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Is Pope Francis Changing the Mass Translations?


“Did Pope Francis change stuff? Will we, folks in the pews, have to go back to using those little cards to learn what phrases we’re saying at Mass?” There’s been a lot of reporting recently about Pope Francis and the form of the Mass that’s a little dense, leaving some Catholics scratching their heads. If you’re confused, you’re not alone! But never fear, Father Dave is here to break down this news story.

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Father Dave explains: “What we’re talking about is the Motu Proprio from Pope Francis that came out earlier this week. First of all, let’s discuss Motu Proprio, and what it is. … A Motu Proprio is similar in a sense [to] an Executive Order in American politics. … I don’t want to obviously belittle the authority given to Peter by Christ, [so] that analogy limps a little bit, but what it does help us to understand is that there are many things within our Church that are very collegially arrived at in terms of laws in the Church, in terms of procedures, even like declaring somebody a saint. … [Typically] you have a lot of people involved [in decisions on some of those issues]. A Motu Proprio is something that the pope does on his own authority — again, that authority [conferred by Christ to Peter and his successors]. … Now, this authority is not absolute — [the pope] doesn’t have the authority to go against Jesus [by declaring, for example, that the Virgin Mary isn’t a virgin or that Jesus isn’t really the son of God], but he does have the authority to put out a Motu Proprio talking about how we translate liturgical books, which is what he did this week.”

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This Motu Proprio concerns the procedures used to change and adopt liturgical translations. It’s a very familiar issue in the United States, where a new translation of the Roman Missal came into effect in 2011, revising the words of response said by the people as well as the words of many prayers said by the priest. This decision has been met with some controversy, which Father Dave explains: “The fundamental structure and syntax [of the new translation] is based on Latin, and Latin uses phrases in a different way, [which may feel unnatural to an English speaker].”

In terms of what this Motu Proprio means, Father Dave says: “Really the only thing the pope is saying is that the decision on how faithful and authentic the local [translation of the Missal] is to the Latin should be [decided by] the local person — the bishops.” So, rather than a top-down approach of instituting a linguistic reform like this, the Motu Proprio submits that “bishops [themselves] should [be the ones to say], ‘Yes, this is an authentic representation of our language and culture of the original Latin,’ as opposed to [it being a matter of] centralized decision-making at the Vatican.”(Original Air 09-14-17)

Photo credit: Pope Francis celebrates Mass in the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae at the Vatican. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano)