|ROME, 30 AUG. 2005 (ZENIT)
Answered by Father Edward McNamara,
professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.
Q: No. 59 of the instruction "Redemptionis Sacramentum" states that the
reprobated practice by which priests, deacons or the faithful alter or
vary at will the text of the sacred liturgy that they are charged to
pronounce, must cease. Does this also apply in the Spanish language
where in the United States the sacramentary has "Vosotros" but the
Mexican culture has made most of the priests and deacons use "Ustedes"?
Are we obliged to use the actual words in the sacramentary in this case?
G.O., Pendleton, Oregon
A: About 15 years ago, at the instigation of the Holy See, all
Spanish-language bishops' conferences agreed on a common text for the
Mass. Before this agreement there were many differences in the
translations including different versions of the Our Father. The
lectionary for the readings remains proper to each national or regional
In this missal the greetings retain the more familiar "vosotros" form
prevalent in Spain instead of the more formal "ustedes" common in Latin
In fact, except for some remnants in Argentina and Chile, the "vosotros"
form practically disappeared in both spoken and written American Spanish
several generations ago. Only in Spain does the plural "vosotros" with
its attendant concordances form part of daily usage.
This distinction has no current equivalent in English as both
expressions translate as "you" plural. However, the familiar "tu" or "vos"
and "vosotros" are roughly equivalent to the archaic English "thee" and
"ye" which were familiar forms whereas "you," at least in the singular,
was slightly more formal.
Because this form is no longer current speech the Mexican bishops
requested and obtained permission to substitute "ustedes" for "vosotros"
in the greetings. For the sake of unity, however, they retained the
older form in the verb constructions of Christ's words at the
consecration narrative "Take and eat/drink."
Not all Latin American bishops' conferences adopted the same criteria as
the Mexican. Some have preferred to maintain the more archaic form in
the liturgy considering that it creates no particular barrier to
understanding and is well accepted by the faithful.
Even in Mexico, the faithful readily adapt to visiting priests used to
the "vosotros" form as it does not imply any variation with respect to
the responses and interventions of the assembly.
Now, approved exceptions or adaptations to liturgical norms are usually
territorial in nature; that is, they apply only in the ecclesiastical
territory for which they were approved. They may be applied outside this
territory only when Mass is celebrated in a country which has no
approved missal in the same language.
Since not all Spanish-speaking Americans are of Mexican extraction, the
United States uses the common Spanish Language Missal which, in
principle, should be used as it is, conserving the "vosotros" form.
Nevertheless, since this change has been approved in Mexico, and is
mostly a question of grammar with no theological implications, it is not
quite in the same league as the arbitrary changes made to approved texts
to which "Redemptionis Sacramentum" is referring.
I think that the bishop could permit this usage if the use of "vosotros"
were to cause particular difficulties in the pastoral attention of
Likewise in those greetings where the rubrics allow the celebrant to
substitute similar words for those printed in the missal then there is
no reason why he may not substitute "ustedes" for "vosotros" in Masses
for Mexicans. ZE05083020
* * *
Follow-up: "Ustedes" vs. "Vosotros" [09-13-2005]
As a response to our consideration of the use of "vosotros"/"ustedes" in
Spanish-language Masses (see Aug. 30) a religious from Portland, Oregon,
recommended that I insist more on the importance of retaining the less
common "vosotros" form in the Institution narrative of the Consecration.
She is quite correct, as there is a real danger, especially for priests
striving to learn Spanish, of changing the verb forms and thus using an
illicit formula for the consecration that is unknown in any part of the
Such a consecration formula would be valid but certainly illicit and
should never be used.
Regarding the possibility of changing the greetings formulas, a reader
from Northcote, a suburb of Melbourne, Australia, pointed out an
oversight on my part with respect to a change in the new Latin missal.
"Do the rubrics in the 2002 Roman Missal allow changes to be made to the
"The 1975 GIRM 11 (Documents on the Liturgy 1401) had: 'It is also up to
the priest in the exercise of his office of presiding over the assembly
to pronounce the instructions and words of introduction and conclusion
that are provided in the rites themselves. By their very nature these
introductions do not need to be expressed verbatim in the form in which
they are given in the Missal; at least in certain cases it will be
advisable to adapt them somewhat to the concrete situation of the
"This has been replaced by 2002 GIRM 31: 'It is also up to the priest in
the exercise of his office of presiding over the assembly to pronounce
the instructions that are provided in the rites themselves. Where it is
indicated in the rubrics, the celebrant is permitted to adapt to some
extent these remarks ...'
"So the provision for the celebrant to change the words of introduction
and conclusion has been removed.
"The Order of Mass in the 2002 Roman Missal gives no indication of
permission to change the words of greeting, simply having '2. Deinde
sacerdos, manus extendens, populam salutat, dicens: Gratia Domini nostri
... vel ...' (Missale Romanum, 2002, page 503). [The Latin text roughly
translates "Following this, the priest, with hands extended, greets the
people saying: The Grace of our Lord ... or ...]"
Actually the same rubric is also found in the former Latin missal, so
there is really no change with respect to the rubrics.
My oversight chiefly consisted in confusing the rubrics of the greeting
formula with those of the introduction to the penitential rite. In the
latter case the present English rubric states that the celebrant may
introduce the penitential rite "using these or similar words," an
expression absent from both Latin and Spanish missals.
The present Spanish missal, however, does offer a wider choice of
introductory formulas, some of them adapted to the liturgical seasons,
than either the Latin or English missals.
All the same, I believe our attentive reader has caught a clear change
in the norms manifesting the legislator's desire to limit the use of
free adaptations to those areas where the rubrics specifically foresee
I would observe that, for all practical purposes, this change will not
come into force until the eventual publication of the new translations
of the entire missal in English and other languages. ZE05091322