ASK FATHER: Should women say “Domine, non sum digna”?

Jesus centurionFrom a readerette:

Could you answer this for both the EF and the OF?

Is the “Domine non sum dignus” a part of the Ordinary of the Mass that pertains to Sacrosanctum Concilium 54, and so would be something that the faithful should know how to “say or sing in Latin”?

If so, would a woman:

1) Say “dignus”, ignoring the fact that that is a masculine adjective?  [Yes.]
2) Change it to “digna” to more accurately reflect her own sex? [No.]
3) Not say it at all? [Heavens, no.]

My guess is #1, in keeping to the Scriptural story whence it comes, but if that is the case, it seems that it would lose some of its “power” of conversion of heart for the woman saying it directly before receiving communion. [I don’t see why.]

The prayer “Domine, non sum dignus….”, said before Holy Communion, is part of the Ordinary of Holy Mass in the Roman Rite.

You are correct.  It’s #1.

In the context of Holy Mass, males and females alike say “Domine, non sum dignus….”.  For those in Columbia Heights, “dignus” is masculine and singular.

And for liberals who haven’t read the documents of the Second Vatican Council, SC 54 says (with my translation):

54. Linguae vernaculae in Missis cum populo celebratis congruus locus tribui possit, praesertim in lectionibus et “oratione communi”, ac, pro condicione locorum, etiam in partibus quae ad populum spectant, ad normam art. 36 huius Constitutionis. Provideatur tamen ut christifideles etiam lingua latina partes Ordinarii Missae quae ad ipsos spectant possint simul dicere vel cantare.

Sicubi tamen amplior usus linguae vernaculae in Missa opportunus esse videatur, servetur praescriptum art. 40 huius Constitutionis.

In Masses celebrated with the people, a suitable place may be assigned to the mother tongue, especially in readings and “common prayer,” and, according to the circumstance of places, also in those parts which pertain to the people, according to norm of Art. 36 of this Constitution.  However, it should be seen to that the faithful are able both to say and to sing in the Latin language the parts of the Ordinary of Mass which pertain to them.

Nevertheless, wheresoever a wider use of the mother tongue seems to be opportune in the Mass, the prescription of Art. 40 of this Constitution is to be observed.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. JARay says:

    This is very much like the protestations which were vented over the matter of the English word used in the Creed in the translation of “qui propter nos homines et propter nostram salutem…”. The feminists hated it when it was translated as “Who for us men and for our salvation..” They screamed “we are not men” and they chose to ignore the fact that for generations the word “men” includes the whole of “mankind”. They don’t like the word “mankind” either and they want to change it to “personkind”!

  2. Imrahil says:

    I disagree (with all due respect).

    The texts are of course formulated (in the missal) for a male priest as communicant. I attribute the fact that women also usually say “dignus” to faithful praying-along by people not necessarily knowing Latin, and then of course the power of habituation; however, I do not see that as a reason that women should make a grammatical mistake. The fact that the Captain of Cafarnaum was a man is not in my opinion such a reason.

    (A footnote “women say ‘digna'” could easily be inserted into popular missals.)

    [You are just plain wrong. Even wronger and wrongest. No.]

  3. Denis Crnkovic says:

    Father, I appreciate your helpful comment ” For those in Columbia Heights, ‘dignus’ is masculine and singular”; you might, however, wish to clarify what “masculine” and “singular” mean in this context… I’m just sayin’.

    [Yah… I guess you’re right.]

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  4. Kerry says:

    Benedictus Deus in saecula.

  5. PatriciusOenus says:

    It appears that there may be historical precedence for saying ‘digna’.

    A friend, who is an FSSP priest, serves as chaplain for some contemplative nuns. One of the nuns serve his Masses. (Yes, this is allowed in the absence of a male server.) Although the Mass isn’t a Missa Responsoria, he said that the sister-serve says ‘digna’.

    [That was then. This is now. No.]

