ASK FATHER: Many languages in one Mass

From a reader…


Is it possible to say Mass in many languages? In example part in English, part in French or better part in English and Canon in latin?

Yes, this is possible in the Ordinary Form.

Is it a good idea?

I don’t think so.

If there is a group of people (who all belong to the Latin Church) speaking different languages, why not use everyone’s language, Latin?  People can have their own translations.

(And, no, I am not fan of the multiple language papal Masses either.)


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Bthompson says:

    Personally, I generally despise bilingual (That is more than one vernacular language used) masses (partly because usually everyone actually has a shared language and the second language is often a form of pandering, but also be because we have Latin as a common tongue already).
    Anyway, my personal preference–when there are multiple vernacular tongues–is that I will say, proclaim, or permit to be said or proclaimed any given text only once, with all the words in order, and in a single language. Gloria in Spanish? OK! but ALL the words IN ORDER and SOLELY in Spanish. Collects in English? OK, but… you get the idea.
    As for Latin as our shared tongue, I would love if that were feasible in multilingual situations (read, had I the guts to be that bold… I am working on it, but I am not a pastor and so need to respect my brother priests’ policies for their parishes). I do use Latin in some circumstances (such as Holy Communion at bilingual Masses, since I cannot be sure merely by visuals what is any given person’s native language).

  2. WYMiriam says:

    It is so good! to hear that I’m not the only person who thinks multiple-language Masses aren’t a great idea. It’s confusing to visitors (not knowing which language is coming next) and highly distracting as one struggles to answer soto voce in one’s own language when all around are the sounds of a different language. (Well, okay, it’s highly distracting for me!)

    This is just one more reason to bring back the one language of the One Church.

  3. Phil_NL says:

    Well, even in the EF, people will often hear three languages: latin, greek (kyrie eleision) and the vernacular (homily, and as the readings are repeated). I don’t think anyone has ever been harmed by that.

    And it’s conceivable (though more likely in an OF Mass) to have hymns in yet another language – those where the days, when our choir used César Franck’s Psaume 150…

    So language isn’t really the issue, different elements are done in different languages. But I reckon the question is asked because someone thought it a good idea to switch languages between elements of Mass. Say, halfway through the canon. That’s just plain dopey in just about any setting, as it detracts a lot. Virtually no-one switches effortlessly from one language to another. And if it is done as a sacrificae to the idol of ‘inclusiveness’, then consider this: if it is so important people hear their own language, mixing them means everyone ‘misses’ part of Mass.

  4. oldconvert says:

    Erm, well, the Mass is already, strictly speaking, trilingual: mostly Latin, but the Kyrie and the word sabaoth are Greek, and alleluia and amen are from Hebrew.

    Just sayin’.

  5. Peter in Canberra says:

    ah, um, Kyrie eleison …

    However in terms of mixing vernacular languages, I did see this done somewhat tastefully in Montreal for the Corpus Christi procession with the hymns sung in alternating English and French.

  6. DFWShook says:

    Reminds me of a priest who complained that the Extraordinary Form wasn’t good because it was in Latin and no one understood Latin anymore. Then on Holy Days, esp. during Holy Week, he would have the one Mass of that day said with parts in in English and parts in Spanish.

  7. jeffc says:

    I’ve suggested celebrating the “big” celebrations (Holy Saturday, etc.) at my parish in Latin for quite some time, but to no avail. My parish offers 2 English masses every weekend, and 3 Spanish masses and liturgies like the Triduum are a “mess” with most of the Mass being said in English, some in Spanish. About half the readings in English, the rest in Spanish. The short homily delivered in both languages (the only thing I don’t mind). Personally, I find the practice more divisive than anything else. Outside of the Homily, why can’t everything be done in Latin on those occasions so that neither the English-speaking and Spanish-speaking communities feels left out, and celebrate together as Christ intended.

