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Table of ContentsII. On the Translation of Liturgical Texts into Vernacular Languages3. Norms Concerning the Translation of Other Liturgical TextsEndnotes

1. General Principles Applicable to All Translations

19. The words of the Sacred Scriptures, as well as the other words spoken in liturgical celebrations, especially in the celebration of the Sacraments, are not intended primarily to be a sort of mirror of the interior dispositions of the faithful; rather, they express truths that transcend the limits of time and space. Indeed, by means of these words God speaks continually with the Spouse of his beloved Son, the Holy Spirit leads the Christian faithful into all truth and causes the word of Christ to dwell abundantly within them, and the Church perpetuates and transmits all that she herself is and all that she believes, even as she offers the prayers of all the faithful to God, through Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit.[19]

20. The Latin liturgical texts of the Roman Rite, while drawing on centuries of ecclesial experience in transmitting the faith of the Church received from the Fathers, are themselves the fruit of the liturgical renewal, just recently brought forth. In order that such a rich patrimony may be preserved and passed on through the centuries, it is to be kept in mind from the beginning that the translation of the liturgical texts of the Roman Liturgy is not so much a work of creative innovation as it is of rendering the original texts faithfully and accurately into the vernacular language. While it is permissible to arrange the wording, the syntax and the style in such a way as to prepare a flowing vernacular text suitable to the rhythm of popular prayer, the original text, insofar as possible, must be translated integrally and in the most exact manner, without omissions or additions in terms of their content, and without paraphrases or glosses. Any adaptation to the characteristics or the nature of the various vernacular languages is to be sober and discreet.[20]

21. Especially in the translations intended for peoples recently brought to the Christian Faith, fidelity and exactness with respect to the original texts may themselves sometimes require that words already in current usage be employed in new ways, that new words or expressions be coined, that terms in the original text be transliterated or adapted to the pronunciation of the vernacular language,[21] or that figures of speech be used which convey in an integral manner the content of the Latin expression even while being verbally or syntactically different from it. Such measures, especially those of greater moment, are to be submitted to the discussion of all the Bishops involved before being inserted into the definitive draft. In particular, caution should be exercised in introducing words drawn from non-Christian religions.[22]

22. Adaptations of the texts according to articles 37-40 of the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium are to be considered on the basis of true cultural or pastoral necessity, and should not be proposed out of a mere desire for novelty or variety, nor as a way of supplementing or changing the theological content of the editiones typicae; rather, they are to be governed by the norms and procedures contained in the above-mentioned Instruction Varietates legitimae.[23] Accordingly, translations into vernacular languages that are sent to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments for the recognitio are to contain, in addition to the translation itself and any adaptations foreseen explicitly in the editiones typicae, only adaptations or modifications for which prior written consent has been obtained from the same Dicastery.

23. In the translation of texts of ecclesiastical composition, while it is useful with the assistance of historical and other scientific tools to consult a source that may have been discovered for the same text, nevertheless it is always the text of the Latin editio typica itself that is to be translated.

Whenever the biblical or liturgical text preserves words taken from other ancient languages (as, for example, the words Alleluia and Amen, the Aramaic words contained in the New Testament, the Greek words drawn from the Trisagion which are recited in the Improperia of Good Friday, and the Kyrie eleison of the Order of Mass, as well as many proper names) consideration should be given to preserving the same words in the new vernacular translation, at least as one option among others. Indeed, a careful respect for the original text will sometimes require that this be done.

24. Furthermore, it is not permissible that the translations be produced from other translations already made into other languages; rather, the new translations must be made directly from the original texts, namely the Latin, as regards the texts of ecclesiastical composition, or the Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek, as the case may be, as regards the texts of Sacred Scripture. [24] Furthermore, in the preparation of these translations for liturgical use, the Nova Vulgata Editio, promulgated by the Apostolic See, is normally to be consulted as an auxiliary tool, in a manner described elsewhere in this Instruction, in order to maintain the tradition of interpretation that is proper to the Latin Liturgy.

25. So that the content of the original texts may be evident and comprehensible even to the faithful who lack any special intellectual formation, the translations should be characterized by a kind of language which is easily understandable, yet which at the same time preserves these texts' dignity, beauty, and doctrinal precision.[25] By means of words of praise and adoration that foster reverence and gratitude in the face of God's majesty, his power, his mercy and his transcendent nature, the translations will respond to the hunger and thirst for the living God that is experienced by the people of our own time, while contributing also to the dignity and beauty of the liturgical celebration itself.[26]

26. The liturgical texts' character as a very powerful instrument for instilling in the lives of the Christian faithful the elements of faith and Christian morality,[27] is to be maintained in the translations with the utmost solicitude. The translation, furthermore, must always be in accord with sound doctrine.

27. Even if expressions should be avoided which hinder comprehension because of their excessively unusual or awkward nature, the liturgical texts should be considered as the voice of the Church at prayer, rather than of only particular congregations or individuals; thus, they should be free of an overly servile adherence to prevailing modes of expression. If indeed, in the liturgical texts, words or expressions are sometimes employed which differ somewhat from usual and everyday speech, it is often enough by virtue of this very fact that the texts become truly memorable and capable of expressing heavenly realities. Indeed, it will be seen that the observance of the principles set forth in this Instruction will contribute to the gradual development, in each vernacular, of a sacred style that will come to be recognized as proper to liturgical language. Thus it may happen that a certain manner of speech which has come to be considered somewhat obsolete in daily usage may continue to be maintained in the liturgical context. In translating biblical passages where seemingly inelegant words or expressions are used, a hasty tendency to sanitize this characteristic is likewise to be avoided. These principles, in fact, should free the Liturgy from the necessity of frequent revisions when modes of expression may have passed out of popular usage.