  6. mike cliffson says:

    My missal as a lad late fifties mentioned a seven year indulgence for silently saying domine non sum digno etc at communion,AND MEANING IT,however that was put, it was mentioned in first Communion classes,recommendation for holy souls in purgatory interalia,
    usual conditions I seem to remember, it hasn’t gone has it? Was it only E&W?
    Nb like post

  7. jhayes says:

    SC leaves it to National Conferences of Bishops to decide the extent to which the vernacular is used in Masses said in their territory. They do have to get the approval of Rome, but that has been granted for the US and the other countries I know of.

    36. 1. Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites.

    2. But since the use of the mother tongue, whether in the Mass, the administration of the sacraments, or other parts of the liturgy, frequently may be of great advantage to the people, the limits of its employment may be extended.. This will apply in the first place to the readings and directives, and to some of the prayers and chants, according to the regulations on this matter to be laid down separately in subsequent chapters.

    3. These norms being observed, it is for the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority mentioned in Art. 22, 2, to decide whether, and to what extent, the vernacular language is to be used; their decrees are to be approved, that is, confirmed, by the Apostolic See….

    As I understand the situation in the US (and I believe in other English-speaking countries) Latin is preserved in that a priest who wants to say a Mass in Latin can do so – but Latin is not required to be used in the Mass – and this does not violate any provision of SC since the fully-English translation of the Missal has been approved by the Apostolic See, as required by SC.

  8. PatriciusOenus says:

    For those who are interested in an academic discussion of this issue, you might look at Barry Craig’s (of Pontifical Liturgical Institute [Sant’Anselmo] in Rome) piece on this very subject:
    NB: pp.12-13 especially footnote 46

    Mr. Barry concurs with Fr. Zuhlsdorf and provides the historical rationale and development.

  9. WillP says:

    [You are just plain wrong. Even wronger and wrongest. No.]

    Trouble is, Father, and with respect, you don’t actually appear to explain why.

    In saying “Domine, non sum dignus”, is the individual communicant speaking in propria persona? If so, then the females among them are clearly committing a grammatical error. “Dignus” would, however, be justifiable if the communicants (both male and female) are in effect role-playing the person of the centurion rather than speaking on their own behalf; or if they are at that point imitating the words of the priest so closely as to be taking his identity upon themselves (at least so far as gender is concerned).

    Or is it simply a case of “that’s what the book says, so that’s what the answer is”?

  10. WillP says:

    I’d further add that this has no overlap at all with the issue of how to render “homines” in the Creed. That is/was a question arising from the inbuilt imprecision in translating between two languages; this on the other hand is a matter of the internal (and precise) grammatical logic of Latin.

  11. Tom says:

    JARay: get with the new program. “Personkind” contains the word “son”. That will never do!

  12. Animadversor says:

    Well, I am surprised that Imrahil, of all people, should have stumbled here, especially inasmuch as he has noted the prayer’s connection with the story of the centurion and his servant. By using, when we say “non sum dignus,” the same gender that the centurion used, we make more vivid the allusion to the passage in the gospel of Luke that narrates this incident. Biblical allusions in the words of the sacred rites ought not be attenuated. If this prayer did not quote the very words, as it were, of the centurion, but were rather the sacred invention of the composer or composers of the communion rite, then perhaps it might be reasonable for the grammatical gender to agree with the sex of the one saying the prayer, even as we change the gender to allow for the sex of the deceased when we pray Requiem æternam—but probably not even then, since worshipers praying aloud in unison use more fittingly and conveniently the exact same words.

  13. yatzer says:

    Well, hmm, I’ve been saying “dignus” for a number of years at our EF and know it is singular and male, but never gave it a thought.

  14. Gregorius says:

    I would say this is a chance for greater insight into liturgical prayer.
    While we are all indeed called to join ourselves to the action going on at Mass, it must be remembered that the prayer is not primarily ours, or even the priest’s. It is Christ’s prayer, given to us by Him, and through the figures of Scripture and through the members of the Church the liturgy is His way of giving us a share in His Divine life.
    When y’all say or sing the words of Mass, think of them as repeating the words Christ gives us to speak, until ” it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me;. . . “

  15. kurtmasur says:

    If I’m not mistaken, this issue (of adjusting the liturgical text to say “digna” for females), has never come up, not even in the vernacular (non-English) usages of the Holy Mass such as Mass in Spanish or Italian, and I would suspect the same is true for the whole bulk of the European languages in which female adjectives are otherwise grammatically required in everyday use.

