|ROME, 12 JULY 2005 (ZENIT)
Answered by Father Edward McNamara,
professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.
Q: Is it appropriate/legal to have a Mass said in two languages at the
same time and to hold hands at the Our Father?
M.C., Mocksville, North Carolina
A: I know of no universal norms or guidelines, but there might be some
local norms. From what I have observed in several places I would hazard
the following principles.
There should be a congruent reason for using more than one language,
usually involving a special occasion drawing members of two or more
nationalities for the celebration.
Such occasions could be, for example, ordinations of priests from
several countries, an international congress, or the principal
celebration of the patron in a parish which habitually has separate
Masses in two or more languages.
In general, the mixture of languages is concentrated in the Liturgy of
the Word, such as having a reading in one language, the psalm in another
and the Gospel in the third. Generally it is best to sing or recite the
psalm in the most commonly used tongue. The prayers of the faithful may
also be in several idioms.
It is usually pastorally necessary to prepare a booklet for the entire
assembly containing the texts to be read and a translation in the lingua
franca of the community.
The Liturgy of the Eucharist, and especially the Eucharistic Prayer,
should not mix languages as this would distract from the solemnity of
the moment and is generally unprecedented as a practice. Usually either
Latin or the most common tongue should be used.
With respect to the use of Latin, it is always allowable to use it in
chanting the common of the Mass and this would not be considered as
mixing languages in the sense used above.
Thus, even if the Mass were in English, nothing prevents the singing of
the Kyrie, Gloria, Sequence, Creed, Sanctus, Pater Noster, Agnus Dei and
final blessing in Latin.
Latin motets may also be used for the introit, psalm, alleluia,
offertory and Communion hymns.
If Latin is not used, it is probably also better to use the general
idiom for the Common of the Mass so as to ensure maximum participation.
Perhaps, on especially solemn occasions, a choir could execute a
musically elaborate version of one or two of these parts in the language
of another representative group.
There would also be no difficulty, at least in principle, in using
various languages for the usual hymns such as at the offertory and
Communion, or singing in more than one language a hymn whose melody is
shared by many. For example, at Christmas Midnight Mass in St. Peter's
Basilica the hymns "Adeste Fidelis" and "Silent Night" are often sung in
Regarding joining hands at the Our Father, we have addressed this
question in our columns of Nov. 18 and Dec. 2, 2003. ZE05071222
* * *
Follow-up: Mass in 2 Languages [07-26-2005]
Similar to the question on multilingual Masses (see July 12) a Los
Angeles reader wrote:
"I would like to know, is it permissible to sing several different lines
of the Memorial Acclamation over and over. This is done in English and
Spanish; we have a bilingual Mass. It seems as though the choir sings
for example, 'Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again'
and adds lines in between in the other language. If they start it off
with Spanish, they intersperse with English. This is very distracting."
The earlier column mentioned that, in general, the mixing of languages
in Mass should be reserved for special occasions, limited above all to
the Liturgy of the Word. The Common prayers should be said or sung in
the prevalent tongue.
We did make an exception for an especially well-orchestrated choral
rendition of one of these prayers in another language. But the case
mentioned above is somewhat different as it mixes two languages in one
As the Book of Ecclesiastes says: "There is nothing new under the sun"
(1:9). The problem of choirs singing in several languages at once was
discussed at the Council of Trent and almost led to the prohibition of
polyphonic singing during Mass.
The Council Fathers stressed that in liturgy, the word always has
priority over the music and the function of liturgical music should
always serve to express the word to its greatest advantage.
Some Fathers feared that certain compositions, while beautiful to the
ear, encumbered and obscured the word, rendering it unintelligible in a
maze of harmonies and counterpoints.
In the end, the work of such great composers as Pierluigi da Palestrina
and Tomas Luis de Vitoria saved the day by finding a middle way between
intelligibility and musical expressiveness.
It is probable that the above-mentioned mix of Spanish and English in
the Memorial Acclamation does not exactly echo de Vitoria and
Palestrina. But the principles involved, that of the priority and
intelligibility of the word over the music, are the same as those faced
by the Tridentine Fathers.
Our reader comments "it is very distracting" and indeed it probably is,
because, in this case, the liturgical music is not fulfilling its
function of enhancing worship by expressing the word of the liturgy as
fully as possible.
Liturgical music should never distract but always strive to draw the
faithful deeper into the celebration of the mystery. ZE05072627