Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Letter Calling for a Reform of ICEL Statutes, 26 October 1999.

His Excellency, The Most Reverend Maurice Taylor, Bishop of Galloway

Your Excellency,

This Congregation is now able to respond to your recent letter requesting a meeting between Officials of the Congregation and representatives of the Mixed Commission for English language translations. As regards Your Excellency’s being received by the Superiors of the Congregation, the unhesitating answer is that you are always most welcome, but from what is set out below you will appreciate that the Congregation considers that such a meeting, in order to be truly productive, ought to follow upon certain steps which should no longer be deferred. On the other hand, the feasibility of more ample contacts between the Congregation and the employees or collaborators of the Commission is doubtful, since such contacts not only lack a formal basis but are characterized by the very disadvantages to which it would seem that Your Excellency has had cause to advert since your letter was written. In addition, while it will be important to communicate the contents of this present letter to the relevant Conferences of Bishops, it seems best for a variety of reasons to contact Your Excellency directly concerning the important matters to be treated here, leaving to you the necessary contacts and measures towards a practical implementation.

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The gravity of the present situation of the Mixed Commission has been underscored in relation to its work on a translation of the editio typica altera of the Rites of Ordination of the Bishop, of Priests, and of Deacons, though its implications extend far beyond this single text. The Congregation notes that complications in the functioning of the Mixed Commission have now given Your Excellency cause to intervene in an exceptional way. Specifically, it has been reported that one draft translation was substituted at short notice by another, and that after the second had been approved by the Bishops of the Commission, that text was then set aside by Your Excellency in favor of a third text. There are also reports that misunderstandings may persist in the interpretation of the response of this Dicastery given on 20 September 1997, including the supposition that the list of observations included with that response was exhaustive. In fact, as the response stated, that list was merely illustrative, and it was not intended to be subject to discussion or refutation by translation personnel of the Mixed Commission. Furthermore, from the reports which the Congregation has received, it would appear that Your Excellency, in the face of such difficulties, has commendably seized the appropriate moment to raise the issue of a revision of the Statutes of the Mixed Commission.

The context for such an initiative would seem to be characterized by two significant issues in particular, namely the role of the “executive secretary” and the membership of the “advisory committee”, specifically involving certain liberties taken by the former and the question of how to ensure more satisfactory membership of the latter. The Congregation would concur with Your Excellency that these are points of particular concern, and wishes not only to pledge its support for a revision encompassing these issues, but also to underscore others which should be included in the same process.

In seeking to fulfill its mandate of ensuring that translations accurately and fully convey the content of the original texts, the Dicastery for a number of years now has communicated its concerns regarding an undue autonomy that has been observed in the translations prepared by the Mixed Commission. These observations have often been countered with unfounded charges of personal grudges and hostility to the Commission. In reality, the lack of response to the Holy See’s stated concerns on the part of those who have effectively had in hand the work of the Commission has often hampered and delayed the Congregation’s work to a notable degree, also occasioning a disproportionate commitment of its resources.

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In their contacts with the Dicastery, not a few Bishops have expressed concerns not only about the quality of the translations produced by the Mixed Commission but also about procedures which they felt limited their own ability to obtain corrections and improvements that they considered necessary for the accuracy of the texts. Increasingly, the Mixed Commission’s texts paraphrase or redraft the editiones typicae, while revising the rubrics so extensively as to impede effective recourse to the Latin text for the sake of clarification. In fact, the texts and the rubrics have sometimes been altered in substance without prior authorization from the Holy See, and indeed without even a request for such authorization. These concerns of the Congregation have recently been reinforced and have found authoritative confirmation in the instructions received by the Congregation for the preparation of new norms of liturgical translation.

For some years now, this Dicastery has also expressed its misgivings about the use of the Commission’s resources for activities not concerned with translation, including the composition of original texts, which in fact are not the province of the Mixed Commission. A further concern is the fact that the Mixed Commission’s authorization for the use of its texts, such as the so called ICEL Psalter, appears to have resulted in their being employed in ways which directly contravene liturgical law. As regards texts of the original composition in the most recently revised English translation of the Roman Missal, reports have reached the Congregation of alleged plans to allow their publication for use by nonCatholic ecclesial communities even prior to the granting of any recognitio for their use in the Roman Liturgy. This very fact has then been presented to the Congregation by some quarters as an argument that the recognitio should be granted so as not to impede an ecumenical initiative. The freedom of the Holy See to act in matters pertaining to its competence cannot be encumbered in such a way.

