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Ordained in 2011, Father Friel served for five years as Parochial Vicar at St. Anselm Parish in Northeast Philly. He is currently studying toward a doctorate in liturgical theology at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
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“Come now,” they said, “Thou who wouldst destroy the temple and build it up in three days, rescue Thyself; come down from that cross, if Thou art the Son of God.”
— Gospel of St. Matthew 27:42

USCCB Assesses Impact of “Magnum Principium”
published 31 December 2017 by Fr. David Friel

WO STANDING committees of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) were tasked by Cardinal DiNardo (USCCB President) with considering the implications of Pope Francis’ recent motu proprio, Magnum principium. The two committees were the Committee on Divine Worship and the Committee on Canonical Affairs & Church Governance.

The main purpose of the assignment was to assess the ramifications of Magnum principium on the translation of liturgical books. In their work, the committees examined five chief documents:

A) The motu proprio, Magnum principium, itself (here)

B) The “key to reading” Magnum principium from Archbishop Roche that accompanied the original text (here)

C) The Commentaire published by Cardinal Sarah or the CDW (here)

D) The Holy Father’s letter to Cardinal Sarah responding to the Commentaire (here)

E) A letter to the Presidents of all the episcopal conferences from the Undersecretary of the CDW, Rev. Corrado Maggioni, S.M.M. (see below)

To present their findings, the chairmen of the two committees published a joint letter, dated 3 November 2017, which summarizes the impact of Magnum principium in seven points. These points are as follows:

1.) The Holy See has indicated [in the letter from Rev. Corrado Maggioni, below] that the motu proprio is not retroactive and that approved translations remain in force.

2.) With the addition of “fideliter” to canon 838, §3, Magnum principium makes it clear that new liturgical translations must be “faithful” to the Latin text. The new legislation clearly changes aspects of the Instruction Liturgiam authenticam that concern the approval process for liturgical texts. However, the principles of translation outlined in the Instruction remain in force, although the responsibility to determine what is appropriate and possible in the local vernacular falls more clearly on the local episcopal conference.

3.) The new canon 838 makes a distinction between confirmatio and recognitio for liturgical texts. These terms are not synonymous, and by this distinction the Holy Father wishes to make the approval process easier and more fruitful.

The confirmatio applies to the translation itself. It is an act whereby the Holy See ratifies the approval the episcopal conference has given to a liturgical translation, confirming the bishops’ determination that the translation has been executed fully and faithfully. While it is not a mere formality, neither is it the word-for-word review that had previously been an element of the recognitio process.

The recognitio applies to adaptations to the ritual not foreseen by the editio typica. This kind of approval process remains as it has been in recent years, with the Holy See having an active role in the review and evaluation of proposed adaptations. The recognitio is meant to protect and ensure both conformity to the law and the communion of the Church.

4.) Regarding new translations of liturgical books: overall, the process that is currently observed within the USCCB for the preparation of new translations of liturgical books will not require substantial changes. The approval process for new translations will still require a two-thirds majority vote of the Latin rite bishops. When the Conference submits a new translation of a liturgical text to the Holy See, however, it will henceforth request the confirmatio rather than the recognitio.

5.) Regarding adaptations to the editio typica: if the Conference wishes to introduce adaptations to the liturgical books it will be necessary to request and receive the Holy See’s recognitio. In these cases, the approval process will be similar to what has been observed in recent years, with the Holy See continuing to exercise an active role in reviewing and evaluating the proposed adaptations.

6.) Regarding the Conference’s relationship with ICEL: we do not foresee any significant changes in this regard. It is our understanding that the Holy See has in a general way indicated to the Conference that it prefers unified English translations worldwide, insofar as this is reasonably possible. Therefore, ICEL will continue to prepare base translations – reviewed by its member bishops and experts – which will subsequently be submitted to all the members of the USCCB for observations, suggestions, and edits.

7.) Regarding the English translation of the Missale Romanum currently in use: while the Conference has the right to propose revisions to the translation of the Missal, the Conference would need to decide whether the project would be necessary or opportune. This decision could be made within the framework of the currently approved strategic plan. If the Conference were to vote to proceed with a revision, including an agreement as to the scope and budget for such a project, this would then require either a change to the current strategic plan or its inclusion in a future strategic plan.1

The sections in bold are those that I perceive to be most significant. First, point 2 makes the very important observation that the translation principles espoused by Liturgiam authenticam remain in force; in other words, Magnum principium is in no way a reversion to Comme le prévoit. Second, point 6 suggests that ICEL’s role has not changed in the process of translating the editiones typicae into English. Third, point 7 acknowledges that the 2011 English translation of the Missale Romanum could be revised, but only if deemed “necessary or opportune” and directed by a vote of the country’s bishops.

The letter from the CDW to the episcopal conferences around the world (item ‘E’ above) was dated 26 September 2017 and signed by Rev. Corrado Maggioni, S.M.M. Following is an unofficial English translation of this letter published in the most recent Newsletter of the USCCB Committee on Divine Worship:

The new guidelines, concerning the translation and the adaptation of liturgical books in the modern languages, concern both this Dicastery and the Conferences of Bishops. As such, we all must, with respect and acknowledgement, accept the thrust of this Pontifical document, of the motivations and the principles raised in it, in a particular way, the intention that brought about the modification of this canon, namely to “make the collaboration between the Holy See and Bishops Conferences easier and more fruitful.” The Pope, in fact, wishes “a constant collaboration full of mutual respect, vigilance, and creativity.”

The motu proprio does not have retroactive force. The important outcomes, come to maturity in recent years, in obedience to the discipline even to now in force, retain their value. For the future, the guidelines concerning liturgical translations are to be interpreted in the light of what has been indicated by the Holy Father.

In recalling the genuine responsibility of Bishops’ Conferences, the new norms do not fail to underscore the grave task of fidelity in translating texts for liturgical prayer that belongs to the Bishops, who must guarantee the unity of the Church that celebrates the Mystery of Christ. Liturgical adaptations require discernment and the sensus Ecclesiae, with the awareness that no one is master of the holy mysteries that we celebrate; rather, we are all servants, obedient to the mandate received from the Lord Jesus.

The collaboration between the Holy See and the Conferences of Bishops must be strengthened, knowing that this Dicastery intends to fulfill its humble and demanding service for the good of the Church and to the glory of God.2

As we reported here, the Order of Baptism of Children will be the first liturgical book to go through the translation process since the publication of Magnum principium.

Undoubtedly, the impact of the motu proprio and all of its attendant commentaries and explanatory notes will only become fully clear in practice, as actual liturgical books go through the revised process.


1   USCCB Committee on Divine Worship, Newsletter LIII (December 2017): 45-46.

2   USCCB Committee on Divine Worship, Newsletter LIII (December 2017): 46.