ROME, 11 SEPT. 2007 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father
Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum
Q: Our parish has one Mass in Spanish. None of the priests and deacons
is a native Hispanic, but the priests make every effort on their part to
say Mass in Spanish. They are improving. I am one of the deacons and am
fluent in Spanish, having lived in Spanish-speaking countries for
several years. The pastor has his English homilies translated into
Spanish. I read the Gospel in Spanish and sit down while a native
Spanish-speaking layman reads the homily. Another priest has his English
homily translated also, but he reads it himself. Is it permitted for the
layperson to read the homily?
R.M., Huntersville, North Carolina
A: In first place, one must duly recognize the zeal and effort made by
many English-speaking priests in the United States to meet the pastoral
needs of the growing Spanish-speaking population.
Learning a new language is never easy, and doing so when one is already
advanced in life is yet more daunting.
That said, I do not believe that having a layperson read out a
translation of a homily is a viable solution. It is likely to cause
confusion and leave the impression that the layperson is actually giving
the homily itself, a practice which has been repeatedly prohibited.
Also, a homily is more that just a text that is read; it is closer to a
conversation, a personal communication in which the ordained minister
explains God's word and exhorts the faithful to live in accordance with
what they have heard. Therefore the personal element is very relevant to
the efficacy of the communication itself.
With this in mind the best solution is always that the priest read his
prepared text. My experience with Spanish speakers is that they are
almost universally grateful and edified when the minister makes the
effort to speak in their language. They are also very tolerant and
forgiving of errors and slip-ups.
While having the deacon read the text avoids the problem of confusing
ministerial roles, it is still an imperfect solution from the personal
communicative point of view.
Since the deacon may also give the homily, it would probably be better
that the pastor entrust him with this task until he acquires a
sufficient dominion of the language. Of course, the pastor could
indicate to the deacon the principal ideas that he would like the deacon
to develop in the homily he delivers.
Another, less perfect, but legitimate, solution would be to deliver the
homily in English while someone else, either the deacon or a layperson,
either simultaneously translates the homily or reads a prepared text
afterward. This kind of solution is more common when the Mass is
celebrated by a foreign ecclesiastical dignitary who preaches in a
language unknown to most of the hearers.
There might, however, be some extraordinary cases when the homily may be
simply read by someone else due to some impediment on the part of the
celebrant. This was the case in the final years of Pope John Paul II
when his ability to speak clearly was increasingly impaired by illness.
There are many useful pastoral resources available on the Internet for
priests and deacons. One of these, ePriest, has a special section
offering Spanish-language homilies in text and audio.
Follow-up: Spanish Homilies Read by a Layman [9-25-2007]
Several attentive readers offered input on our Sept. 11 commentary
regarding a layman reading a priest's homily in Spanish.
Some readers illustrated the huge difficulties faced by many priests
seeking to accommodate the influx of Spanish-speaking parishioners
throughout the continental United States, including in some unexpected
One reader pointed out these difficulties are often compounded by the
fact that not all immigrants speak the same variety of Spanish. And
there are even rural immigrants from countries such as Peru and Mexico
for whom Spanish is not their first language.
In such cases, even standard Spanish can leave them perplexed in a
similar way as happens to English-speaking Americans visiting England
who discover the truth behind Churchill's quip that they are two
countries separated by the same language.
In my earlier reply I had supposed that the solution of simultaneous
translation was rather uncommon. An experienced reader, however,
informed me that this is often the preferred and best solution in many
He wrote: "Simultaneous translation maintains the original
'communicative' rapport of the pastor with his flock. My recent
experience of this situation in the USA is that the level of English
among the [Spanish-speaking] listeners is extremely diverse. Some will
understand 100%, others 80%, 50%, etc. Those who have no knowledge of
English have the live translation, and they can also perceive the
personality of the priest in his intonations, facial expressions and
gestures. It establishes a much more personal relationship than simply
listening to a written text read to them.
"I have seen priests do this in an engaging way that manages to create a
very lively rapport with the congregation, even without the homilists'
speaking a single word of their language. In the situation described,
there are surely people willing to do the simultaneous translation and,
in the end, all will benefit greatly from it."
If an immediate simultaneous translation is not feasible, but it is
possible for someone to translate the text of the homily ahead of time,
then I believe that the best solution is that the priest preach the
homily in English and after each paragraph or principal point some other
person read the translation, preferably using a different microphone.
While I know of no official document forbidding it, I still maintain
that having a layperson read the whole homily in lieu of the priest is
not a proper solution. The nature of the homily as a communication of
the ordained minister should be preserved as far as possible.
Likewise it is necessary to avoid even the appearance of any confusion
of ministerial roles or of a layperson delivering the homily. Most
regular parishioners are capable of distinguishing between a layperson
reading and preaching the homily. But in the highly mobile U.S. society,
visitors are frequent, and it is best to avoid all possibility of
It is also true that some input from the lay reader is inevitable as
nobody can read a text without putting himself into it. Words that are
read are never merely someone else's communication.