Concelebrating in an Unfamiliar Language

And More on the Sign of Peace

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ROME, SEPT. 11, 2012 ( Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: In my ministry as a priest, it happens sometimes that I am invited to concelebrate Masses, by communities of foreigners, but I do not speak their language. In a liturgical text I read that it is not permitted to concelebrate if we cannot speak the language. But I see other priests who say with a low voice the Eucharistic Prayer in their own language. Is it right to do like that? Or is it better in that case just to attend the Mass and to not concelebrate? — J.L., Paris

A: The liturgical text our reader refers to is the instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum, promulgated in 2004. Regarding the language of the celebration this instruction says:

«112. Mass is celebrated either in Latin or in another language, provided that liturgical texts are used which have been approved according to the norm of law. Except in the case of celebrations of the Mass that are scheduled by the ecclesiastical authorities to take place in the language of the people, Priests are always and everywhere permitted to celebrate Mass in Latin.

«113. When Mass is concelebrated by several Priests, a language known both to all the concelebrating Priests and to the gathered people should be used in the recitation of the Eucharist Prayer. Where it happens that some of the Priests who are present do not know the language of the celebration and therefore are not capable of pronouncing the parts of the Eucharistic Prayer proper to them, they should not concelebrate, but instead should attend the celebration in choral dress in accordance with the norms.»

Therefore, the norm is quite clear that if one is incapable of pronouncing the parts that all priests have to pronounce, then a priest should not concelebrate.

It is no longer a legitimate option to recite the words of consecration in one’s own language while the other celebrants recite it in another. However, although illicit, this action would not invalidate the Mass for this concelebrant.

This is because this norm is ordered more toward promoting a reverent and correct celebration of the sacred mysteries which require the highest degree of respect and veneration.

It is worth noting that the accent is on pronunciation, not on having a command of the language. For example, a priest who has a rudimentary knowledge of a language that is sufficient to be able to pronounce all the common prayers would be able to concelebrate, even though he would not be able to celebrate Mass in that language on his own or even hazard a solo proclamation of a part of the Eucharistic Prayer.

I would also say that in some cases it might be legitimate for a bishop or priest to read from a phonetic script so that his pronunciation in an unfamiliar language is correct. This presumes that he has the ability to read from such a text and is fully aware of which Eucharistic Prayer he is using and where he is at each specific moment.

A practical solution for occasions when priests gather together in international settings is to use Latin for the Eucharistic Prayer. It is unfortunately true that some priests have little knowledge of Latin; but this is a problem to be solved, not a situation to be accepted. There are encouraging signs that many younger and future priests will be able to at least celebrate in the language of the Church.

The above norms are applicable to the Roman rite. The rules for concelebrating are different for each Eastern Catholic Church. The general rule is that a Latin-rite priest may be admitted as a concelebrant by the local Eastern bishop (Canon 701 of the Eastern Code). In this case it is preferable that he wear the vestments of his own rite.

The rest would depend on what is required of concelebrants in the particular rite. If concelebrating priests are required to recite part of the anaphora (Eucharistic Prayer) and the liturgy is celebrated in a totally unknown language, then it would be better for the Latin-rite priest to apply the abovementioned criteria of Redemptionis Sacramentum and refrain from concelebrating.

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Follow-up: Kissing at the Sign of Peace

In the wake of our Aug. 21 piece on kissing at the sign of peace, a reader asked, «I see many people exchanging the sign of peace well into the communion rite. Is this acceptable?»

It must be remembered that the «sign of peace,» however commendable, is an optional rite which may be omitted for a good reason.

As we saw in the original article, the Holy Father has frequently suggested that its importance not be exaggerated and that it should be a sober gesture made to those nearby and without leaving one’s pew.

If carried out correctly, the rite should last between 30 and 45 seconds after which the greetings should cease and everybody should participate in singing or reciting the «Lamb of God» so as to prepare for communion.

Our reader also inquired if other invocations may be added to those of the «Lamb of God,» such as «Prince of Peace,» «Jesus,» etc.

Here the general rule should be followed. The «Lamb of God» may be repeated more times if necessary for the fraction rite to be carried out but always finishing with «grant us peace.»

There is no provision and no authorization to add any other invocations. Such additions would require the approval of the bishops’ conference and of the Holy See.

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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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