Cardinals Clash Over Interpretation of ‘Magnum Principium’

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by Stephen Wynne  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  October 17, 2017   

Cdls. Marx, Sarah at loggerheads over Vatican liturgical authority

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ROME (ChurchMilitant.com) - A pair of Vatican heavyweights are clashing over Magnum Principium.

Cardinals Reinhard Marx and Robert Sarah are in open disagreement over the impact Pope Francis' September motu proprio has on Vatican liturgical authority.


A raft of amendments to the Code of Canon Law, allowing local bishops greater freedom to develop and adapt their own liturgical translations, Magnum Principium transfers power away from Rome to local bishops' conferences.

Church liberals claim that it nullifies Pope St. John Paull II's 2001 instruction Liturgiam Authenticam, which demanded greater fidelity to the Latin original and authorized a more active, hands-on Vatican role in liturgical translation. Church liberals hail Magnum Principium for its net effect — decentralization.

Earlier this month, Cdl. Reinhard Marx, head of the German Bishops' Conference, told the press that Germany's prelates were "hugely relieved" by Francis' motu proprio.

"Rome is charged with the interpretation of dogmas," the Munich archbishop suggested but "not with questions of style. Now, thanks to Magnum Principium, episcopal conferences enjoy a much greater freedom."

Reportedly, German bishops have had particular "difficulties" working with Rome in order to get their own liturgical translations approved. Speculation abounds that Magnum Principium is partially owing to complaints by the German bishops.

Marx implied that in the wake of their new "freedom," the German Bishops' Conference intends to walk away from a new translation of the Mass that was more faithful to the original Latin text.

Liturgiam Authenticam, Marx said, is a "dead end."

But Cdl. Robert Sarah has a different perspective. He counters Marx, writing in reference to Liturgiam Authenticam, "There is no noticeable change, regarding the imposed standards and the result which must follow from them for each liturgical book."

Final authority over liturgy, Cdl. Sarah reminds Church radicals, continues to reside with the Vatican. Rome must approve all new translations. The Holy See retains this power and will continue to veto translations that are unfaithful to the original text.

The Congregation for Divine Worship, Cdl. Sarah clarified "is by no means a formality." It "presupposes and implies" a detailed Vatican review of all proposed liturgical translations. He explained that Magnum Principium is merely a means of making "collaboration ... between the Apostolic See and Episcopal Conferences easier and more fruitful."

A year before he was elected pope, Cdl. Joseph Ratzinger reflected on paragraph 1125 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, writing "as the Church prays so she believes. For this reason, no sacramental rite may be modified or manipulated at the will of the minister or the community. Even the supreme authority in the Church may not change the liturgy arbitrarily but only in the obedience of faith and with religious respect for the mystery of the liturgy."

Cdl. Ratzinger explained that the pope is bound to the truth of the liturgy and must use his authority to protect that truth:

The pope is not an absolute monarch whose will is law but is the guardian of the authentic Tradition and thereby the premier guarantor of obedience. He cannot do as he likes and is thereby able to oppose those people who for their part want to do what has come into their head. His rule is not that of arbitrary power but that of obedience in faith. That is why, with respect to the liturgy, he has the task of a gardener, not that of a technician who builds new machines and throws the old ones on the junk-pile.

But dissenters in the Church are paying little heed to exhortations like those of Cdl. Sarah and then-Cdl. Ratzinger. They strain to be released from Rome, even while remaining inside the Church.

"We are not a subsidiary of Rome," insists Cdl. Marx. "Each Episcopal Conference is responsible for the pastoral care in their culture."

Cardinal Blaise Cupich of Chicago hints at more. He praises Magnum Principium, saying, "It sends a signal, regarding the methodology that will be used in bringing about other reforms that are being considered by the Council of Cardinals."

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Stephen Wynne

Stephen Wynne is a staff writer for Church Militant.