So, the Pope said, “confirmatio no longer supposes a detailed word-by-word examination, except in the obvious cases that can be brought to the bishops for their further reflection.”
Pope Francis and Liturgiam Authenticam
Pope Francis’ letter can also be understood best in light of his amendments to Liturgiam Authenticam.
Issued in 2001, Liturgiam Authenticam was the fifth of a series of instructions delivered by the Congregation for the Divine Worship, intended to implement the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.
A note delivered by the Holy See Press Office in 2001, when the instruction was issued, helps to fully understand the instruction.
Liturgiam Authenticam was presented as “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.”
Among these guidelines, there was the need “not to extend or restrict the meaning of the original terms” and to avoid “terms that recall publicity slogans or those that have political, ideological or similar overtones” since “the handbook on styles” cannot be uncritically used as “the Church has distinctive things to say and a style of expression that is appropriate to them.”
The presentation of Liturgiam Authenticam also stressed that “the preparation of translations is a serious charge incumbent in the first place upon the bishops themselves,” and so “at least some of the bishops should be closely involved” in the process of translations. Procedures for the approval of texts from bishops and the presentation of those texts for review and confirmation from the Congregation of the Divine Worship were clearly established, ensuring that translations done by bishops’ conferences would be vetted for fidelity at the Holy See.
In his letter to Cardinal Sarah, the Pope clarified that “recognition” and “confirmation” are not interchangeable, and stressed that “Magnum Principium no longer argues that translations must conform in all points to the norms of Liturgiam authenticam, as was previously the case.”
The Pope specifically mentioned n. 76 and n. 80 of Liturgiam Authenticam, which said that “the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments will be involved more directly in the preparation of the translations into these major languages,” and that “the required recognitio of the Apostolic See is intended to ensure that the translations themselves, as well as any variations introduced into them, will not harm the unity of God’s people, but will serve it instead.”
Francis’ decision can be understood as a shift in focus to bishops’ conferences, which are entrusted with making faithful translations on their own, although a confirmation from the Holy See is still required.
(Story continues below)
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The Pope wrote to Cardinal Sarah that “confirmatio is not merely a formality, but necessary for publication of the translated liturgical book: it is granted after the version has been submitted to the Apostolic See for ratification of the bishops’ approval, in a spirit of dialogue and aid to reflection, if and when necessary, respecting their rights and duties, considering the legality of the process followed and its various aspects.”
Was the Pope attacking Cardinal Sarah?
Can these clarifications be read as an attack on Cardinal Robert Sarah?
It is no mystery that Cardinal Sarah’s approach to liturgy is not that of Pope Francis. Cardinal Sarah often spoke about a “reform of the reforms,” as did Benedict XVI, that would reform some liturgical practices and norms developed after the Second Vatican Council, without changing the Council’s teaching on liturgy.
On July 5, 2016, Cardinal Sarah delivered a speech at the Sacra Liturgia conference in London urging priests to start celebrating Masses ad orientem, often seen as a hallmark of the “reform of the reform” movement, and his words were interpreted as new liturgical directives.
A statement from the Holy See Press Office some days later explained that the Pope and Cardinal Sarah had discussed the issue, and that Sarah’s remarks did not constitute new liturgical directives.
Despite this difference of views, Pope Francis’ letter to Sarah seems mostly a reaction to the fact that Cardinal Sarah’s “commentary” was leaked to several magazines. The letter ends with the Pope’s request to “provide this response to the same sites” where the Cardinal Sarah’s commentary was published, “and also to send it to all episcopal conferences, and the members and consultors of your dicastery.”