A ZENIT DAILY DISPATCH
Spanish Homilies Read by a Layman
ROME, 11 SEPT. 2007 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
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.
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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 regions.
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 parishes.
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 scandal.
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.
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