Dec 31, 2007

Letter from the Congregation for Divine Worship to the president of the NCCB on the defects of the Ordination Rite

Online Edition – Vol. III, No. 9 – Dec 97-Jan 98

Letter from the Congregation for Divine Worship
to the president of the NCCB
on the defects of the Ordination Rite

Prot. 760/96/L


20 September 1997

His Excellency
The Most Reverend Anthony M. Pilla, Bishop of Cleveland
President, National Conference of Catholic Bishops
3211 Fourth Street NE
Washington DC 20017-1194
United States of America

Your Excellency,

I write in response to your letter of 2 April 1996 in which you requested the approval or confirmation of the Holy See

ad interim

for an English-language translation of the

editio typica altera

(1989-1990) of that part of the

Pontificale Romanum

now entitled

De ordinatione Episcopi, Presbyterorum et Diaconorum


The material submitted has been examined in detail and at length by this Congregation and also, according to its specific competence, by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which gave its reply in a letter dated 12 May 1997 (prot. 216/73-04256). The conclusion of this examination is that the text cannot be approved or confirmed by the Holy See for liturgical use, not only by reason of its failure to adhere faithfully to the Latin

edito typica altera

and to convey accurately in English its contents, but also because the translation is not without doctrinal problems.

Your Excellency in fact wrote two letters to the Congregation on the same date, 2 April 1996, presenting on the one hand the ICEL translation as such and on the other a project in which certain adaptations were proposed for the dioceses of the United States of America. It has seemed to this Congregation more practical for the moment to comment specifically upon translation that lies at the base of both of the submissions made by the Conference of Bishops of the United States of America rather than on the project incorporating proposed local adaptations. Your Excellency will, I hope, appreciate that in trying to coordinate a response to the different Conferences of Bishops which use the English language in the liturgy, this is the most practical course of action for the Congregation at this time.

At numerous points both in the liturgical texts themselves, in the rubrics, in the


, and in the various pontifical documents authorizing the rites, the translation is seriously deficient. Particularly problematic are the texts that form part of the Eucharistic Prayer — the embolisms and Preface — and the Prayers of Ordination, at least those of the Bishop and of priests, but the difficulties are widespread.

Prominent among the problems is the decision of the translators to break with common Catholic usage and translate the Latin


into English not with "priests" but with "presbyters". This cannot meet with the Holy See’s consent since it risks being misunderstood by the people and represents an unacceptable theological tendency. In particular it constitutes a retreat from a term that carries a sense of sacrality, that carries with it the history of the development of the faith in favor of a term which does not.

As to the rest of the translation, the competent organisms of the Holy See are of one accord in considering that it fails to transmit faithfully important doctrinal aspects of the Latin original. It appears, indeed, consciously or unconsciously to promote a view of sacramental and ecclesiological theology that contrasts with the intentions of the Holy See.

These matters are of grave concern to this Congregation at a time when by mandate of the Holy Father it is working for improved norms to govern liturgical translations.

It is also a cause for concern that the translators have felt free to introduce changes at will, to "improve" the order of the text, the rubrics, and the numbering. The Holy See, after a very considerable labor of study and wide consultation has fixed these matters, and only recently. I would point in particular, Your Excellency, to the title. This was changed in the Latin after serious study and reflection by the Holy See and is in harmony with one of the significant features of the revision that lead from the first to the second typical edition, namely the reordering of the material to begin with the rites for the Ordination of the Bishop. This change was designed among other things to enhance and clarify the unique role of the Bishop in his diocese and hence has a precise and weighty ecclesiological significance. In this translation the translators, with no permission from the Holy See, have changed it in a way that is not acceptable.

After a suitable period of experience the Holy See would certainly be willing in principle to consider suggestions for genuine improvement of the different elements of this liturgical book, as put forward by the Conferences of Bishops. However, in the meantime these things cannot be subject to arbitrary change by translators.

To the above-mentioned translation have been added new compositions. These have been found to be in disharmony with the conventions of the Roman Liturgy, confused, largely unsuited to the circumstances in which they would be used, and at best theologically impoverished. They are therefore unacceptable to the Holy See. Together with the changes and the element of paraphrase tacitly introduced by the translators in the course of their work, these texts arouse the concern of this Congregation for the substantial unity of the Roman Rite which the Council determined to preserve.

Any variant upon the text and the provisions of the

editiones typicæ

issued in the Latin language that goes beyond what is specified in the final part of the different

prænotanda generalia

is to be considered more properly a matter of inculturation governed by the recent Instruction

Varietates legitimæ

of 1994. By their nature, such proposed variations should reflect specific, localized cultural conditions, whether they are undertaken on the basis of the

praenotanda generalia

or of the Instruction

Varietates legitimæ

. They are the sphere of action of the Bishops of a local Conference, not of translators.

Your Excellency, the policy of this Congregation has always been to adopt an approach to relations with the local Bishops which is marked by profound respect and a spirit of willing dialogue. Regular practice has also been to list the small points of detail which appeared to present some difficulty in material submitted and to request the Conference of Bishops to propose solutions.

In this present case, Your Excellency, the shortcomings are so diffused that minor isolated corrections will not suffice. This situation will be evident from the enclosed set of detailed Observations. Their purpose is merely to illustrate a certain number of difficulties which have led the Holy See to its present decision and hence they cannot be considered in any way exhaustive. Indeed, they cover only part of the texts submitted.

In this regard, I should like to recall here one last fact which appears significant. A number of re-translations concerning parts of the Eucharistic Prayer proposed in 1981 failed to secure the consent of the Sacred Congregation for Sacraments and Divine Worship on account of a negative judgment by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (prot. n. 216/73, 22 January 1983). Among the proposed translations then rejected was that of the wording of the intercession in the Second Eucharistic Prayer which in Latin runs "una cum Papa nostro N. et Episcopo nostro N. et universo clero" by the English "together with N. our Pope, N. our bishop, and all the ministers of your Gospel". This was found unacceptable by the Bishops’ Conference of the United States of America and by the Holy See. It could reasonably have been expected that the translators would thereafter take note that translations of that kind were not acceptable. This did not in fact happen, however. In n.59 of this proposed translation we find "

universo clero

" now rendered by "all who are called to your service", an even wider expression. In both these cases the translation had been prepared by the Mixed Commission known as the International Commission on English in the Liturgy.

Your Excellency, the Bishops retain all their rightful freedom of action to adopt the remedy they consider most appropriate regarding the English translation of this liturgical book. At the same time this Congregation considers it may be helpful to recommend that there be a complete change of translators on this project and that a new, independent and definitive English version be made afresh from the Latin texts.

Should the Bishops consider it appropriate and useful, the Congregation is at their disposal within the limits of its competence and its resources to give whatever assistance it can, including an approach to the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith for similar assistance.

Your Excellency, the good relations and the active and efficacious cooperation between the Conference of Bishops of the United States of America and itself in recent times have been a source of great satisfaction and encouragement to this Congregation. I have every confidence that it will be possible to work quietly together for the good of the Church to arrive at a definitive English language translation of the rites of Sacred Ordination that is of high quality and suitable for use in the United States of America.

With all cordial good wishes in Christ the Lord,

Sincerely yours,

+Jorge Medina Estevez
Archbishop Pro-Prefect

News Analysis: Vatican Rejects Ordination Ritual

The Holy See’s "Observations" on the ICEL Ordination Rite

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 RiteCongregation for Divine Worship (September 20, 1997)

If you do not have Adobe Reader click on the icon below to download.


The Editors