Spanish Translations for U.S.

Author: Father Edward McNamara


Spanish Translations for U.S.

ROME, 21 DEC. 2010 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university. 

Q: Are there official Spanish translations of the prayers and readings of Mass that should be used in the United States? Or can I use the version of the country from which the majority of my parishioners come (in my case, Mexico)? Also, I am not able to "roll my r's," and the word derramada is in the words of consecration. Does this affect the validity of the sacrament? — J.L., Minneapolis, Minnesota 

A: As far as I have been able to ascertain, at the moment there is no definitive Spanish missal prescribed for use in the United States. It would appear that it is the intention of the U.S. bishops to eventually promulgate a Spanish version for the United States, but this is still several years away. 

Since most Spanish speakers in the United States are of Mexican extraction, the U.S. bishops are awaiting the definitive approval of the Mexican bishops' translation of the third Latin edition of the Roman Missal. This conference is still a couple of years from completion of the new translation which will then require the definitive approval from the Holy See. 

When this work is finished, the American bishops will have to examine the Mexican version in order to make the necessary adaptations for use in the United States. Such adaptations would probably include those already approved for the new English translation and would also provide Spanish versions of Masses celebrated only in the U.S., such as Thanksgiving Day and memorials for saints such as Elizabeth Ann Seton. Some celebrations will also have a different liturgical category; for example, Our Lady of Guadalupe is a solemnity in Mexico but a feast in the United States. 

When this "American Spanish Missal" is complete it will return to Rome for final approval and then, in all probability, will be the only Spanish-language version permitted for use in the United States. This process will probably take about three to five years. 

Some other Spanish-speaking conferences, such as the Colombian, have already received approval from the Holy See and have published a new missal. The Colombian missal has been substantially adopted by the bishops' conferences of some neighboring countries that have fewer resources for undertaking this complex task on their own. The bishops of these countries have, however, made some linguistic choices which differ from those of the Mexican bishops. 

For example, while all the conferences have opted to change the liturgical greetings of "you" plural from the vosotros form used only in Spain to ustedes used throughout Latin America, the Colombians have opted to keep this grammatical form in the consecration narrative, conserving the terms: tomad, comed, bebed. The Mexican bishops have preferred to adapt to the current language of the people with the forms: tomen, comen and beben. 

Both options have good reasons behind them. The older grammatical form is more technically precise and leaves no doubt that the expression "Take this all (todos) of you and eat it" addresses those present. The modern spoken-language version has no ambiguities for native speakers, but it is a less precise grammatical form that could hypothetically refer to a generic "all" that is not limited to those present and could even be extended to all humanity. 

In the meantime, it makes sense to use the current Mexican missal for Mass in Spanish although the use of missals currently approved by other bishops' conferences is not excluded. At the same time, the celebrant must defer to the liturgical calendar approved for the United States and to all other questions of particular law such as the prescribed moments for kneeling. 

Apart from the missal, some proper Spanish rituals have been issued by the U.S. bishops. The bishops' website offers information on a Spanish version of the rites for Holy Communion outside of Mass and of Marriage; guidelines for 15th-birthday blessings; and some other celebrations. 

Finally, an "r" is an "r" even if not rolled. It does not affect the validity of the consecration. 

I well remember my own struggles with the Spanish "r," linguistic torment for many English speakers, from when I first studied Spanish in 1980. I finally managed it by trying to imitate the sound of a Harley-Davidson, a practice advisedly carried out in solitude and behind closed doors. 

* * *

Follow-up: Spanish Translations for U.S. [1-18-2011]

Related to our comments on which Spanish translations may be used in the United States (see Dec. 21), several readers had asked if bilingual Masses were permitted and in what circumstances.

We had dealt with this subject on July 12, 2005, and would basically confirm what we wrote on that occasion.

We would only add that there might be more occasions justifying bilingual Masses than those mentioned. For example, a regular bilingual Mass might be possible in places where the scarcity of clergy allows for only one Mass in a community that is more or less equally divided between speakers of two languages.

The bishop, as moderator of the liturgy for the diocese, should be asked before scheduling such a regular celebration. If necessary, he may also issue norms for his diocese regarding this topic.

It is also worthwhile recalling that Latin may always be used in whole or in part. It may be very useful in uniting a community in singing the common parts such as the Gloria, Sanctus, Pater, Agnus Dei and even some of the responses and acclamations.

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