Cardinal Robert Sarah, Commentary on motu proprio Magnum Principium, 1 October 2017.

Humble contribution for a better and accurate understanding of the motu proprio Magnum Principium

The recognitio of adaptations and the confirmatio of translations in canon 838

On 3 September 2017, the Holy Father promulgated the Motu Proprio Magnum Principium concerning liturgical translations, which modifies paragraphs 2 and 3 of canon 838 of the Code of Canon Law. We welcome with respect and gratitude Pope Francis’ initiative, which makes it possible to situate ever more clearly and more rigorously the respective responsibilities of Episcopal Conferences and of the Holy See in view of a trustful, fraternal and intense collaboration in the service of the Church. The point, which may be said to constitute the heart of the motu proprio, is developed in the Letter of 26 September last, that the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments addressed to Episcopal Conferences. It is in this context that the following humble contribution was composed based upon the following observation: from the perspective of our Dicastery, collaboration with the Episcopal Conferences’ work of adaptation and translation is entirely included in these two words of canon 838: recognitio and confirmatio. What do they mean exactly? Such is the object of this modest note.

Code of Canon Law, canon 838 before Magnum Principium

Can. 838 — §1. Sacrae liturgiae moderatio ab Ecclesiae auctoritate unice pendet: quae quidem est penes Apostolicam Sedem et, ad normam iuris, penes Episcopum dioecesanum.

§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.

§4. Ad Episcopum dioecesanum in Ecclesia sibi commissa pertinet, intra limites suae competentiae, normas de re liturgica dare, quibus omnes tenentur.

Can. 838 — §1. The direction of the sacred liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church which resides in the Apostolic See and, according to the norm of law, the diocesan bishop.

§2. It is for the Apostolic See to order the sacred liturgy of the universal Church, publish liturgical books and review 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.

§4. Within the limits of his competence, it pertains to the diocesan bishop in the Church entrusted to him to issue liturgical norms which bind everyone.

Canon 838 currently in force (Magnum Principium)

Can. 838 — §1. Idem

§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 versiones 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.

§4. Idem

Can. 838 — §1. Idem

§2. It is for the Apostolic See to order the sacred liturgy of the universal Church, publish liturgical books, recognise (recognoscere-recognitio) 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 (confirmatio) of the Apostolic See.

§4. Idem

NOTE: c. 838 §3: the words aptatas (the former canon) and accomodatas (the new canon) are synonymous, from which we have the very similar English translations: “adapted appropriately within the limits defined” (the former canon) and “suitably accommodated within defined limits.” The word change is justified, in Latin, by the context: that is to say in this case the removal of the reference: “in ipsis libris liturgicis” (“in the liturgical books themselves”) in the new c. 838 §3.


1. The authoritative text concerning liturgical translations remains the Instruction Liturgiam authenticam (L.A.) of 28 March 2001. Thus, the faithful translations (“fideliter”) carried out and approved by Episcopal Conferences must conform in every way to the norms of this Instruction. There is therefore no noticeable change regarding the imposed standards and the result which must follow from them for each liturgical book. As will be seen below, given that the words recognitio and confirmatio, without being strictly synonymous, are nevertheless interchangeable, it suffices to replace the first by the second in the Instruction L.A. This applies in particular to nos. 79 to 84.

2. The modifications to canon 838 only affect paragraphs 2 and 3, and they concern these two points:

A. The distinction between “adaptation," which requires the recognitio, and “translation,” which requires the confirmatio of the Apostolic See.

B. With regard to liturgical translations, the explicit affirmation that it belongs to Bishops’ Conferences to prepare faithfully (fideliter) translations of liturgical books, to approve them and to publish them after having obtained the confirmation of the Apostolic See. An important remark: the only novelty concerns the above-mentioned point A.: the distinction between recognitio and confirmatio. Point B. is the inscription “set in stone” in Canon Law of the habitual and constant practice which has been followed since the first Instruction on liturgical translations Comme le prévoit, given on 25 January 1969, and a fortiori since the promulgation of Liturgiam authenticam in 2001.

3. The recognitio is defined by the Council for Legislative Texts in an explanatory note from 2006 as “a conditio iuris that, by the will of the Supreme Legislator, is required ad validitatem” (Cf. Communicationes 38, 2006, 16). As a result, if the recognitio is not granted, the liturgical book cannot be published. The recognitio protects and ensures conformity to the law and the communion of the Church (its unity).

4. The confirmatio (confirmation) is used by the Code of Canon Law (CIC) in various circumstances: here are three examples: A. the case of an election which must be confirmed by a superior authority (cf. c. 147, 178, 179). B. the confirmation of the decrees of an Ecumenical Council by the Roman Pontiff before their promulgation (c. 341 §1). C. the decree of dismissal of a member of a religious institute, which cannot enter into force until after the confirmation of the Holy See or the diocesan bishop according to the nature – pontifical right or diocesan right – of the institute (c. 700). In all these cases, there is an individual who acts according to his own authority, and a superior authority who must confirm his decision in order to evaluate and ensure its conformity to the law. Consequently, if an Episcopal Conference has prepared and approved the translation of a liturgical book, it cannot publish it without having obtained beforehand the confirmation of the Apostolic See. In the above-mentioned cases which require the confirmatio, the superior authority is required to evaluate the conformity of the act to the law in force before confirming it; likewise, the Apostolic See must only grant the confirmatio after having duly examined whether the translation is “faithful” (fideliter), that is to say consistent with the text of the editio typica in Latin on the basis of the criteria set forth by the Instruction Liturgiam authenticam on liturgical translations.