  8. JesusFreak84 says:

    In the Byzantine tradition, at least, some parts are to be read in as many languages as makes sense, (even the EF does this when the homily is begun by re-reading the readings in the vernacular.) For example, on Easter Sunday, the Gospel is the prologue of St. John’s Gospel (not exactly the same verses as the Last Gospel in the EF,) and it would be read, at a minimum, in Ukrainian and English, but my parish actually also adds Latin because 1) our Deacon was a Latin Rite Deacon for decades before changing Rites, and 2) a LOT of the parishioners ARE Latin Rite, myself included, or are married to a Latin Rite Catholic, so I think our Pastor, (who’s also the Dean of our Deanery in the Eparchy and ergo I don’t imagine would violate rubrics or the Eastern Rites’ Canon Law,) decided to add Latin as a “nod” to the fact that both “lungs,” to borrow from our late Holy Father, are very prominent in our parish, especially on one of the few days in the liturgical year that still lines up even in the OF.

  9. mharden says:

    Here in San Antonio, bilingual (English/Spanish) Masses are not unusual. I find it very distracting to hear both languages, it would almost seem preferable to just choose one or the other (or Latin, per Father Z). Just the acknowledgement of multiple languages inevitably shifts attention away from God to the congregation itself.

    However, at Fatima, the evening Rosary is prayed by whatever pilgrim groups are present, one decade each in their own language. When we were there we heard English, German, Vietnamese, Spanish and French. It felt like a wonderful affirmation of Marian universality in that context. Perhaps because everyone there still knew every word being prayed, and it was a devotion rather than a liturgy.

    Deacon Mark

  10. LeeF says:

    Since the situation in the US is often that of having both native Spanish and English folks in the pews, the better solution IMO is to choose/alternate one language for a particular Mass, and then the priest or deacon give a bilingual homily. Or if he can’t give a bilingual homily, pre-print it in both languages as a worship aid. They even have handy bilingual hand missals.

    To Father’s point about just using Latin in the OF, a priest once told me that in a situation in a bilingual parish where there was a dispute about which language a Mass should be in for a certain Mass time, the solution is indeed to just use Latin since that is (supposed to be) the Church’s main language.

    Fat chance of a Latin OF though, since most worship directors ignore the part of Vatican II about the congregation needing to continue to know the Mass propers in Latin at the very least, and since the new Sacramentary does not contain facing page Latin alongside the English. Latin in most parishes, if ever heard at all, is relegated to Lent and Advent. With so many bishops and priests disdaining Latin, and many seminaries requiring only a minimal requirement if any for prospective priests, it is no wonder the hopeless state of Latin in the OF.

    The situation of advocating two modern languages in a Mass while ignoring Latin is a total farce.

  11. tzabiega says:

    Anecdote from last Sunday: my family attended a special Mass celebrated by a wonderful and orthodox young Polish priest. It was mostly in Polish with some English elements for the benefit of the few non-Polish people present and the Agnus Dei in Latin. My 6 year old daughter asked me what language that was and then said: “wouldn’t it be better if the whole Mass was celebrated in that language, it was beautiful.” From the mouths of babes. Actually, my preference would be the Novus Ordo Mass in Latin, the way that it was intended to be with the reforms of Blessed Pope Paul VI, because my daughter has been to the Tridentine Mass before but there you rarely hear well what the priest is saying in Latin.

  12. little women says:

    Back in my younger years, I attended World Youth Day in Denver and experienced Masses using such a mix of languages, I couldn’t begin to tell you how many there were. I thought that was the STUPIDEST thing I had ever experienced in my life, and thus began my conversion to Latin. It seemed so obvious that the ONE language of the Church should have been used, even if, at home, we all used the vernacular.

  13. Thorfinn says:

    A little Greek is usually called for.

    I do like a nice bilingual homily in a mixed congregation. Generally, the homilist should give one sentence in the 2nd language for every three paragraphs in the primary language, either interspersed or at the end or beginning. That is enough to give people from the secondary language group a few pearls to meditate on. But I have only seen this very occasionally.

