QUAERITUR: TLM readings in the vernacular and UE 26

From a reader:

I know this is not the same as an official dubium to the PCED, but your view would be appreciated. (I ask these questions because of the situations at two different parishes in the Archdiocese of ___ which offer the Mass according to the 1962 Missal, but which have some unusual practices with regard to the readings.)

In view of Universae Ecclesiae n. 26 regarding use of the vernacular in the Mass readings, what do you think about:

1. Would it be permissible in a sung Mass (or a low Mass) for the priest to read the epistle in Latin quietly while a layman acting as commentator read it out loud in the vernacular simultaneously? [Reid’s reworking of Fortescue/O’Connell suggested that they could be sung in the vernacular in the Missa Cantata.  UE seems to say no. “26. As foreseen by article 6 of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, the readings of the Holy Mass of the Missal of 1962 can be proclaimed either solely in the Latin language, or in Latin followed by the vernacular or, in Low Masses, solely in the vernacular.” So, in the Solemn Mass and the Sung Mass, no singing of readings in the vernacular. Simultaneous in the Low Mass?  I don’t think so. UE 26 says “veracula sequente versione”.]
2. Would it be permissible in a solemn Mass for the subdeacon and deacon to sing the epistle and gospel directly in the vernacular, without proclaiming them in Latin? [No.]
3. If the gospel is sung in Latin, then afterwards repeated in the vernacular, should there be the same full liturgical ceremonies (i.e.
“The Lord be with you,” the small signs of the cross, the acolytes holding candles at the lectern where the vernacular reading is done, etc.)? [No.]
Thank you for your consideration of these matters. Your well-informed views could really help to clear up questions about how things should be done.

It is human nature, isn’t it.  As soon as people see that there is some leeway or an option, they want to know how far it can be pushed.  Options make sense for special circumstances.  Otherwise, let’s admit it … they are dangerous for liturgical worship.  They rapidly become the norm and drive the real norm into desuetude.   Tricky business, in a time when we have had liturgical nutty pretty much everywhere for decades.

I am not picking on you, dear questioner.  But I can hear some people now.  The gears in their heads are making that whhhhrrrrrr  POP whhhhrrrrr sound as they think stuff up.

“But Father! But Father! Our priest is able to do hand stands.  Would be it possible for the priest, at a Low Mass, to read right side up when in Latin and upside down in the vernacular?  Would it? And how about when he sings?  Also, if at the end of Mass you are not supposed the close the book until the final prayer is completed, should the priest – if he can stand on his hands but just for a little while – stay on his hands even though he wobbles or can he get right side up again before the conclusion is complete?”

I think the best solution is just to do everything in Latin, right side up, and read the readings in English from the ambo …. or not, and get on with it.

Keep it simple.  Sure some variations are permitted, and for good reason.  But while we are in an important time of revival of this treasure, is it wise to tinker?

The Holy Father said that there would be some “mutual enrichment” along the way.  Fine.  Maybe there will be.

But maybe for now we ought to just use the Extraordinary Form as is for a good long time before exploring all sorts of options.  Yes, I think it was the intent of the Council Fathers to have the readings in the vernacular and the rest of the Mass still in Latin. At this point, however, our liturgical worship is pretty screwed up.  We need some time to get used to our Extraordinary Form again.  Fewer variations might be the better way to go.  And Latin is the language of worship in the Latin Church.

I can foresee a situation in which a priest is from some other country than that of the place were he is going to say the TLM, and he doesn’t know the local tongue well enough to read the readings in the vernacular in anything like language.  Then there would be some commentator.  Say I, for example, went to Hong Kong and said Mass for the Chinese congregation whose English may be pretty dodgy.  I don’t have Cantonese at all or Mandarin anywhere near well enough to read or preach.  Have the commentator if it is really necessary to have the readings in the vernacular.   A little common sense helps solve some of these problems.

Also, in many places people have hand missals or sheets they can read.  Is it really necessary to have the readings in the vernacular all the time? It seems to me that by now the cat is out of the bag when it comes to knowing that the Extraordinary Form is in Latin.

Options only sparingly.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "But Father! But Father!", "How To..." - Practical Notes, ASK FATHER Question Box, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000, SUMMORUM PONTIFICUM, Universae Ecclesiae and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. shane says:

    My preference would for the TLM readings to be in Latin because

    a) it’s a symbolic reminder that the Gospel is given to us by Mother Church. This was why, before the 20th century, when indults were given for the vernacular in the liturgy, it was usually stipulated that the readings would still be done in Latin.

    b) the pastoral reasons adduced for vernacular readings in pre-conciliar times are now obselete and irrelevant. All but a very small proportion of liturgies are celebrated today in the vernacular; anyone who wants the readings in the tongue understanded of the people can easily go to a Novus Ordo. People attending a TLM are likely to be going out of their way to escape the Novus Ordo and I think most would prefer as little unnecessary ‘reminders’ of the NO as possible.

    c) most approved scriptural translations such as the New American Bible and the Jersualem Bible are hideous.

