Cardinal Sarah says the motu proprio does not substantially alter the authority of the Holy See on liturgical translations

Two cardinals have disagreed over how much authority the Pope’s motu proprio Magnum Principium gives to local bishops’ conferences.

The papal document gives bishops’ conferences greater say over the translation of liturgical texts, changing the role of the Congregation for Divine Worship from one of recognitio to confirmatio. However, two senior cardinals have disagreed over the exact meaning of this difference.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, president of the German bishops’ conference, welcomed the document, implying that it was a clear break with the 2001 document Liturgiam authenticum, which he called a “dead end”.

“Rome is charged with the interpretation of dogmas, but not with questions of style. Now, thanks to Magnum Principium, episcopal conferences enjoy a much greater freedom,” he said.

He also hinted that the German bishops had dropped a proposed new translation of the Mass that was more faithful to the original Latin text, with much of the controversy centring around how to translate the words “pro multis”.

The words appear as part of the phrase “qui pro vobis et pro multis effundetur in remissionem peccatorum” in reference to the Precious Blood during the consecration of the wine in the Roman Canon.

The most accurate English translation is “for many”, but many translations, including Spanish, Portuguese and German, initially rendered it as “for all”.

In 2006, the Holy See gave instruction that all vernacular editions of the Roman Missal should translate the words as “for many”, pointing out that it is also the most literal translation of the original Greek “περὶ πολλῶν” in Matthew 26:28.

The change met with opposition from the German bishops, however, prompting Pope Benedict XVI to write a personal letter in 2012 explaining why they should adopt the new translation.

Now Cardinal Marx has signalled the German bishops will use Magnum Principium as an opportunity to drop the new translation and keep the old, less literal version.

Cardinal Robert Sarah, on the other hand, has said ultimate authority still lies with the Vatican, which must still approve all new translations, and can veto proposals that are not faithful to the original text.

The Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship said the new motu proprio does not reduce the body to a mere rubber stamp.

“Like the recognitio, the confirmatio is by no means a formality,” the cardinal said.

Instead, it “presupposes and implies a detailed review on the part of the Holy See” including the ability to refuse assent unless certain modifications are made.

“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.”

Magnum Principium, then, is simply a question of making “collaboration…between the Apostolic See and Episcopal Conferences easier and more fruitful.”