    The bilingual homily should be carefully considered for the TLM if we really expect the primarily Spanish-speaking half of the parish to attend in force. The extra work of distilling a 10 minute homily into a 30-second highlight should help the homilist focus that 10 minute ramble into a more succinct 5.

  14. pelerin says:

    A major British daily newspaper recently printed the following information which surprised me:

    ‘Under Victor I who became Pope in AD 189, the official language of the Church changed from Latin to Greek.’

    I could not resist sending them an email suggesting that it was actually the other way round! They duly replied that I was indeed correct and they would alter their records accordingly. However, no correction has been printed in the paper since. It does prove that you should never believe all you read in the papers!

  15. Pcito says:

    We offer two bilingual Sunday Masses now, in addition to 6 Spanish and 3 English (at the mother parish, mission, and chapel). In the vernacular Masses, I get pushback if I say something in the other language. However, what I found in the Spanish Masses was this: while the adults loved it and are very attached to it, the kids knew the responses but had no idea what I was saying (their first language is English even if they speak Spanish at home). I didn’t want an entire generation raised that has never heard the Gospel explained from the pulpit. So I introduced the bilingual Masses – one at the mission after classes, the other at the mother parish before the teen ministry.

    I personally like the form that we use (don’t know if I invented it or not): presidential prayers, preface, and Eucharistic Prayers in English, all the calls/responses and Mass parts in Spanish (since they know them), and two homilies Spanish/English.

    But the form is not so important as the reason why: demographics. We have 1500+ kids in our education program who are “in between”, and they need to grow up hearing/knowing the Gospel. As these kids grow over the next generation, so will our distribution of language in the Masses.

  16. johnmann says:

    In Latin so nobody can understand? A multi-lingual crowd doesn’t make Latin any more suitable than a single-language crowd. It’s suitable for various reasons. Maximizing comprehension isn’t among them.

    [Only someone who wants to miss the point, will miss the point this way.]

  17. Gabriel Syme says:

    why not use everyone’s language, Latin? People can have their own translations.

    Amen Father!

    I am not fan of the multiple language papal Masses either

    Me neither! As newlyweds my wife and I attended a weekly audience of Benedict XVI, back in 2012. Everything is said in every language, (“done to death”), and people try to remain focused but you can almost feel the crowds attention slip elsewhere, as the same paragraph is repeated for the 10th time, this time in Mongolian.

    The day was still a great experience though, even if latin would have improved it. As newlyweds, we got to sit right next to the Pope; it was nice to catch up with him again, after his visit to Glasgow UK in 2010. We were also seated next to a large contingent of American men, and their families, who had travelled to be ordained in St Peters Basilica.

  18. Gabriel Syme says:


    But people at the latin mass *do* understand. Following proceedings with your missal means you are closely drawn into the mass in a way that just does not happen with the novus ordo. I think it is because you are required to maintain a level of concnetration, whereas one can “zone in / out” at a novus ordo mass.

    Plus, even if you find yourself without a missal, regular TLM attendees find they can closely follow the unchanging parts of the mass, even if they dont technically “speak latin”. I cannot form my own sentences in latin, but I do recognise set sentences if exposed to them repeatedly.

    The logic of latin is revealled when one attends mass in a foreign country.

    Trying to find a novus ordo in your own language in a foreign city can be tough and time consuming. One often finds outdated or vague info. If you do manage to find one, it might still turn out to be wholly infeasible to travel to. If you do get there, the quality of the mass will be variable to say the least – often the priest is using his 2nd or 3rd language.

    And, ironically, at an English language mass in non-English speaking country, you always find that a large part of the congregation only has a slight grasp of English as a 2nd language. They are there because they cant get a mass in their own tongue.

