Arthur Roche, Archbishop Secretary, Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, A key to reading the motu proprio Magnum principium, 9 September 2017.


Note on canon 838 of the Code of Canon Law

CANON 838 IN THE LIGHT OF CONCILIAR AND POST CONCILIAR SOURCES

On the occasion of the publication of the motu proprio Magnum principium, by which Pope Francis makes variations to can. 838 §§2 & 3 of the C.I.C., the Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments offers, in the following note, a commentary on the underlying sources of these paragraphs, taking into consideration the formulation in force until now as well as the new formulation.

The current text

Until now can. 838 §§2 & 3 read as follows:

§2. Apostolicae Sedis est sacram liturgiam Ecclesiae universae ordinare, libros liturgicos edere eorumque versiones in linguas vernaculas recognoscere, necnon advigilare ut ordinationes liturgicae ubique fideliter observentur.

§3. Ad Episcoporum conferentias spectat versiones librorum liturgicorum in linguas vernaculas, convenienter intra limites in ipsis libris liturgicis definitos aptatas, parare, easque edere, praevia recognitione Sanctae Sedis.1

The references for §2 are the Instruction Inter Oecumenici (26 Sept 1964), n. 21 and can. 1257 of the 1917 C.I.C.

For §3 they are Sacrosanctum concilium n. 22 §2 and n. 36 §§3-4; S. Congr. Pro Sacramentis et Cultu Divino, Epist. Decem iam annos (5 June 1976); S. Congr. Pro Doctrina Fidei, Ecclesiae pastorum (19 March 1975), art. 3.

Although the sources have a merely indicative value and are not exhaustive it is possible to make some remarks in their regard.

This is so above all regarding can. 838 §2. Inter Oecumenici n. 21 is found in cap. I,VI. De competenti auctoritate in re liturgica (ad Const. art. 22) and reads as follows: “Apostolicae Sedis est tum libros liturgicos generales instaurare atque approbare, tum sacram Liturgiam in iis quae universam Ecclesiam respiciunt ordinare, tum Acta et deliberationes auctoritatis territorialis probare seu confirmare, tum eiusdem auctoritatis territorialis propositiones et petitiones accipere.”2 A clear presupposed equivalence appears between the verb “recognoscere” used in can. 838 §2 and the expression “probare seu confirmare” used in Inter Oecumenici. This latter expression was desired by the Liturgical Commission of the Second Vatican Council to substitute the terminology derived from the verb “recognoscere” (“actis recognitis”), referring to can. 250 §4 (cf. can. 304 §2) of the 1917 C.I.C., as was explained to the Council Fathers in the Relatio and voted on by them in Sacrosanctum concilium n. 36 §3 in the form “actis ab Apostolica Sede probatis seu confirmatis.” It is also possible to note that Inter Oecumenici n. 21 covers all acts of the territorial authorities, while the Code applies it specifically to the “interpretationes textum liturgicorum,” material that Inter Oecumenici n. 40 deals with explicitly.

Regarding can. 838 §3 the reference to Sacrosanctum concilium n. 22 §2 is pertinent. By referring to Sacrosanctum concilium n. 36 §§3-4 (§3 deals with “de usu et modo linguae vernaculae statuere, actis ab Apostolica Sede probatis seu confirmatis” and §4 deals with “conversio textus latini in linguam vernaculam in Liturgia adhibenda, a competenti auctoritate ecclesiastica territoriali, de qua supra, approbari debet”) it is clear how, for translations, neither a probatio seu confirmatio nor a recognitio in the strict juridical sense of can. 455 §2 is required.

