Ustedes vs. Vosotros

Author: Father Edward McNamara


Ustedes vs. Vosotros

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 episcopal conference.

In this missal the greetings retain the more familiar "vosotros" form prevalent in Spain instead of the more formal "ustedes" common in Latin America.

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Because this form is no longer current speech the Mexican bishops requested and obtained permission to substitute "ustedes" for "vosotros" in the greetings.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 Mexican faithful.

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

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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 Spanish-speaking world.

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. He writes:

"Do the rubrics in the 2002 Roman Missal allow changes to be made to the greetings?

"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 community.'

"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 them.

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

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