During this Year of Grace, we have been invited to revisit the constitutions of the Second Vatican Council, which began fifty years ago this year. The first of these constitutions was on the liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium.
One of the most significant liturgical reforms of the past fifty years has been the translation of the liturgical texts into vernacular languages. When addressing the matter of language, Sacrosanctum Concilium began by stating that Latin was to be preserved. It did go on, however to say that use of vernacular languages could be extended, as it could be of advantage to the people.
It then stated that territorial authorities (such as the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference in our case) were to determine whether other languages were to be used and to what extent, which would then be confirmed by the Vatican. Bishops’ conferences would also be responsible for approving the translations that were to be used.
The matter of language highlights the fact that the Constitution laid a foundation for the liturgical reforms that were to come, but that later work and documents would become necessary to “nut out the details”. Already in the past half a century, the Vatican has released two differing instructions on liturgical translations. In some cases, additional requirements have been added to what Sacrosanctum Concilium proposed. For example, English translations for the liturgy have to be approved not only by the local bishops’ conference, but reviewed by Vatican committee prior to approval by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.