Spanish Translations for U.S.

And More on Masses on Sundays of Advent

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ROME, DEC. 21, 2010 ( Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university. 

Q: Are there official Spanish translations of the prayers and readings of Mass that should be used in the United States? Or can I use the version of the country from which the majority of my parishioners come (in my case, Mexico)? Also, I am not able to «roll my r’s,» and the word derramada is in the words of consecration. Does this affect the validity of the sacrament? — J.L., Minneapolis, Minnesota 

A: As far as I have been able to ascertain, at the moment there is no definitive Spanish missal prescribed for use in the United States. It would appear that it is the intention of the U.S. bishops to eventually promulgate a Spanish version for the United States, but this is still several years away. 

Since most Spanish speakers in the United States are of Mexican extraction, the U.S. bishops are awaiting the definitive approval of the Mexican bishops’ translation of the third Latin edition of the Roman Missal. This conference is still a couple of years from completion of the new translation which will then require the definitive approval from the Holy See. 

When this work is finished, the American bishops will have to examine the Mexican version in order to make the necessary adaptations for use in the United States. Such adaptations would probably include those already approved for the new English translation and would also provide Spanish versions of Masses celebrated only in the U.S., such as Thanksgiving Day and memorials for saints such as Elizabeth Ann Seton. Some celebrations will also have a different liturgical category; for example, Our Lady of Guadalupe is a solemnity in Mexico but a feast in the United States. 

When this «American Spanish Missal» is complete it will return to Rome for final approval and then, in all probability, will be the only Spanish-language version permitted for use in the United States. This process will probably take about three to five years. 

Some other Spanish-speaking conferences, such as the Colombian, have already received approval from the Holy See and have published a new missal. The Colombian missal has been substantially adopted by the bishops’ conferences of some neighboring countries that have fewer resources for undertaking this complex task on their own. The bishops of these countries have, however, made some linguistic choices which differ from those of the Mexican bishops. 

For example, while all the conferences have opted to change the liturgical greetings of «you» plural from the vosotros form used only in Spain to ustedes used throughout Latin America, the Colombians have opted to keep this grammatical form in the consecration narrative, conserving the terms: tomad, comed, bebed. The Mexican bishops have preferred to adapt to the current language of the people with the forms: tomen, comen and beben. 

Both options have good reasons behind them. The older grammatical form is more technically precise and leaves no doubt that the expression «Take this all (todos) of you and eat it» addresses those present. The modern spoken-language version has no ambiguities for native speakers, but it is a less precise grammatical form that could hypothetically refer to a generic «all» that is not limited to those present and could even be extended to all humanity. 

In the meantime, it makes sense to use the current Mexican missal for Mass in Spanish although the use of missals currently approved by other bishops’ conferences is not excluded. At the same time, the celebrant must defer to the liturgical calendar approved for the United States and to all other questions of particular law such as the prescribed moments for kneeling. 

Apart from the missal, some proper Spanish rituals have been issued by the U.S. bishops. The bishops’ website offers information on a Spanish version of the rites for Holy Communion outside of Mass and of Marriage; guidelines for 15th-birthday blessings; and some other celebrations. 

Finally, an «r» is an «r» even if not rolled. It does not affect the validity of the consecration. 

I well remember my own struggles with the Spanish «r,» linguistic torment for many English speakers, from when I first studied Spanish in 1980. I finally managed it by trying to imitate the sound of a Harley-Davidson, a practice advisedly carried out in solitude and behind closed doors. 

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Follow-up: Requiem Masses on Sundays of Advent 

An Ohio reader commented: «On Dec. 7, you wrote an article about requiem Masses on Sundays of Advent. In the context of the precedence of the Sundays of Advent over other celebrations, you stated, ‘Only solemnities which are also holy days of obligation are higher on the liturgical table than these Sundays. Thus, the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception in Spain and Italy takes precedence over the Sunday of Advent.’ The Table of Liturgical Days lists Sundays of Advent above solemnities of the Lord and the Blessed Virgin, without saying anything about holy days of obligation. In the U.S., we transfer the celebration of the Immaculate Conception to Dec. 9 when Dec. 8 falls on a Sunday. Please comment.» 

Our correspondent is correct regarding the universal table of liturgical days. I based my comments on a table issued by the Diocese of Rome, which distributes the days in another manner according to what kinds of celebrations are possible. 

In this table, holy days of obligation are rated higher than Sundays of Advent. This is probably because, in Italy, the remaining holy days of obligation, such as the Epiphany, All Saints’ and the Assumption, happily coincide with national civil bank holidays. Thus the practice has developed that the feast is never transferred even when it coincides with a Sunday of Advent. 

Effectively, this situation might not prevail in other countries such as the United States, and the feasts are transferred according to the principles of the universal calendar. In the United States, bishops also frequently dispense the faithful from the obligation of assisting at Mass when these feasts are celebrated on a Monday. 

In other countries, exceptions are sometimes made when the date of a feast is deeply imbedded in national culture. For example, this year the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe coincided with the Third Sunday of Advent. Although it is neither a civil holiday nor a holy day of obligation in Mexico, it was celebrated on the Sunday. This is in virtue of a particular dispensation from the Holy See for the occasion. This dispensation is neither permanent nor automatic and must be requested, and granted, each time that the coincidence arises. 

Finally, I pray for a blessed and holy Christmas to all our readers. 

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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. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the great number of questions that arrive.

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