering that several episcopal conferences are involved and new bishops are consulted each time. “In France, we have six or seven new bishops every year. When we present the work to the Plenary Assembly every three years, that makes more than 20 bishops asking for clarification on points that had been resolved at previous sessions,” says a bishop.

Last March, the French bishops’ conference finally adopted a text at their assembly, “leaving the French-speaking Episcopal Commission for Liturgical Translations with the responsibility for finalizing the text.” In the other French-speaking bishops’ conferences (Switzerland, Canada, Belgium) the opposition appears to be stronger. The problem is that the French text is still blocked in Rome, which has made demands concerning a certain number of points. The blame goes to the Roman instruction of Liturgiam authenticam of 2001, which requires that the Latin text be “translated integrally and in the most exact manner, without omissions or additions in terms of their content, and without paraphrases or glosses.” In other words, no adapting allowed. While the French-speaking bishops accepted, with varying degrees of good grace, most of Rome’s demands, which also enabled expansion on certain texts, some points remain sensitive. For example, changing the word “coupe” (cup) for “calice” (chalice) in the Eucharistic prayer, is difficult to accept in Canada where “calice” is also used as a profanity.

Archbishop Bernard- Nicolas Aubertin of Tours (pic), is reaching the end of his term as president of the bishops’ Liturgical Commission on July 1. Not wanting to leave an unresolved dossier for his successor who would have to spend time learning all the ins and outs, he is sparing no efforts to reach an agreement with Rome.

On April 7, the president of the French bishops’ conference planned to speak of the matter with Pope Francis. But Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, dug into his position and appears unwilling to yield. “At the audience granted with the Pope on Saturday April 2, he confirmed that the new translations of the Roman Missal must scrupulously respect the Latin text,” he recently recounted to the weekly magazine Famille Chretienne, offering as an example some of the more strongly contested changes.

These liturgical translation incidents are part of a globally strained context. In 2011, a new translation came into force in the English-speaking world: half of the faithful and 71 per cent of the priests rejected it because of its overly formal and pompous style. German bishops, opposing “a liturgical language that is not the language of the people,” refused the work of the commission imposed by Benedict XVI in 2013. The Spanish translation appears to be at a standstill, while Italian bishops are also reluctant to move forward.

Since the beginning of the year, the site Il Sismografo, with close ties to Vatican Radio, has published several long articles by Andrea Grillo, liturgy professor at the St. Anselmo Pontifical University, speaking out strongly against the Liturgiam authenticam, namely concerning how this text prevents any inculturation of liturgy. Others blame someone in Cardinal Sarah’s entourage, who would be sympathetic to the traditionalist movement, and encouraging him to defend his position come what may.

As the French bishop notes, “it is still surprising that at a time when the Pope insists so much on inculturation and synodality, a text approved by 120 French bishops could be blocked this way by a single cardinal.” --Global Pulse

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