The story of the Apostolic Letter issued motu proprio Sacram Liturgiam n. IX (25 Jan 1964), which had to be corrected in Acta Apostolicae Sedis because of the reaction of the Council Fathers, seems not to have been adequately taken into consideration. When Sacram Liturgiam appeared in L’Osservatore Romano on 29 January 1964 it read: “…populares interpretationes, a competente auctoritate ecclesiastica territoriali propositas,3 ab Apostolica Sede esse rite recognoscendas4 atque probandas.”5 However in Acta Apostolicae Sedis the conciliar terminology was adopted: “…populares interpretationes, a competente auctoritate ecclesiastica territoriali conficiendas et approbandas esse, ad normam art. 36, §§3 et 4; acta vero huius auctoritatis, ad normam eiusdem art. 36, §3, ab Apostolica Sede esse rite probanda seu confirmanda.”6 Thus the motu proprio Sacram Liturgiam distinguished the approval of translations as such on the part of territorial authorities with a decree that rendered them obligatory, and the fact that such an act had to be “probatus seu confirmatus” by the Apostolic See. Moreover, one must note that Sacram Liturgiam adds: “Quod ut semper servetur praescribimus, quoties liturgicus quidam textus latinus a legitima, quam diximus, auctoritate in linguam vernaculam convertetur.”7 This ordinance regards both of these distinct moments, namely the conficere et approbare of a translation and the act of making it obligatory with the publication of the book that contains it.

The reference to the Epist. Decem iam annos (5 June 1976) of the S. Congr. Pro Sacramentis et Cultu Divino is relevant but it must be noted that it never uses the term “recognoscere” but only “probare, confirmare, confirmatio.”

Turning to Ecclesiae pastorum of the S. Congr. Pro Doctrina Fidei, art. 3 (made up of three numbers), only n. 1 is relevant to our material. It reads: “1. Libri liturgici itemque eorum versions in linguam vernaculam eorumve partes ne edantur nisi de mandato Episcoporum Conferentiae atque sub eiusdem vigilantia, praevia confirmatione Apostolicae Sedis.”8 N. 2 concerns reissues and n. 3 prayer books. However it must be noted that the oversight and the mandate are attributed to the Episcopal Conferences while the “praevia confirmatio,” concerning the book that is published, is attributed to the Apostolic See. This is not precisely a “recognitio” of the version like that found in can. 838.

The new text

With the changes decided by the motu proprio Magnum principium can. 838 §§2 & 3 read as follows:

§2. Apostolicae Sedis est sacram liturgiam Ecclesiae universae ordinare, libros liturgicos edere, aptationes, ad normam iuris a conferentia Episcoporum approbatas, recognoscere, necnon advigiliare ut ordinationes liturgicae ubique fideliter observentur.

§3. Ad Episcoporum Conferentias spectat versions librorum liturgicorum in linguas vernaculas fideliter et convenienter intra limites definitos accommodatas parare et approbare atquae libros liturgicos, pro regionibus ad quas pertinent, post confirmationem Apostolicae Sedis edere.9

§2 now relates to the “aptationes” (“versiones” are no longer mentioned, such material is dealt with in §3), namely the texts and elements that do not form part of the editio typica latina, as well as the “profundiores aptationes” foreseen by Sacrosanctum concilium n. 40 which are regulated by the Instruction Varietates legitimae on the Roman Liturgy and Inculturation (25 January 1994); after approval by the Episcopal Conference the “aptationes” must have the “recognitio” of the Apostolic See. The reference here is to Sacrosanctum concilium n. 36 §3. The adjustment to §2 maintains can. 1257 of the 1917 C.I.C. among its sources, and adds the reference to the Instruction Varietates legitimae which deals with the application of nn. 39 & 40 of Sacrosanctum concilium for which a full “recognitio” is required.

§3 relates to the “versiones” of the liturgical texts, which it more clearly specifies must be done “fideliter” and approved by the Episcopal Conferences. The reference is to Sacrosanctum concilium n. 36 §4 and analogously to can. 825 §1 concerning the version of Scared Scripture. These versions are published in liturgical books after receiving the “confirmatio” of the Apostolic See, as laid down by the motu proprio Sacram Liturgiam, n. IX.

The previous formulation of can. 838 §3 “intra limites in ipsis libris liturgicis definitos aptatas,” comes from Sacrosanctum concilium n. 39 (“Intra limites in editionibus typicis librorum liturgicorum statutos…aptationes definire”), concerning the “aptationes” and not the “versiones” which are now dealt with by this paragraph so it is now rendered with the expression “intra limites definitos accommodatas,” drawing on the terminology of the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani n. 392; this allows an opportune distinction to be made in respect of the “aptationes” mentioned in §2.