An adequate response of the Mixed Commission to the Congregation’s expression of concern about a projected second volume of liturgical documentation that departs from the model of the Enchiridion Documentorum Instaurationis Liturgicae (cf. Prot. P. 451/98/L, 11 January 1999), has not been forthcoming. The Congregation is obliged to note also that a translation of the Caeremoniale Episcoporum was published by the Mixed Commission without the necessary episcopal approbation and without the recognitio of this Congregation.

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All of these factors appear to converge towards the conclusion that the Mixed Commission in its present form is not in a position to render to the Bishops, to the Holy See and to the English speaking faithful an adequate level of service, nor to produce with appropriate promptness the texts that will be needed in the foreseeable future, including acceptable translations of the book De Exorcismis et supplicarionibus quibusdam, the Martyrologium Romanum, and any additional material that the Holy See may decide to insert in the Missale Romanum. It is inconceivable that English speaking clergy and faithful should have to wait a decade or more for such translations.

Problems in the English language translations of the liturgical texts assume a particular gravity in proportion to the prominence of the English language in the international community. Even while it remains essential that liturgical translations be made directly from the original texts into the various modern vernacular languages, the impact which the English language translation is likely to exert on certain other versions is an observed and unavoidable fact, which in turn must be said to place a significant responsibility on those charged with the translations into English. Moreover, the experience of the years since the Council, as well as a deepening theological reflection, have brought clearly into focus the fact that the constitution, the regulation and the oversight of an international commission for liturgical translation are rightfully the competence of the Holy See to a degree which is not always sufficiently reflected in the Statutes which govern such bodies.

It is therefore clear that a thoroughgoing reform and revitalization of the Mixed Commission is needed to ensure greater efficacy and to furnish a more sound procedural basis for the Commission’s functioning, while also supplying for any lacunae in its present juridical status. Indeed, apart from the difficulties which have arisen, such a revision of the Statutes would appear to be overdue in light of the subsequent publication of the 1983 Codex Iuris Canonici and the 1988 Apostolic Letter Vicesimus Quintus Annus, in which his Holiness Pope John Paul II requested a reevaluation of the working of Commissions for the translation of liturgical texts (cf. AAS 81 [1989] 916, n. 20).

For these reasons, this Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, exercising the mandate assigned to it

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in the Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus, article 62, regarding the superintendence of “those matters which pertain to the Holy See in relation to the moderation and promotion of the Sacred Liturgy,” hereby directs the Statutes of the “International Commission on English in the Liturgy” be revised thoroughly and without delay. The revised Statutes, drafted in active consultation with this Dicastery and incorporating within the Constitution of the renewed Commission the considerations attached to this letter, are to be submitted within six months for the approval of the 11 Member Conferences of Bishops. After they will have received the assent of at least a relative majority (i.e., six) of the Conferences the vote within each Conference being by two thirds majority the approved Statutes will then be subject to the recognitio of this Congregation.

Your Excellency, this Congregation is well aware of the difficulties of your own position as Chairman, and certainly has no intention of causing any distress to you personally. It wishes rather to encourage you to carry forward with determination your recent initiatives, and pledges you every assistance in bringing this complex and longstanding question to a rapid and definitive resolution. The Congregation itself remains ready to provide any assistance which would be helpful.

I would be most appreciative if Your Excellency would keep the Congregation informed of all developments, including the forwarding of a copy of any circular letters sent to the Bishop Members of the Commission, to whom Your Excellency is free to communicate a copy of this present letter.

In expressing once again to Your Excellency its deep gratitude for your undertaking the necessary intervention to set the Commission on a new and altogether more efficacious course, I remain,

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Jorge A. Cardinal Medina Estèvez


Prot. No. 2322/99/L, 26 October 1999.