  2. Andy Milam says:

    Fr. Z,

    “It is human nature, isn’t. As soon as people see that there is some leeway or an option, they want to know how far it can be pushed. Options make sense for special circumstances. Otherwise, let’s admit it … they are dangerous for liturgical worship. They rapidly become the norm and drive the real norm into desuetude. Tricky business, in a time when we have had liturgical nutty pretty much everywhere for decades.”

    You remember what the Monsingor used to say about this sort of stuff…

    Nemo dat non quod habet.

    We don’t have the right to change the liturgical action…Not one word. Not one action. We don’t have the right. One cannot give what one does not have….and that is the right to change the liturgical action.

  3. Henry Edwards says:

    “I believe in a Sung Mass both Epistle and Gospel could be sung in the vernacular.”

    Not, it seems to me, according to the following paragraph of UE. (Is the English translation correct?)

    26. As foreseen by article 6 of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, the readings of the Holy Mass of the Missal of 1962 can be proclaimed either solely in the Latin language, or in Latin followed by the vernacular or, in Low Masses, solely in the vernacular.

  4. Henry: Indeed. However, I was going by a paragraph in Reid’s reworking of Fortescue/O’Connell which suggested that they could be in the vernacular for a Missa Cantata. But I take note of your comment and will add something to the top entry for clarity’s sake.

  5. kjmacarthur says:

    I don’t see any problem with the way they handled the readings in the Middle Ages, as attested by many surviving homilies and sermons. The priest read the Mass readings liturgically and then, at the beginning of the homily, he usually said something like this: “Today we read from the Gospel of St. John ‘In principio erat verbum, etc.’, which is to say ‘In the beginning was the word…'”

  6. THREEHEARTS says:

    Holy Father had to insert this paragraph 26 because of Paul VITH. He wrote letter to all the Bishops about the same time as Smoke entering the Church and No more changes the faithful are confused. He recommended the Latin mass should at least be said monthly in all parishes and the priest must say the body of the mass in the vernacular whilst the faithful chanted the responses in Latin. The Mass was Missa del’angelis

  7. In the sacred Liturgy, we speak to God, hence one reason for the use of an arcane language. In the readings from the Scriptures, God speaks to us, hence some merit to readings in the vernacular alone. I realize that such is not permitted (Everybody get that? I just acknowledged it is not permitted!), but I wish that it were, for the reasons stated. I do not see this rationale being applied anywhere else in the Traditional Mass itself.

  8. Emilio III says:

    It seems to me that what Fr Fessio calls “The Mass of Vatican II” (NO in Latin, ad orientem, Roman Canon, with readings in the vernacular) would suit many people who want to “modernize” the EF. If he could only get the USCCB to approve his Ignatius (RSV) Lectionary, we’d have a proper English Ordinary Form Mass.

  9. Nathan says:

    I may be betraying my “fly-in-amber” liturgical preferences here, but what is to be gained from saying the Epistle and Gospel in the vernacular at the altar when the general practice is to (rubrically) say them in Latin at the altar then in the vernacular at the pulpit? Is it the time involved (usually 2-5 minutes by my estimation) or the idea that this is the one thing where the OF may, without too much “reform,” affect the TLM? Are either really good reasons to change?

  10. Henry Edwards says:

    man with black hat,

    I’ll try to look up a quote, but I recall reading in a seemingly excellent traditional source something to the effect that we’re speaking to God in the readings also. But, in His own words–those of the Epistle and Gospel–which are better than any of our own words we can use. Thus, it was argued that the purpose of the readings at Mass is liturgical rather than didactic.

  11. skull kid says:

    Options should be safe, legal, and rare.


  12. Elizabeth D says:

    I sent Fr Z a recent quaeritor asking how would that work if they had the readings at Low Mass only in the vernacular, would it be read at the altar perhaps from a sheet of paper, or at the ambo and from what book or what translation, I think unsurprisingly it sounds like Fr Z would rather that option was just avoided. It might be a reasonable idea at an EF lunch hour daily Mass, if there is such a thing somewhere. But if there’s a real vagueness about what vernacular text of the readings to use, or even about where to proclaim them since they would not be read from the Missale Romanum as it is now, then doesn’t it seem right that priests should hesitate to take this option unless it gets clearer.

  13. jcr says:

    Although it might seem made up, (1) is not: I’ve heard more than once of this being done (priest reads Latin in a low voice while a layman reads the vernacular translation). I never thought it was a good solution, but it’s not totally alien to the liturgy. There are other situations in which the priest is reading something in a low voice while the congregation is listening to someone else. This is presumably where various priests got the idea. However, there is the difference that in the other situations, the “someone else” is singing, and doing it in Latin (e.g., the introit, the Sanctus, the Gospel of the Passion [formerly]).