5. Like the recognitio, the confirmatio is by no means a formality, that is to say a sort of approval which would be granted after a rapid review of the work based on an a priori favorable assumption that the translation approved by the Bishops’ Conference had been carried out faithfully (fideliter). What is more, as for the recognitio required in the former c. 838 §3, the confirmatio presupposes and implies a detailed review on the part of the Holy See, and the possibility for the latter to predicate the confirmatio on certain sine qua non modifications of particular points that could be required by the fact that they do not meet the criterion of “fidelity,” which is from now on inscribed in the Code of Canon Law. The Holy See’s decision would be binding on the Episcopal Conference. We should note here that such is the mens of this norm, which corresponds with the interpretation given to it by the Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, His Excellency the Most Reverend A. Roche in his Commentary on the motu proprio Magnum Principium: “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.” So, for example, if, in the Creed of the Order of Mass, the expression: consubstantialem Patri is translated in English by: “one in Being with the Father,” the Holy See may impose – and even must impose (cf. n. 6) – the translation: “consubstantial with the Father,” as a condition sine qua non of its confirmatio of the entirety of the Roman Missal in English.

6. One notes therefore that the modification to the text of c. 838 §3 (the recognitio is replaced by the confirmatio) does not at all alter the responsibility of the Holy See, and thus its authority with respect to liturgical translations: the Apostolic See must evaluate whether the translations carried out by the Episcopal Conferences are truly “faithful” (fideliter) to the editio typica in Latin in order to ensure, preserve, and promote communion in the Church, that is to say its unity.

7. The words recognitio and confirmatio are not strictly synonymous for the two following reasons:

A. The word recognitio is reserved for adaptations approved by Episcopal Conferences according to the norm of law (ad normam iuris) (c. 838 §2), while the word confirmatio concerns liturgical translations (c. 838 §3). This difference is positive; its merit lies in the fact that it clearly distinguishes from this moment forward two very different fields: adaptation and translation. Even if they are interchangeable with respect to the responsibility of the Holy See (cf. n. 6), the two words are not strictly synonymous with respect to their effect on the editio typica. Firstly, the adaptations carried out ad normam iuris alter the editio typica in certain cases specified by the law (cf. for the Roman Missal, the Institutio Generalis Missalis RomaniGeneral Instruction of the Roman Missal, chap. 9, nos. 386-399), hence the necessity of a recognitio. Translations do not alter the editio typica; quite the opposite, they must be faithful (fideliter), and thus the necessity of a confirmatio. This important point should therefore be emphasized once more: far from being a sort of diminished or reduced recognitio, the force of the confirmatio is just as robust as that of the recognitio of the former c. 838 §3.

B. Next, with respect to the recognitio, it seems that the confirmatio has a more unilateral character, which intervenes at the end of the iter: preparation-approval by the Episcopal Conference. Indeed, one may think that, by the very fact of its nature, the recognitio, which also intervenes a posteriori, presupposes a certain preliminary consultation during the translation process, which provides for the establishment of a text acceptable by both parties. In the c. 838 §3 modified by the motu proprio Magnum Principium, the confirmatio, from the side of the Holy See, should be considered in conjunction with fideliter and approbatio (approbare) on the side of the Episcopal Conference. From now on, insofar as Episcopal Conferences are explicitly called upon by the norm of Canon Law to “approve” translations “faithful” to the Latin text of the editio typica, the Holy See has confidence in them a priori. The Holy See does not therefore ordinarily intervene in their work, until the moment of the confirmatio, which constitutes a final or concluding act (however, cf. also on this subject n. 5). It is clear that the procedure of the confirmatio may also give rise to preliminary exchanges should Episcopal Conferences make such requests of the Holy See or if a procedure of mutual consultation is foreseen by both parties, which may be seen to be desirable.


The reality of the recognitio and of the confirmatio is a part of our daily lives: indeed, conscious of our limits, we naturally turn to another person to “evaluate” the work that we have done to the best of our abilities; in this way we can improve our work using his observations, or even his corrections, should they prove to be necessary. Such is the responsibility of a professor towards a student preparing his thesis, or, more simply, of parents towards their children’s homework, and also, more generally, of academic authorities and supervisors. Our life is thus a tapestry of recognitio and confirmatio, that allows us to advance with the greatest “fidelity” with respect to the demands of reality and in all the fields of knowledge in the service of God and of our neighbour (cf. the Parable of the Talents, Mt. 25:14-30). The recognitio and the confirmatio, on the part of the Holy See, which presupposes a trustful, fraternal and intense collaboration with Episcopal Conferences, enters into this framework. As the motu proprio of the Holy Father admirably says, to which the Letter of 26 September addressed to Episcopal Conferences refers, it is a question of making “collaboration ... between the Apostolic See and Episcopal Conferences easier and more fruitful.”

Vatican City, 1 October 2017

Robert Card. Sarah

Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments

Cardinal Robert Sarah, Commentary on motu proprio Magnum Principium, 1 October 2017. English accessed 9 July 2019: