The Art of Pastoral Translation, Part One

On November 7, 2008, then-Bishop Allen H. Vigneron of Oakland addressed the Gateway Liturgical Conference in St. Louis, Missouri on the subject of Liturgiam authenticam and the art of pastoral translation. With the Bishop's permission, the Secretariat of Divine Worship offers this address as a helpful catechesis on the Roman Missal, Third Edition.



About Liturgiam Authenticam and This Conference

Principles from Liturgiam Authenticam

  1. "Global" / "Over-Arching" Principles
  2. Principles About Vocabulary
  3. Principles About Syntax or How Words Are Linked

Some Results from Applying the Principles of Liturgiam Authenticam

Natural Insights (Wisdom) that Vindicate These Principles and Their Results

Supernatural Insights (Wisdom) that Vindicate These Principles and Their Results

Implementation: Counsel from our Examination



Dear Brothers and Sisters – All Beloved as Members in the one Body of Christ Our High-Priest:

I want to express my gratitude for being invited to participate in this year's Gateway Liturgical Conference. As part of my prefatory remarks, I ask your indulgence in letting me recall a memory from my adolescence which I bring to this Conference. It was in August 1964, that I, together with several other high school seminarians, traveled by car from Detroit to St. Louis in order to come to Kiel Auditorium for the National Liturgical Week. Among the memories that remain fresh after all those years are these: 1) Being present as Msgr. Martin Hellriegal led the holy Sacrifice of the Mass with a dignity that gave no place for pretence; 2) Hearing the great hymn "For All the Saints" for the first time, and immediately intuiting that it was an expression of music beyond time; and 3) Being caught up in the noble simplicity of that liturgical rite so that I was confident I was experiencing the visible disclosure of the invisible Mystery.

That first visit of mine to a Liturgical Conference here in St. Louis came some months before the Second Vatican Council was concluded. From those days until now – over forty years later – all of us in the Church have been caught up in the work the Council set for us of renewing the liturgical life of the People of God. With the sort of naïveté that is only proper to adolescence, I did not suspect that over four full decades later we would still be at; and least of all did I suspect that I would be here in St. Louis again, focused on this same noble aim – only now addressing you as a member of the College of Bishops.

About Liturgiam Authenticam and This Conference

The particular focus for our session today is the implementation of Liturgiam authenticam (hereafter LA), a document from the Congregation for Divine Worship "on the use of vernacular languages in the publication of the books of the Roman Liturgy."1 Issued on 28 March 2001, LA identifies itself as the Fifth Instruction "For the Right Implementation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council." And so, you see, it clearly comes to us from the Holy See as an important guidepost about a significant matter: about how to translate the texts of the Roman Liturgy in the vernacular, so that we can achieve the renewal of the liturgy called for by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council.2

In an address Cardinal Avery Dulles made to the November 2001 meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Cardinal offered what I consider to be a very insightful analysis of the basic end or finality of LA. He said that "the central purpose of the Instruction [was] to assure the integral transmission of Revelation through the translation of scriptural and liturgical texts." He pointed out that LA seeks to achieve this aim "by its dual emphasis on literal accuracy and on language conducive to reverence."3

By insisting on accuracy in translating liturgical texts, LA safeguards, as Cardinal Dulles notes, the content of faith, fides quae creditur; by stressing the sacral mode of expression in the language of liturgical translations – what we could call the "reverential diction" of the translations – LA seeks to safeguard the attitude of faith, fides qua creditur.4 By both of these moves, according to the Instruction, the vernacular texts of the liturgy will advance rather than hinder the basic end or telos of the liturgy: that is, the communication of the divine realities made present to us through God's acts of revelation and appropriated by our acts of faith.

The text of the Instruction sets forth clearly for us the two objectives it strives for in order to achieve its goal of providing the faithful with accurate and reverent vernacular liturgical texts. These two objectives are:

First: "To set forth anew, and in the light of the maturing of experience, the principles of translation to be followed in future translation" (LA, 7).

And second: "To consider anew the true notion of liturgical translation in order that the translations of the Sacred Liturgy into the vernacular" meet these two criteria:
One, these vernacular texts will "stand secure as the authentic voice of the Church of God"; and two, they will be part of "a new era of liturgical renewal which is consonant with the qualities and traditions of particular Churches, but which safeguards also the faith and the unity of the whole Church of God" (LA, 7).5

The effort of the bishops of the English-speaking nations of the world to translate the Roman Missal according to the directives of the Instruction Liturgiam authenticam is well underway. We are within sight of having the results of that work; in fact there is a reasonable hope that within the next few years we will have a complete translation of the third edition of the Roman Missal as it has been revised in accordance with the decrees of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council.

It is incumbent on us to be ready to take wholehearted possession of this translation when it is completed and becomes the text we pray at the Holy Eucharist. My hope today is that I will be able to offer some insights which will make that wholehearted possession easier. We are, of course, ready to accept the new translation on the basis of the authority of the Church with which she gives it to us. However, a thoughtful and comprehending obedience, to the degree that such is possible, most often makes for a more effective obedience. The goal for my address is to strengthen your comprehension of the translation process directed by LA. That deepened understanding will, I believe, facilitate your use of the new translation, and thus spare your prayer from being encumbered by moments of puzzlement and perplexity.

This aim is fairly modest, but is very important, nonetheless. We know from our forty-some years of implementing the Council that mandating things to change, no matter how great is the improvement, without explaining why we change, dissipates a great deal of the good energy that could be more usefully expended in the work before us. I hope my remarks will make it easier for you to pray the newly translated text with fewer distractions, with greater ease, and make it easier for you to help others to do the same. That will go a long way to ensuring that in our praying these texts we achieve that full, conscious and active or actual participation which the Second Vatican Council called for (see Sacrosanctum concilium, 14).

In what follows, my remarks will fall into two main parts.

First, I want to report to you about the actual work of translation that has been going forward on the basis of LA, specifically the translation of the Roman Missal – a task that is well on its way to completion. The earlier half of this report section will be an overview of the principles which LA says should govern the work of translating the Missal and other liturgical texts; the latter half of this report will examine a few salient examples of what results from applying LA's principles.

Second, in the subsequent part of my remarks I want to offer some insights that underscore the soundness of the principles of LA and, as a consequence, the soundness of the of the fruit of their application. Here I will move from reporting what's going on to offering my estimate of the worth of the effort, so that we can more readily accept the results.

Once all of that is done, I will conclude with some words of advice about how to cooperate with the Holy Father by integrating the new translation of the Missal into our celebrations of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.


  1. The text of LA is available on the Vatican website.
  2. It is worthy of note that LA was prepared at the express directive of Pope John Paul II, given in his letter to the Cardinal Secretary of State, dated 1 February 1997. LA was, the Instruction informs us, approved, confirmed and ordered to be published by the Pope. This information, from the concluding paragraph of LA makes it unambiguously clear that the Instruction is an act of the Holy Father's leadership of the Church and not the intervention of his co-workers appropriating an authority that is proper to him as Bishop of Rome and the Vicar of St. Peter.
  3. Reported in Adoremus Bulletin 7.9 (December-January 2002), p. 6.
  4. See ibid.
  5. I would leave in obscurity some of the circumstances that surround our efforts for the renewal of liturgical translations through the implementation of LA, were I not to acknowledge that not all voices agree that LA advances the agenda of the Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum concilium. According to those voices the Instruction impedes rather than assists the Council's aims.
    Today is not the occasion for examining this claim or for offering the evidence which refutes it. For today I am going to have to be content with the argument from authority: that LA was, as noted above in footnote 2, prepared according to the mandate of His Holiness Pope John Paul II and that after his review of the document he ordered it to be published and to be implemented. Based on our confidence in the wise pastoral judgment of Pope John Paul II, we can go forward serenely to accept that the results of the implementation of LA represent the mind of the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council.