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Adoremus, Society for the Renewal of the Sacred Liturgy

Translating Sacred Texts for Catholic Worship

Introduction | Translation articles on Adoremus Website | Documents of the Holy See on Translation | Vox Clara Committee | “Inclusive” Language Issues | Inclusive Language - Resources | Essays on Translation | Translation articles on other websites

Introduction

The Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, affirmed the continued use of Latin, but also permitted use of vernacular languages in the liturgy:

SC 36. 1. Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites.

2. But since the use of the mother tongue, whether in the Mass, the administration of the sacraments, or other parts of the Liturgy, frequently may be of great advantage to the people, the limits of its employment may be extended. This will apply in the first place to the readings and directives, and to some of the prayers and chants, according to the regulations on this matter to be laid down separately in subsequent chapters.

3. These norms being observed, it is for the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority mentioned in Art. 22, 2, to decide whether, and to what extent, the vernacular language is to be used; their decrees are to be approved, that is, confirmed, by the Apostolic See. And, whenever it seems to be called for, this authority is to consult with bishops of neighboring regions which have the same language.

4. Translations from the Latin text into the mother tongue intended for use in the Liturgy must be approved by the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority mentioned above.

Following the Council, the texts of the Mass and other liturgical texts, were rapidly translated into English by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL), formed during the Council for this purpose, and hastily approved for use in English-speaking countries. Simultaneously, new Scripture translations in English were produced by several different bodies.

In the mid 1980s, proposals to update these translated texts used for Catholic worship (the Missal and the Scripture readings at Mass, known as the Lectionary).

During the decade of the 1990s, the bishops of the United States were engaged in considering new translations for Mass, as well as a revision of the Lectionary. The revised Lectionary has been in use since 2002, and a further revision is being proposed.

A revision by ICEL of the Mass texts (then known as the “Sacramentary”) was the subject of years of debate by the US bishops. This revision was eventually rejected by the Holy See, in 2002. A new edition of the Missale Romanum, the third typical edition since the Council, was also released in 2002, and it is now in the process of translation and approval.

This section is a collection of articles, documents and suggested resources related to translation of sacred texts – biblical and liturgical. Many of these items are archived on the Adoremus web site; but others are new additions, including links to other sites. 

Items on this page will be arranged category and in reverse date order. This site will be updated as appropriate.

Translation articles on Adoremus Website are listed on Translation Page

Documents of the Holy See on Translation

Vox Clara Committee Press Release November 21, 2003.

Vox Clara is a committee of English-speaking bishops organized by the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments on July 19,2001, to advise the Congregation on matters of translation of liturgical texts into the English language.

Observations on the English-language Translation of the Roman Missal Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments: Introductory letter from Cardinal Jorge Medina Estévez to bishops, with complete document from the Congregation critiquing the proposed revision by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy [ICEL] of the Roman Missal, second typical edition -- as submitted to the Holy See for approval. (March 16, 2002)

On Translation and the use of the Nova Vulgata Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. November 5, 2001 (Notitiae vol. 37, Nov-Dec 2001)

Pope John Paul II - Address to Plenary Assembly of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments: "I urge the bishops and the Congregation to make every effort to insure that liturgical translations are faithful to the original [texts] of the respective typical editions in the Latin language. A translation, in fact, is not an exercise in creativity, but a meticulous task of preserving the meaning of the original without changes, omissions or additions..." (September 21, 2001)

Liturgiam authenticam (Authentic Liturgy). The fifth Instruction on the implementation of the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, the document gives principles to be followed in translating all liturgical texts into the vernacular languages. Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (April 25, 2001 - released May 7, 2001)

Letter from Archbishop Francesco Tamburrino to Bishop Maurice Taylor, The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (CDW) advises the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) that the “doctrinally flawed” ICEL Psalter, first published in 1994, must be no longer be disseminated, and asks that ICEL “act decisively” to assure that this happens. (Archbishop Francesco Tamburrino was secretary of the CDW. Bishop Maurice Taylor was president of ICEL. ), January 14, 2000

