Mass in 2 Languages

And More on the Penitential Rite

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ROME, JULY 12, 2005 ( Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.

Q: Is it appropriate/legal to have a Mass said in two languages at the same time and to hold hands at the Our Father? — M.C., Mocksville, North Carolina

A: I know of no universal norms or guidelines, but there might be some local norms. From what I have observed in several places I would hazard the following principles.

There should be a congruent reason for using more than one language, usually involving a special occasion drawing members of two or more nationalities for the celebration.

Such occasions could be, for example, ordinations of priests from several countries, an international congress, or the principal celebration of the patron in a parish which habitually has separate Masses in two or more languages.

In general, the mixture of languages is concentrated in the Liturgy of the Word, such as having a reading in one language, the psalm in another and the Gospel in the third. Generally it is best to sing or recite the psalm in the most commonly used tongue. The prayers of the faithful may also be in several idioms.

It is usually pastorally necessary to prepare a booklet for the entire assembly containing the texts to be read and a translation in the lingua franca of the community.

The Liturgy of the Eucharist, and especially the Eucharistic Prayer, should not mix languages as this would distract from the solemnity of the moment and is generally unprecedented as a practice. Usually either Latin or the most common tongue should be used.

With respect to the use of Latin, it is always allowable to use it in chanting the common of the Mass and this would not be considered as mixing languages in the sense used above.

Thus, even if the Mass were in English, nothing prevents the singing of the Kyrie, Gloria, Sequence, Creed, Sanctus, Pater Noster, Agnus Dei and final blessing in Latin.

Latin motets may also be used for the introit, psalm, alleluia, offertory and Communion hymns.

If Latin is not used, it is probably also better to use the general idiom for the Common of the Mass so as to ensure maximum participation. Perhaps, on especially solemn occasions, a choir could execute a musically elaborate version of one or two of these parts in the language of another representative group.

There would also be no difficulty, at least in principle, in using various languages for the usual hymns such as at the offertory and Communion, or singing in more than one language a hymn whose melody is shared by many. For example, at Christmas Midnight Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica the hymns «Adeste Fidelis» and «Silent Night» are often sung in several languages.

Regarding joining hands at the Our Father, we have addressed this question in our columns of Nov. 18 and Dec. 2, 2003.

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Follow-up: Penitential Rite

There were some related questions to our piece on the penitential rite (June 28) which I would like to tackle here.

A Maryland reader asked: «In one parish the Mass started with the opening blessing and then to the prayer. There was no penitential rite. … Later, I was told the penitential rite at that parish is silent, but there was no pause between the opening blessing and the prayer. Is it OK to have a silent penitential rite at the Mass?»

Another reader, from Pennsylvania, inquired: «Instead of using one of the options for the penitential rite in the Roman Missal, our pastor makes up his own words, usually about the Gospel or feast day. When we are supposed to be ‘calling to mind our sins,’ our pastor has us reflecting on the Gospel message, the saint of the day, etc. I approached our pastor about this and he said, ‘We have options and I am using options.'»

To repeat the norms of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, No. 51, quoted last time:

«Then the priest invites those present to take part in the Act of Penitence, which, after a brief pause for silence, the entire community carries out through a formula of general confession. The rite concludes with the priest’s absolution, which, however, lacks the efficacy of the Sacrament of Penance.

«On Sundays, especially in the Season of Easter, in place of the customary Act of Penitence, from time to time the blessing and sprinkling of water to recall Baptism may take place.»

In addition, GIRM No. 31 states: «It is also up to the priest, in the exercise of his office of presiding over the gathered assembly, to offer certain explanations that are foreseen in the rite itself. Where it is indicated in the rubrics, the celebrant is permitted to adapt them somewhat in order that they respond to the understanding of those participating. However, he should always take care to keep to the sense of the text given in the Missal and to express them succinctly. The presiding priest is also to direct the word of God and to impart the final blessing. In addition, he may give the faithful a very brief introduction to the Mass of the day (after the initial Greeting and before the Act of Penitence), to the Liturgy of the Word (before the readings), and to the Eucharistic Prayer (before the Preface), though never during the Eucharistic Prayer itself; he may also make concluding comments to the entire sacred action before the dismissal.»

The rubrics proper to this rite state: «After the introduction to the day’s Mass, the priest invites the people to recall their sins and to repent of them in silence. He may use these or similar words.»
<br> Although this last point is still a valid option, it is not clear if it will remain in the new English missal currently in translation as the Latin missal does not foresee the possibility of personal composition of the introduction to the rite of penitence.

Thus, there are several elements that can be seen.

First, silence certainly has a role in the rite of penitence. But nothing in the norms could indicate that the rite may be substituted by a period of silence while leaving aside any introduction, general public manifestation of penitence, and absolution.

On some occasions, for example when the Mass is joined to another rite such as the celebration of a sacrament or the Divine Office, the rubrics foresee the possible omission of the rite of penitence. This is not, however, the case indicated above.

With respect to the second case, the priest appears to be confusing the possibility of giving a brief introduction to the Mass of the day with the option of using «similar words» to introduce the rite of penitence.

He is perfectly free to do both, of course, but should maintain the distinction between both elements. As the above text of GIRM 31 says, in using alternative formulas, the priest «should always take care to keep to the sense of the text given in the Missal and to express them succinctly.»

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Readers may send questions to Please put the word «Liturgy» in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country.

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