Therefore, the readjusted §3 continues to be founded on Sacrosanctum concilium n. 22 §2; n. 36 §§3-4; S. Congr. Pro Sacramentis et Cultu Divino, Epist. Decem iam annos (5 iun. 1976); S. Congr. Pro Doctrina Fidei, Ecclesiae pastorum (19 mart. 1975), art. 3, with the addition of the reference to the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani (ed. typica tertia) nn. 391 & 392, avoiding, however, the term “recognoscere, recognitis” in such a way that the act of Apostolic See relative to the versions prepared by the Episcopal Conferences with particular fidelity to the Latin text (see the addition of the word fideliter) cannot be equated to the discipline of can. 455, but once again forms part of the action of a confirmatio (as expressed in both Decem iam annos and Ecclesiae pastorum, art. 3).

The “confirmatio” is an authoritative act by which the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments ratifies the approval of the Bishops, leaving the responsibility of translation, understood to be faithful, to the doctrinal and pastoral munus of the Conferences of Bishops. In brief, the “confirmatio,” ordinarily granted based on trust and confidence, supposes a positive evaluation of the faithfulness and congruence of the texts produced with respect to the typical Latin text, above all taking account of the texts of greatest importance (e.g. the sacramental formulae, which require the approval of the Holy Father, the Order of Mass, the Eucharistic Prayers and the Prayers of Ordination, which all require a detailed review).

As the motu proprio Magnum principium itself recalls the changes to can. 838, §§2 & 3 have consequences for the Apostolic Constitution Pastor bonus art. 64 §3 as well as for the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani and for the Praenotanda of the liturgical books in the places that touch on material related to translation and adaptations.




1 §2. It is for the Apostolic See to order the sacred liturgy of the universal Church, publish liturgical books and recognise their translations in vernacular languages, and exercise vigilance that liturgical regulations are observed faithfully everywhere.

§3. It pertains to the conferences of bishops to prepare and publish, after the prior review of the Holy See, translations of liturgical books in vernacular languages, adapted appropriately within the limits defined in the liturgical books themselves.

2 “The Holy See has the authority to reform and approve the general liturgical books; to regulate the liturgy in matters affecting the universal Church; to approve or confirm the acta and decisions of the territorial authorities; and to accede to their proposals and requests.”

3 Art. 36 §4 of SC uses the verb “approbare.”

4 Art 36 §3 of SC says: “actis ab Apostolica Sede probatis seu confirmatis.” “enactments approved, that is, confirmed, by the Holy See.”

5 L’Osservatore Romano 29 January 1964, 1. “…vernacular versions proposed by the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority must always be recognised and approved by the Holy See.”

6 Cf. AAS 56 (1964), 143. “…vernacular versions must be drawn up and approved by the competent, territorial ecclesiastical authority, as provided in art. 36 §§3 & 4; and that, as provided in art. 36 §3, the acts of this authority require due approval, that is, confirmation, of the Holy See.”

7 Cf. ibidem. “This is the course to be taken whenever any Latin liturgical text is translated into the vernacular by the authority already mentioned.”

8 “1. Liturgical books, including vernacular translations or parts thereof, are to be published only by mandate of the Conference of Bishops and under its supervision, after confirmation by the Holy See.”

9 §2. It is for the Apostolic See to order the sacred liturgy of the universal Church, publish liturgical books, recognise adaptations approved by Conferences of Bishops according to the norm of law, and exercise vigilance that liturgical regulations are observed faithfully everywhere.

§3. It pertains to the Conferences of Bishops to faithfully prepare versions of the liturgical books in vernacular languages, suitably accommodated within defined limits, and to approve and publish the liturgical books for the regions for which they are responsible after the confirmation of the Apostolic See.




Comment on the motu proprio by the secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments

A key to reading the motu proprio Magnum principium

The new motu proprio Magnum principium has altered the formulation of some norms of the Codex iuris canonici regarding the translation of liturgical books into modern languages.

Pope Francis has introduced some modifications to the text of canon 838 in this motu proprio, dated 3 September 2017 and entering into force from 1st October 2017. The reason for these changes is explained in the papal text itself, which recalls and explicates the principles which underlie translations of the Latin typical editions as well as the delicacy required by those who undertake such work. Because the Liturgy is the prayer of the Church it is regulated by ecclesial authority.

