And More on Devotions During Mass
ROME, SEPT. 11, 2007 (Zenit.org).- 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: Novenas and Devotions During Mass
In the wake of our column on mixing devotions and Mass (Aug. 28) a priest from Conway Springs, Kansas, asked for a clarification.
I had written: “[I]t is incorrect to mingle any devotional exercise such as a novena or non-liturgical litanies within the context of the Mass.” Our correspondent asked: “Could you clarify the difference between ‘non-liturgical litanies’ and ‘liturgical litanies’? Are the only ‘liturgical litanies’ those in the sacramentary (e.g., at the Easter Vigil or an ordination)? I was taught that certain litanies, such as of the Sacred Heart, were approved for use within a liturgy of the Church.”
By “liturgical litanies” I referred to the various litanies specifically found in the liturgical books for the celebration of Mass as well as other sacraments (such as baptism, ordination and anointing of the sick) and sacramentals, such as the crowning of an image of Our Lady.
These would be the only litanies used as a specific rite within Mass, although some other forms of prayer, such as the prayer of the faithful and the Kyrie, are also technically litanies.
As our correspondent says, there are other approved litanies that may be used in public worship, such as during exposition (if consonant with the aims of adoration) and other public devotions and novenas. The principal approved litanies are found in the Roman Ritual and are also listed in the Enchiridion of Indulgences (concession 22.2 partial indulgence).
The litanies (liturgical and devotional) thus universally approved are the litanies of the Holy Name, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Precious Blood, Blessed Virgin Mary (those of Loreto and the Queenship, which is used as part of the order of crowning an image), St. Joseph and All Saints.
Many other litanies have been approved either for private use of the faithful or in some cases for particular groups.
Among such litanies are the litany of Jesus Christ Priest and Victim, much beloved by Pope John Paul II, and the litany of Divine Mercy, both of which are often prayed in common. Others, usually prayed privately by individuals, include the litany of the Holy Spirit, of the Infant Jesus, of the Blessed Sacrament, of the Passion, and for the souls in purgatory.
The distinction between private and public use derives above all from the 1917 Code of Canon Law (Canon 1259.2). It forbade the public recitation of litanies that had not been approved by the Holy See. This prohibition included not only the public recitation of unapproved litanies by priests but extended to particular groups of the faithful who prayed in common without an ordained minister present.
This canon has not been retained in the present code. And while the law today is somewhat more flexible, it does not necessarily mean that all litanies formally approved for private use can now be publicly used.
There were and are good reasons for not multiplying the number of public litanies. Canon 839.2 of the 1983 Code directs the local ordinary to assure that “the prayers and pious and sacred exercises of the Christian people are fully in keeping with the norms of the Church.”