Online Edition – Vol. VII, No. 4: June 2001
Pope John Paul II on translation: integrity, beauty
The language of the liturgy must be “free from doctrinal ambiguity and ideological influence”, Pope John Paul II told a group of American bishops in 1993.
At that time, the English translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church had been delayed because of translation problems. Also, a massive project of re-translation and revision of all English language liturgical books including Scripture texts was in progress.
In his “ad limina” address to the bishops of California, Nevada, and Hawaii on December 4, 1993, the thirtieth anniversary of the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Pope observed:
“The arduous task of translation must guard the full doctrinal integrity and, according to the genius of each language, the beauty of the original texts. When so many people are thirsting for the living God (Ps 42:2) whose majesty and mercy are at the heart of liturgical prayer the Church must respond with a language of praise and worship which fosters respect and gratitude for God’s greatness, compassion and power. When the faithful gather to celebrate the work of our redemption, the language of their prayer free from doctrinal ambiguity and ideological influence should foster the dignity and beauty of the celebration itself, while faithfully expressing the Church’s faith and unity”. (Original emphasis.)
This address was published in L’Osservatore Romano, December 15, 1993. The Fourth Instruction on the Liturgy, Varietates Legitimae, was published a few months later.
But this was not the first time the Pope had spoken of liturgical problems evident since the Council, and of the Holy See’s direction of authentic liturgical renewal.
John Paul II’s Apostolic Letter for the Twenty-fifth Anniversary of the Constitution on the Liturgy was issued December 4, 1988. Here he emphasized that “the task of promoting the renewal of the liturgy pertains in the first place to the Apostolic See”:
“Another important task for the future is that of the adaptation of the liturgy to different cultures…. Liturgical diversity can be a source of enrichment, but it can also provoke tensions, mutual misunderstandings and even divisions. In this field it is clear that diversity must not damage unity. It can only gain expression in fidelity to the common faith, to the sacramental signs that the Church has received from Christ and to hierarchical communion….
“The task of promoting the renewal of the liturgy pertains in the first place to the Apostolic See…. the whole area of sacred liturgy is brought together and placed under the responsibility of a single dicastery: the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments … it pertains to this congregation to regulate and promote the liturgy … keeping watch over sacramental discipline…”