Letter from Congregation for Divine Worship to NCCB Rejection of revision of Ordination Ritual - Jorge Medina Estévez, Archbishop Pro-Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, to His Excellency The Most Reverend Anthony M. Pilla, Bishop of Cleveland President, National Conference of Catholic Bishops (September 20, 1997)

Click here for PDF VERSION of the Letter from Congregation for Divine Worship to NCCB Rejection of revision of Ordination Ritual - Jorge Medina Estévez, Archbishop Pro-Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, to His Excellency The Most Reverend Anthony M. Pilla, Bishop of Cleveland President, National Conference of Catholic Bishops (September 20, 1997) and Full version of the "Observations" on ICEL Ordination Rite - Congregation for Divine Worship (September 20, 1997)

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Vatican Translation Norms Reject "Inclusive Language" Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – July 4, 1997

Vicesimus Quintus Annus Apostolic Letter on the Twenty-fifth Anniversary of the Constitution on the Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium (December 4, 1988)

Liturgicae instaurationes Third Instruction for the Right Application of the Conciliar Constitution the Constitution on the Liturgy - Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship (September 5, 1970)

The conflict over translation principles pits political accommodation against theological truth.

"The translation  of scripture should faithfully reflect the Word of God in the  original human languages, without 'correction' or 'improvement'  in service of modern sensitivities."

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“Inclusive” Language Issues

New Zealand Bishops Issue "Gender Inclusive" Statement (May 1997)

Catholics Favor Standard English
A New Poll Demolishes the Notion that American Catholics Want "Inclusivised" Mass Texts  (March 1997)

On the Use of "Man" in Biblical Translation by Helen Hull Hitchcock and Adoremus Staff (March 1997)

Cardinal William Keeler’s November 1, 1994 statement on NRSV and RNAB Scripture texts for liturgical use

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Inclusive Language - Resources

The Politics of Prayer: Feminist Language and the Worship of God

(Ignatius Press. 1992) A collection of seventeen essays on the effect “inclusive language” theories on biblical and liturgical translations, edited by Helen Hull Hitchcock. These essays offer important insights into the function of language and objectives of translation, as well as penetrating analysis of the effect of ideologically motivated linguistic innovations on new Scripture translations and on the worship of God. The contributors include Catholic, Protestant and Jewish believers, men and women, scripture scholars, theologians, translators, linguists, poets, clergy and laity who have in common, in addition to a shared regard for and interest in the integrity of language--an unambiguous affirmation of their religious faith.

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Essays on Translation 

Jesus, Son of Humankind? The Necessary Failure of Inclusive-Language Translations, By Paul Mankowski, SJ (Pontifical Biblical Institute, Rome) -- Touchstone 2002

(Originally published in The Thomist (62) 1998 as “The Necessary Failure of Inclusive-Language Translations: A Linguistic Elucidation”)

Father, Son and Holy Spirit — So What’s In A Name? -- By Deborah Belonick (Eastern Orthodox) -- Essay from The Politics of Prayer: Feminist Language and the Worship of God

Exchanging God for “No Gods”: A Discussion of Female Language for God -- By Elizabeth Achtemeier (Anglican) -- Essay from Speaking the Christian God (ed Alvin Kimel) reprinted in Theology Matters.

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Translation articles on other websites

Women for Faith & Family:

STATEMENT ON FEMINISM, LANGUAGE AND LITURGY -- The Statement on Feminism, Language and Liturgy, originally a joint statement released April 18, 1989 by three organizations of Catholic women: Women for Faith & Family, Forum of Major Superiors (Institute on Religious Life) and Consortium Perfectae Caritatis, was reissued by Women for Faith & Family (with minor updating in §10) on the Feast of the Holy Trinity, June 1995. (The CPC, an organization of women religious, was disbanded after the creation of the Conference of Major Superiors of Women Religious.)

Silk Purses and Sow's Ears: "Inclusive Language" Comes to Mass, by Paul V. Mankowski, S.J., Voices, February 1994, (Volume VIII: No 4; Vol IX: No 1)

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