"Ustedes" vs. "Vosotros"

And More on Altar Linens

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ROME, AUG. 30, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.

Q: No. 59 of the instruction «Redemptionis Sacramentum» states that the reprobated practice by which priests, deacons or the faithful alter or vary at will the text of the sacred liturgy that they are charged to pronounce, must cease. Does this also apply in the Spanish language where in the United States the sacramentary has «Vosotros» but the Mexican culture has made most of the priests and deacons use «Ustedes»? Are we obliged to use the actual words in the sacramentary in this case? — G.O., Pendleton, Oregon

A: About 15 years ago, at the instigation of the Holy See, all Spanish-language bishops’ conferences agreed on a common text for the Mass. Before this agreement there were many differences in the translations including different versions of the Our Father. The lectionary for the readings remains proper to each national or regional episcopal conference.

In this missal the greetings retain the more familiar «vosotros» form prevalent in Spain instead of the more formal «ustedes» common in Latin America.

In fact, except for some remnants in Argentina and Chile, the «vosotros» form practically disappeared in both spoken and written American Spanish several generations ago. Only in Spain does the plural «vosotros» with its attendant concordances form part of daily usage.

This distinction has no current equivalent in English as both expressions translate as «you» plural. However, the familiar «tu» or «vos» and «vosotros» are roughly equivalent to the archaic English «thee» and «ye» which were familiar forms whereas «you,» at least in the singular, was slightly more formal.

Because this form is no longer current speech the Mexican bishops requested and obtained permission to substitute «ustedes» for «vosotros» in the greetings. For the sake of unity, however, they retained the older form in the verb constructions of Christ’s words at the consecration narrative «Take and eat/drink.»

Not all Latin American bishops’ conferences adopted the same criteria as the Mexican. Some have preferred to maintain the more archaic form in the liturgy considering that it creates no particular barrier to understanding and is well accepted by the faithful.

Even in Mexico, the faithful readily adapt to visiting priests used to the «vosotros» form as it does not imply any variation with respect to the responses and interventions of the assembly.

Now, approved exceptions or adaptations to liturgical norms are usually territorial in nature; that is, they apply only in the ecclesiastical territory for which they were approved. They may be applied outside this territory only when Mass is celebrated in a country which has no approved missal in the same language.

Since not all Spanish-speaking Americans are of Mexican extraction, the United States uses the common Spanish Language Missal which, in principle, should be used as it is, conserving the «vosotros» form.

Nevertheless, since this change has been approved in Mexico, and is mostly a question of grammar with no theological implications, it is not quite in the same league as the arbitrary changes made to approved texts to which «Redemptionis Sacramentum» is referring.

I think that the bishop could permit this usage if the use of «vosotros» were to cause particular difficulties in the pastoral attention of Mexican faithful.

Likewise in those greetings where the rubrics allow the celebrant to substitute similar words for those printed in the missal then there is no reason why he may not substitute «ustedes» for «vosotros» in Masses for Mexicans.

* * *

Follow-up: Plexiglass Covering on Altar

Several questions arose regarding our commentaries on altar linens (see Aug. 16). An Indiana reader asked about the proper use and design of the altar linens.

The principle involved is formulated in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), No. 351: «Every effort should be made to ensure that even as regards objects of lesser importance the canons of art be appropriately taken into account and that noble simplicity come together with elegance.»

That said, there is little more in recent norms regarding the design, size and materials of these cloths. The constant use of the word «linen» in the norms indicates that it is the most appropriate material and that even if other quality fabrics are used they should share the same qualities as linen and should be white in color.

The corporal, which should always be used for Mass, is square in shape and is customarily folded into nine sections and thus stored flat. It is often stiffened with starch so as to open more readily and keep its shape longer.

There are no specified dimensions and it can come in several (reasonable) sizes, according to the number of vessels to be placed upon it. Some authors recommend that it be left unadorned although in many places a cross is worked into the center of the side near the celebrant or at the center of the square.

In these latter cases the corporal should be folded in such a way that the nobler side of the decoration is that upon which the sacred vessels will be placed.

The purificator is rectangular in shape and usually folded three times lengthwise. It may be adorned but not so much as to impede its function as a practical towel for purifying the sacred vessels. If not made of linen it should be of another white absorbent fabric. Its size may vary slightly depending on functionality, but 12 to 17 inches (31 to 43 centimeters) is a fairly good average.

The towels for the washing of hands should be practical, absorbent and sufficiently ample so as to allow this rite to be more than a mere finger dip. At the same time they should be clearly reserved for liturgical use and not have a domestic appearance.

Another reader, a deacon from Birmingham, England, inquired more specifically about the use and placement of the corporal.

He states: «Regarding the use of the corporal: you stated that, if the burse is not used, the corporal should be placed on the chalice pall for removal after Mass. But what if there is no chalice pall either, as is correct for most parishes? In the past, in clearing the altar after the Eucharistic liturgy, I have folded the corporal (carefully) and placed it on the credence table. There it remains until the next celebration or until it requires washing. Conversely, if the parish priest is to celebrate the next Mass alone, I have left the corporal exactly where it is as most priests of my acquaintance prefer not to ‘mess around’ with the corporal — incorrectly, in my humble opinion. But what is then the correct liturgical practice? Your quote from ‘Redemptionis Sacramentum’ does not appear to rule this out.»

Although it is true that the pall is not obligatory, its function is above all to protect the contents of the chalice from dust and insects. It proves its usefulness almost everywhere during the summer months and always adds a touch of elegance to the chalice.

If the pall is not used the folded corporal can still be easily placed on top of the chalice for the next Mass although it may also be placed folded on the credence as you suggest.

It should not normally be left upon the altar, as the rite for the preparation of gifts (GIRM, 73) specifically foresees its unfolding, to wit: «First, the altar, the Lord’s table, which is the center of the whole Liturgy of the Eucharist, is prepared by placing on it the corporal, purificator, Missal, and chalice (unless the chalice is prepared at the credence table).»

This task is usually entrusted to the deacon or acolyte. But if the priest celebrates alone with no ministers present it falls upon him to reverently open the corporal.

A related
question comes from an Oregon reader: «I’ve just read your comments about the altar linens and want to be very sure that I understand. We have a young parish priest who, contrary to the practice of our pastor, does not place the small chalices, to be used for the congregation, on the corporal for the consecration of the wine. I have always thought that what is to be consecrated must be on the corporal, and now am not at all sure about that.»

You are correct in assuming that the species to be consecrated must always be placed upon a corporal, and indeed, except during the distribution of Communion, the Sacred Species must always be placed upon a corporal.

As a sample I will quote just two texts of the GIRM but could cite many more. GIRM No. 142 describes the presentation of the chalice:

«[T]he priest stands at the side of the altar and pours wine and a little water into the chalice, saying quietly, ‘Per huius aquae’ (By the mystery of this water). He returns to the middle of the altar, takes the chalice with both hands, raises it a little, and says quietly, ‘Benedictus es, Domine’ (Blessed are you, Lord). Then he places the chalice on the corporal and covers it with a pall, as appropriate.»

GIRM No. 118 considers the situation where, due to the number of vessels, purification is deferred until after Mass: «[I]t is also permitted, especially if there are several vessels to be purified, to leave them suitably covered on a corporal, either at the altar or at the credence table, and to purify them immediately after Mass following the dismissal of the people.»

In short, the liturgical norms always foresee the use of a corporal for the placement of the Sacred Species.

* * *

Readers may send questions to news@zenit.org. 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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