    In Italy, I had very variable experiences with English masses. In Rome, I found an American run Church, serving the US Embassy and ex-pat community. No complaints (I am a fan of US Priests). In Sorrento, things were decent – there was an Italian Fransiscan priest who had a good command of English (even the power cut during mass didnt phase him). In Venice however, it was an Italian priest, with average English, preaching to a congregation of mostly French speakers. Even the few people present with English as their mother tongue – myself and some Americans – could not communicate well, due to my Scots accent. I dont like criticising it as the preist was doing his best for us, and I appreciated that, but it was pretty shambolic and dissatisfying.

    I dont like playing this “mass roulette” – it isnt good enough. I like to be relaxed, focused and expectant when I go to mass, not distracted and wondering “what are we getting today?”.

    By way of contrast, a couple of times I have attended the FSSP-run St Agnes in Amsterdam. And its just the same mass, which I know and love from home. No differences. if I closed my eyes, I could easily be at mass in Glasgow or Edinburgh. Or anywhere. Its brilliant, like a home from home, and I find I get so much more out of the mass when we “do it right”.

    As well as language, part of this is – of course – due to the fact that at the latin mass “its just the mass.” Whereas, at the novus ordo, the personality and psychology of the individual priest has a very significant effect on the proceedings and your experience that day.

  19. Glennonite says:

    This drives me to distraction at my parish Masses! A Spanish Mass is offered each weekend but the Saturday evening Mass is ridden rough-shod by the Hawiian-shirt wearing musical director.

    Three out of five of the songs are in Spanish, and he stands at the lectern so as to ‘interrupt’ by paraphrasing (in Spanish) the Responsorial Psalm; 1st English, then a redo in Spanish, then English, then Spanish. How distracting! Our congregation is predominately Hispanic but fully American English speaking. It makes the Masses so disjointed and clunky; not beautiful, nor harmonious.

  20. WYMiriam says:

    Okay, okay! :-) I was wrong about the “one language in the One Church”! (I forgot about the Greek & Hebrew phrases.) Mea culpa!

    My first experience with a mixed-language Mass (not Latin/Greek/Hebrew) was in a “Polish parish.” One thing that irked me in that parish was that before the Mass, a greeting was given by the cantor/choir director, in Polish, and was never translated for the benefit of those who know no Polish. I always felt cheated and deliberately left out, even though I know that wasn’t the intent. Actually, now that I look back at it, I don’t recall whether the Mass itself was a mixed-language Mass or all in Polish. I’m sure that the Mass itself was not all in Polish, and perhaps very little of it was in Polish; otherwise I would have gone to any of the other 6 or 7 Catholic churches within walking distance of my apartment, but I didn’t.

    The other experience was more recent, and it was a Spanish-English mixture. One of the very disconcerting things about it was that I had no idea of whether the next words out of anybody’s mouth were going to be English or Spanish. If I ever find myself in that situation again, though, I will simply use the left-hand pages of my missal, where the changeless Latin/Greek/Hebrew appears .

    Surely I’m not the only person to whom comes the phrase “tower of Babel” when listening to the stories of multi-language Masses?

    And yet, should I even care what language is used? In one sense, yes, because Latin certainly appears to be the official language of the Church, it was never meant by Vatican II to be completely kicked out (quite the opposite!), and it’s a unifying factor. This holds, not “so nobody can understand” (Johnmann, above), but rather [inserting tongue in cheek] so that all of us can not understand together! [removing tongue from cheek] Anyway, we can all “understand the Latin” by following the translation provided on the right-hand side of the page. . . .

    In another sense, no, I shouldn’t care what language is used (or, not care very much), since most of the prayers of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass are said by the priest and are directed towards the Holy Trinity. I read, some years ago, what a priest said in answer to a complaint that he shouldn’t use Latin because the complainant didn’t understand it: “But I’m not talking to you when I say Mass.”

  21. Matt Robare says:

    I say, the more Latin in the OF the better.

    The Kyrie is already in Greek. Singing the Gloria, Sanctus and Agnus Dei in Latin add to the sense of the sacred in the OF, especially since the English tends toward the prosaic rather than the hieratic. The Our Father would be another good portion to have in Latin.

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