28. The Sacred Liturgy engages not only man's intellect, but the whole person, who is the "subject" of full and conscious participation in the liturgical celebration. Translators should therefore allow the signs and images of the texts, as well as the ritual actions, to speak for themselves; they should not attempt to render too explicit that which is implicit in the original texts. For the same reason, the addition of explanatory texts not contained in the editio typica is to be prudently avoided. Consideration should also be given to including in the vernacular editions at least some texts in the Latin language, especially those from the priceless treasury of Gregorian chant, which the Church recognizes as proper to the Roman Liturgy, and which, all other things being equal, is to be given pride of place in liturgical celebrations.[28] Such chant, indeed, has a great power to lift the human spirit to heavenly realities.

29. It is the task of the homily and of catechesis to set forth the meaning of the liturgical texts,[29] illuminating with precision the Church's understanding regarding the members of particular Churches or ecclesial communities separated from full communion with the Catholic Church and those of Jewish communities, as well as adherents of other religions — and likewise, her understanding of the dignity and equality of all men.[30] Similarly, it is the task of catechists or of the homilist to transmit that right interpretation of the texts that excludes any prejudice or unjust discrimination on the basis of persons, gender, social condition, race or other criteria, which has no foundation at all in the texts of the Sacred Liturgy. Although considerations such as these may sometimes help one in choosing among various translations of a certain expression, they are not to be considered reasons for altering either a biblical text or a liturgical text that has been duly promulgated.

30. In many languages there exist nouns and pronouns denoting both genders, masculine and feminine, together in a single term. The insistence that such a usage should be changed is not necessarily to be regarded as the effect or the manifestation of an authentic development of the language as such. Even if it may be necessary by means of catechesis to ensure that such words continue to be understood in the "inclusive" sense just described, it may not be possible to employ different words in the translations themselves without detriment to the precise intended meaning of the text, the correlation of its various words or expressions, or its aesthetic qualities. When the original text, for example, employs a single term in expressing the interplay between the individual and the universality and unity of the human family or community (such as the Hebrew word 'adam, the Greek anthropos, or the Latin homo), this property of the language of the original text should be maintained in the translation. Just as has occurred at other times in history, the Church herself must freely decide upon the system of language that will serve her doctrinal mission most effectively, and should not be subject to externally imposed linguistic norms that are detrimental to that mission.

31. In particular: to be avoided is the systematic resort to imprudent solutions such as a mechanical substitution of words, the transition from the singular to the plural, the splitting of a unitary collective term into masculine and feminine parts, or the introduction of impersonal or abstract words, all of which may impede the communication of the true and integral sense of a word or an expression in the original text. Such measures introduce theological and anthropological problems into the translation. Some particular norms are the following:

  1. In referring to almighty God or the individual persons of the Most Holy Trinity, the truth of tradition as well as the established gender usage of each respective language are to be maintained.
  2. Particular care is to be taken to ensure that the fixed expression "Son of Man" be rendered faithfully and exactly. The great Christological and typological significance of this expression requires that there should also be employed throughout the translation a rule of language that will ensure that the fixed expression remain comprehensible in the context of the whole translation.
  3. The term "fathers", found in many biblical passages and liturgical texts of ecclesiastical composition, is to be rendered by the corresponding masculine word into vernacular languages insofar as it may be seen to refer to the Patriarchs or the kings of the chosen people in the Old Testament, or to the Fathers of the Church.
  4. Insofar as possible in a given vernacular language, the use of the feminine pronoun, rather than the neuter, is to be maintained in referring to the Church.
  5. Words which express consanguinity or other important types of relationship, such as "brother", "sister", etc., which are clearly masculine or feminine by virtue of the context, are to be maintained as such in the translation.
  6. The grammatical gender of angels, demons, and pagan gods or goddesses, according to the original texts, is to be maintained in the vernacular language insofar as possible.
  7. In all these matters it will be necessary to remain attentive to the principles set forth above, in nn. 27 and 29.

32. The translation should not restrict the full sense of the original text within narrower limits. To be avoided on this account are expressions characteristic of commercial publicity, political or ideological programs, passing fashions, and those which are subject to regional variations or ambiguities in meaning. Academic style manuals or similar works, since they sometimes give way to such tendencies, are not to be considered standards for liturgical translation. On the other hand, works that are commonly considered "classics" in a given vernacular language may prove useful in providing a suitable standard for its vocabulary and usage.

33. The use of capitalization in the liturgical texts of the Latin editiones typicae as well as in the liturgical translation of the Sacred Scriptures, for honorific or otherwise theologically significant reasons, is to be retained in the vernacular language at least insofar as the structure of a given language permits.

Table of ContentsII. On the Translation of Liturgical Texts into Vernacular Languages3. Norms Concerning the Translation of Other Liturgical TextsEndnotes

You are here: Documents > General Principles > Fifth Instruction for the Right Implementation of the Constitution on the Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council  Back one page.

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You are here: Documents > General Principles > Fifth Instruction for the Right Implementation of the Constitution on the Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council  Back one page.

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The Catholic Liturgical Library