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English and the Tridentine Mass

Only Readings Can Be in the Vernacular

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Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and sacramental theology and director of the Sacerdos Institute at the Regina Apostolorum university.

 Q: Can a priest celebrate the Tridentine liturgy or Tridentine Mass in English? — S.F., Cuncolim, Goa, India

 A: The simple answer to this question is no. The extraordinary form of the Latin rite is celebrated using the Latin language with which it is deeply tied.

 However, it is possible that the Scripture readings of said liturgy may be celebrated using the vernacular.

 This is particularly true of the possibility of proclaiming the readings during Mass in vernacular. The motu proprio Summorum Pontificum grants this specifically:

 “Art. 6. In Masses with a congregation celebrated according to the Missal of Blessed John XXIII, the readings may be proclaimed also in the vernacular, using editions approved by the Apostolic See.”

 This was further clarified by the instruction Universae Ecclesiae issued by the Pontifical Commission Ecclesiae Dei that states:

 “26. As foreseen by article 6 of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, the readings of the Holy Mass of the Missal of 1962 can be proclaimed either solely in the Latin language, or in Latin followed by the vernacular or, in Low Masses, solely in the vernacular.”

 There may, however, be some other rites that could be celebrated in the local language. The letter issued motu proprio says:

 “Art. 9, §1 The parish priest, after careful consideration, can also grant permission to use the older ritual in the administration of the sacraments of Baptism, Marriage, Penance, and Anointing of the Sick, if advantageous for the good of souls.”

 The instruction Universae Ecclesiae specifies the following:

 «35. The use of the Pontificale Romanum, the Rituale Romanum, as well as the Caeremoniale Episcoporum in effect in 1962, is permitted, in keeping with n. 28 of this Instruction, and always respecting n. 31 of the same Instruction.»

 No. 28 of Universae Ecclesiae states:

 «Furthermore, by virtue of its character of special law, within its own area, the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum derogates from those provisions of law, connected with the sacred Rites, promulgated from 1962 onwards and incompatible with the rubrics of the liturgical books in effect in 1962.»

 Finally, No. 31 refers to the special case of those institutes that habitually follow the extraordinary form.

 «Only in Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life which are under the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, and in those which use the liturgical books of the forma extraordinaria, is the use of the Pontificale Romanum of 1962 for the conferral of minor and major orders permitted.»

 With respect to the question of the use of the local language, we can say that 1962 is the cut-off date. I would suppose that any concessions to use the extraordinary form in the vernacular made before that date may still be used unless they were restricted by the legislator to use in mission territories.

 It so happens that some countries had been granted the partial use of vernacular texts for the celebration of some sacraments, such as baptism and marriage. Permission was also granted for a wide selection of blessings when bishops produced their own versions of the Roman Ritual of 1952, which was the last typical edition before the conciliar reform.

 For example, the United States issued a Collectio Rituum, (collection of rites) in 1961 which contained some vernacular texts. It is probable that these English texts can be legitimately used in the United States.

 Another case was England and Wales. Again, in 1961 the bishops issued the book Excerpta e rituali Romano: pro dioecesibus Angliæ et Cambriæ edita.

 This book contained the various rites that would most commonly be celebrated in a parish. It was part English, part Latin. The UK bishops had obtained permission to have parts of some of the rituals in English, but the Holy See stipulated some parts of each of the rites still had to be in Latin.

 The same rule would apply for English texts approved for use in other countries before 1962 as well as for other languages.

 There is some controversy regarding the use of a 1964 Latin-English translation of the Rituale Romanum edited by Father Philip Weller. Although this book is very close to the 1952 Latin Rituale Romanum, it grants a far wider use for the vernacular than was permitted prior to 1962. In some cases, such as in the rite of matrimony and baptism of adults, it introduces elements inspired by the Vatican Council. As Father Weller states in the introduction:

 “This complete edition of the Roman Ritual is in accord with the latest ‘Editio Typica,’ dated January 25, 1952. However, since that time a number of significant additions have been made and revisions put into effect by the Congregation of Sacred Rites; they have been published in ‘Acta Apostolicae Sedis’ as well as in ‘Ephemerides Liturgicae.’ All of these changes have been taken into account in the present version.

 “Moreover, immediately before going to press we were able to incorporate the changes introduced by the Liturgy Commission’s ‘Instruction’ of September 26, 1964, made public on October 16, 1964, thus bringing the work fully up to date.”

 Therefore, it is plainly not exactly the 1952 book even though it was widely used. Since No. 28 of Universae Ecclesiae abrogates later laws that contradict those in force before 1962, it would appear that Father Weller’s book may only be used in those parts that correspond to the 1961 permissions to use the vernacular.

 As I wrote in a column posted on November 2, 2010, I think that the invocative blessings contained in Father Weller’s version could still be legitimately used as blessings, although not strictly pertaining to the extraordinary form. This would not apply to most constitutive blessings:

 “A constitutive blessing is one in which the person or object is separated from normal use and constituted as a sacred person or object. These blessings are reserved to an ordained minister: to a bishop (blessing of an abbot, consecration of a Church) or to a priest (blessing of a chalice). The blessing of devotional objects such as rosaries, medals, and small crosses can be done by priest or deacon.

 “An invocative blessing is one that implores God’s favor on the person or object blessed but does not change their nature nor reserve them for a sacred function. These are the vast majority of blessings.

 “Even if there is no general permission for the use of the1964 translation, the fact that the present Book of Blessings offers a wide degree of flexibility to the celebrant would allow for the use of some prayers from the older ritual, especially with respect to invocative blessings and the simpler constitutive blessings. This would not be possible for the more important constitutive blessings such as those reserved to the bishop or the blessings of objects for the liturgy or public veneration.”

 We must remember that for many priests and faithful this was the book in use until the publication of the English version of the new Book of Blessings in 1989. It was thus for all practical purposes the pre-conciliar text.

 It is also very useful as a study edition, which was its original intention, and a useful tool pastoral tool for explaining the Latin rites to the faithful.

 * * *

 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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Fr. Edward McNamara

Padre Edward McNamara, L.C., è professore di Teologia e direttore spirituale

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