Comme Le Prevoit 1-4


The 1969 document Comme Le Prevoit–On The Translation of Liturgical Texts For Celebrations With A Congregation is one of the most controversial in the post-conciliar liturgy collection. Its authorship is attributed to the Consilium, the standing committee assembled to oversee liturgical reform in the immediate post-conciliar years.

Many of its lay critics are unaware of its title, sometimes even of its existence. However, the weight of “correction” brought down upon Roman Catholic rituals, particularly the Roman Missal, is significant.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I think Comme Le Prevoit deserves a thorough and balanced assessment. Is it really as misguided as it has been characterized? Exactly what are the principles of translation used for this period (1969-mid-1990’s)? What was the task given to the prior incarnations of ICEL? Were there language and administrative abuses? By looking at the document section by section, let’s find out.

We begin with a four-section introduction:

1. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy foresees that many Latin texts of the Roman liturgy must be translated into different languages (art. 36). Although many of them have already been translated, the work of translation is not drawing to a close. New texts have been edited or prepared for the renewal of the liturgy. Above all, after sufficient experiment and passage of time, all translations will need review.

The Consilium begins with an important principle: translation work for the Roman Rite was far from complete, even with the first round of translations. By 1969, many but not all of the rites were completed. Language commissions were proceeding at differing paces. New texts were part of the picture. And finally, all translations were fair game for review, and one would suppose, further refinement.

2. In accordance with art. 36 of the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium and no.40 of the Instruction of the Congregation of Rites Inter Oecumenici, the work of translation of liturgical texts is thus laid down: It is the duty of the episcopal conferences to decide which texts are to be translated, to prepare or review the translations, to approve them, and “after approval, that is, confirmation, by the Holy See” to promulgate them.

You get the basic job description here in a nutshell. Episcopal conferences initiate the process and submit a finished text to Rome. After approval, such texts are promulgated.

When a common language is spoken in several different countries, international commissions should be appointed by the conferences of bishops who speak the same language to make one text for all (letter of Cardinal Lercaro to the presidents of episcopal conferences, dated 16 October 1964).

Thus ICEL standing as the multi-national (not the American) commission to cover all English language considerations.

3. Although these translations are the responsibility of the competent territorial authority of each country, it seems desirable to observe common principles of procedure, especially for texts of major importance, in order to make confirmation by the Apostolic See easier and to achieve greater unity of practice.

4. The Consilium has therefore thought fit in this declaration to lay down, in common and non-technical terms, some of the more important theoretical and practical principles for the guidance of all who are called upon to prepare, to approve, or to confirm liturgical translations.

Thus the Consilium lays out the purpose of this document: to set the proper procedures by which all translations and translation commissions will be governed, and to address some principles by which the work of these commissions will be guided.

Any first comments?

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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2 Responses to Comme Le Prevoit 1-4

  1. Liam says:

    It might be helpful to note a context alluded to in the opening text that may not be apparent to folks who don’t remember this time:

    Because the 1965 Missal had been translated into many vernaculars, there were existing translations of the parts of that Missal that were being carried forward into the 1970 Missal that was then pending. For example, the ordinary of the Mass and significant chunks of presidential prayers. And then there are all the other ritual books (the Roman Ritual, the Ceremonial of Bishops, the Roman Pontifical, the Breviary, et cet.). This was a huge corpus of work.

    On top of that were new texts being developed. The Lectionary. The new rituals and ritual options. The new Eucharistic prayers. The mind reels at how much had to be done.

    Yet, there was not only the optimism of the age – partly full of hope, partly naive – but also the pragmatic Roman bureaucratic tradition of getting the job done, and these both I think played a role in how the translations were handled.

    Not everything is ideological. While I think to ignore the possibility of ideological components is also naive, I think overstating such components is a mistake often made by critics of the first comprehensive round of translations. The tussle over “We/I Believe” is one of the simplest illustrations of this misunderstandings, and I have been gratified to read some conservative critics (even at EWTN) of the translations acknowledge the fact that that particular translation was not made in bad faith but on principles – at that time with approval from Rome – about which reasonable people can disagree or weight differently.

    And that, I believe, is perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind concerning translation principles: there are not only unreasonable approaches, but multiple reasonable approaches. Thus, reasonable people can come to different conclusions. While pluriformity is not entirely alien to the Roman rite, its tendency to substantial consensus in form means that there will be reasonable approaches that are accepted and others that are in the end not accepted. Moreover, those choices may change over time.

    This is a context that is destined – and perhaps even designed – to frustrate people who champion their preferred approach to the exclusion of all others.

  2. Rob F. says:

    CLP#2 entrusts the task of translation to the bishops’ conferences. Liturgiam authenticam (LA#3) attributes the positive results of the liturgical renewal to the bishops.

    CLP#1 calls for further review. LA#6 indicates that now is the time for review, lest poor translations impede the progress of inculteration.

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