    (1) seems contrary to the mind of UE, although it doesn’t seem to me to be explicitly prohibited. Then again, to take an extreme example, filling the church with balloons doesn’t seem to be explicitly prohibited either, but any priest who does it needs to have a long talk with the bishop. (2) is clearly contrary to UE. (3) is contrary to the teaching of Fortescue/O’Connell/Reid.

  14. James Joseph says:

    My aunt tells me that the lesson and gospel were done when she was young in her Boston, Massachusetts parish. She is 70 years old. It should be no suprise considering that I’ve seen a photo with CITH from that era, too.

  15. James Joseph says:

    It doesn’t matter a rat’s patootie if anyone can understand the Lessons and the Gospel. What about the deaf and the hard-of-hearing? Mayhap, we should do one of those projector and big-screen get-ups you see in the Paulist chapels in 16 different languages (should you happen to be in a small American city)

  16. James Joseph says:

    I thought readings in the vernacular read ad orentium (sp?) at the high-altar with a raredos by a priest, deacon, or an ‘also known as sub-deacon’ was a thing proper to the Ordinary Form…. oh chicken-biscuits! I was thinking of Father Fessio. (How I love his rebellious conservatism)

  17. muckemdanno says:

    Options make sense for special circumstances. Otherwise, let’s admit it … they are dangerous for liturgical worship.

    What does this tell us about the Novus Ordo missal in and of itself?

  18. HyacinthClare says:

    Skull kid, AMEN.

  19. ruadhri says:

    UE specifically permits the readings to be in the vernacular at Low Masses, but leaves it at that. Until and unless there is any further clarification (why can’t things be clarified the first time?), it would seem they should be read at the altar as there is no provision for an ambo in the EF, but obviously in a voice that can be heard. As for the translation, it should be from the same translation as is currently approved for the country in question. I note that an Australian bishop has said that a revision of the English lectionary is contemplated, and that it will NOT be using the Jerusalem Bible. Surely, if the Pope’s ultimate aim is a common liturgy, with the best elements of both forms, having the readings in the vernacular is a step in this direction. But it is clear that everyone would benefit from documents like UE being spelt out in more detail. It would save a lot of blog space.

  20. “Thus, it was argued that the purpose of the readings at Mass is liturgical rather than didactic.”


    I’m familiar with this contention, and I take issue with the term “rather than.” From the beginning, the Church used the reading of Scripture at Mass to teach. Common sense alone would suggest this. They became “liturgical” acts by virtue of their taking place in the liturgy.

  21. Henry Edwards says:


    Sure, the reading of Holy Scripture at Mass can be either didactic or liturgical or both–or neither, as when it is proclaimed to a see of 30-yard stares, no one remembering after the offertory anything that was read just minutes previously.

    But in the recent past, most liturgists have tended to see it as didactic rather than liturgical, whereas the pendulum may need to swing back to the point that it’s both, with at least some appreciation for the liturgical role of scripture–meaning by a liturgical act not merely one that takes place in the liturgy, but one that contributes to the liturgical purposes of adoration, contrition, thanksgiving, and supplication.

  22. MichaelJ says:

    If the readings at Mass are didactic and not liturgical, why is the Gospel moved to the “north”(in the EF, at least) before it is proclaimed?

  23. MichaelJ:

    It was symbolic of preaching to the heathens to the north — you know, the Visigoths and the like — which would suggest it being both didactic and liturgical. (It CAN be both, after all.)

  24. MichaelJ says:

    That is my understanding at well. I must have mis-read your earler comments which suggested that you believe that the purpose of the readings at Mass was only didactic.

  25. Henry Edwards says:

    MichaelJ and Manwithblackhat:

    Of course, readings at Mass can have both didactic and liturgical purposes.

    However, I would suggest that this particular example–the symbolism of reading the Gospel to the north, thereby evoking the remembrance of (admittedly didactic) preaching to the heathens–may be an example par excellence of a purely liturgical action. Its purpose being to evoke the remembrance rather that to teach anything in itself.

  26. Carlos Palad says:

    The practice of quietly reciting the Latin epistle during a Missa Cantata while someone else reads its vernacular translation aloud seems to have pre-Vatican II origins, and is very much in evidence in this famed video of a Missa Cantata from St. Nicholas of Chardonnet in Paris (the SSPX church of that city):


    Go to 17:20

    A variant practice also apparently dating from pre-Conciliar times is that of singing the Gradual while the epistle is recited in a low voice. The late Msgr. Charles Moss does it this way in this Mass (go to 16:15):


    I was once informed that St. John Cantius in Chicago sometimes does things this way. Can anybody here tell me if that is the truth, or if it’s just another baseless story?

Comments are closed.