Given the importance of this work, the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council had already considered the question of the roles of both the Apostolic See and the Episcopal Conferences in this regard (cf. Sacrosanctum concilium, nn. 36, 40 & 36). In effect the great task of providing for liturgical translations was guided by norms and by specific Instructions from the competent Dicastery, in particular Comme le prévoit (25 January 1969) and then, after the Codex iuris canonici of 1983, by Liturgiam authenticam (28 March 2001), both published at different stages with the goal of responding to concrete problems which had become evident over the course of time and which had arisen as a result of the complex work that is involved in the translation of liturgical texts. The material relating to the whole field of inculturation was, on the other hand, regulated by the Instruction Varietates legitimae (25 January 1994).

Taking into account the experience of these years, the Pope writes that now “it seemed opportune that some principles handed on since the time of the Council should be more clearly reaffirmed and put into practice.” Thus, taking account of the experience during the course of these years and with an eye to the future based on the liturgical constitution of Vatican II, Sacrosanctum concilium, the Pope intends to clarify the current discipline by introducing some changes to canon 838 of the Codex iuris canonici.

The object of the changes is to define better the roles of the Apostolic See and the Conferences of Bishops in respect to their proper competencies which are different yet remain complementary. They are called to work in a spirit of dialogue regarding the translation of the typical Latin books as well as for any eventual adaptations that could touch on rites and texts. All of this is at the service of the Liturgical Prayer of the People of God.

In particular, in the new formulation of the said canon, there is a more adequate distinction, as far as the role of the Apostolic See is concerned, between the scope of the recognitio and that of the confirmatio in respect of what belongs to the Episcopal Conferences, taking account of their pastoral and doctrinal responsibility as well as the limits to their actions.

The recognitio, mentioned in canon 838 §2, implies the process of recognising on the part of the Apostolic See legitimate liturgical adaptations, including those that are “more radical” (Sacrosanctum concilium 40), which the Episcopal Conferences can establish and approve for their territories within defined limits. In the encounter between liturgy and culture the Apostolic See is called to recognoscere, that is, to review and evaluate such adaptations in order to safeguard the substantial unity of the Roman Rite: the references for this material are Sacrosanctum concilium nn. 39-40; and its application, when indicated in the liturgical books and elsewhere, is regulated by the Instruction Varietates legitimae.

The confirmatio – terminology already adopted in the motu proprio Sacram Liturgiam n. IX (25 January 1964) – pertains instead to the translations of liturgical texts which, on the basis of Sacrosanctum concilium (n. 36, §4), are within the competency of the Episcopal Conferences to prepare and approve; canon 838 §3 clarifies that the translations must be completed fideliter according to the original texts, thus acknowledging the principal preoccupation of the Instruction Liturgiam authenticam. Indeed, recalling the right, and the grave responsibility of translation entrusted to the Episcopal Conferences, the motu proprio also points out that the Conferences “must ensure and establish that, while the character of each language is safeguarded, the sense of the original text should be rendered fully and faithfully.”

The confirmatio of the Apostolic See is therefore not to be considered as an alternative intervention in the process of translation, but rather as an authoritative act by which the competent Dicastery ratifies the approval of the bishops. Obviously, this presupposes a positive evaluation of the fidelity and congruence of the texts produced in respect to the typical editions on which the unity of the Rite is founded, and, above all, taking account of the texts of greatest importance, in particular the Sacramental formulae, the Eucharistic Prayers, the prayers of Ordination, the Order of Mass and so on.

Naturally, this modification to the Codex iuris canonici entails an adjustment to the Apostolic Constitution Pastor bonus n. 64 §3, as well as to the norms surrounding translations. This means, for example, that it will be necessary to readjust some numbers of the Institutio generalis missalis Romani and of the Praenotanda of the liturgical books. The Instruction Liturgiam authenticam itself, which is to be appreciated for the attention it brings to bear on this complicated work and its implications, must be interpreted in the light of the new formulation of canon 838 when it speaks about seeking the recognitio. Finally, the motu proprio provides that the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments will also “modify its own Regolamento on the basis of the new discipline and help the Episcopal Conferences to fulfil their task.”

X Arthur Roche

Archbishop Secretary

Congregation for Divine Worship & the Discipline of the Sacraments




Arthur Roche, Archbishop Secretary, Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, A key to reading the motu proprio Magnum principium, 9 September 2017. English accessed 9 July 2019: https://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/en/bollettino/pubblico/2017/09/09/170909a.html