  16. kurtmasur says:

    I guess what I was trying to say in my previous post is that I’ve never ever heard of this issue popping up in the Spanish or Italian Mass, in which women say the masculine adjective for “worthy”: “Señor, no soy digno (SP)/Signore, non sono degno (IT)…” (Domine., non sum dignus)… So I wonder why it would become an issue for some in Latin (if indeed there are complaints about this)…

  17. AlexanderAerarius says:

    Another reason to abandon the dialogue mass?

  18. APX says:

    (A footnote “women say ‘digna’” could easily be inserted into popular missals)

    And what then for choirs when singing Domine, Non Sum Dignus? Do the sopranos and altos sing “digna” while the basses and tenors sing “dignus”. What then for the women who sing tenor with the men? Isn’t there enough confusion for women tenors who have to determine whether or not they’re a man or a women when non-gender neutral language isn’t used in mixed choirs with mixed sections.

  19. Evovae says:

    It seems to me that the “power” of the statement lies in the direct quotation of Scripture, whereby the congregants subordinate themselves to the Gospel narrative.

    If we’re going to assert that the “power” of the Mass is somehow tied to the degree to which the language of the responses aligns with the specific characteristics of each individual congregant, this kind of undermines the, er, communal nature of the public act of worship.

  20. oldconvert says:

    @Imrahil: grammatically, in Latin and languages derived from it, the masculine includes the feminine where they are together in the plural, eg “los padres” = “parents” in Spanish. This is why we say “nos homines” in the Credo; the feminine is implicit. Also in generalisations, eg mankind, man standing for both.

  21. TuAutem says:

    Not any more than men should change “ancillae” to “servo” when praying the Magnificat at Vespers.

  22. Mariana2 says:

    Thanks, Father! I had been worrying about dignus/digna.

  23. pelerin says:

    Now I am confused! When I first started attending the EF after its reintroduction I was surprised to find that I still remembered the Credo, responses etc by heart.

    I also remembered the Domine non sum dignus and duly said it until I realised nobody else in the congregation was saying it . I then read somewhere, I forget where, that the Priest was supposed to say it on behalf of us and we were to remain silent. [No. Say it.]

    At the beginning of the ‘changes’ I am sure we all said the Domine non sum dignus out loud and that was how it remained in my memory. (It never occurred to me to say digna as I accept that as a woman I am part of mankind. ) So is it acceptable once more to say this with the Priest at the appropriate time or should I continue to whisper it?

  24. Tony Phillips says:

    We should all use inclusive language and say either:
    “Domine, non sum dignum”
    “Dignitas non est mihi.”

  25. WGS says:

    JARay: For those so inclined, “personkind” is not a satisfactory substitute for “mankind”. “Son” is just as masculine as “man”.

  26. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    This very question produces an annual chuckle chuckle when my Latin students (mostly sems) finally get the notion of grammatical gender, someone invariably asks, “Hey, what about women at Communion time?” I tell them, “Look, boys, confuse it on a quiz and I’ll take off for it, but when it comes to Mass, just Do the Red and Say the Black, and you’ll be fine.”

  27. Sonshine135 says:

    “Nevertheless, wheresoever a wider use of the mother tongue seems to be opportune in the Mass, the prescription of Art. 40 of this Constitution is to be observed.”

    Ah yes, the redirect of the document to the experimentation clause which basically gives the Ordinary open license to do whatever the heck they feel like doing- thus negating the entire previous paragraph.

    Do this and do this because it is the norm, but go to Article 40:

    Article 40 sec. 2: To ensure that adaptations may be made with all the circumspection which they demand, the Apostolic See will grant power to this same territorial ecclesiastical authority to permit and to direct, as the case requires, the necessary preliminary experiments over a determined period of time among certain groups suited for the purpose.

    Bishop then determines we will try things for a period of say two years. After two years, everyone forgets that this was an experiment- ergo it becomes a norm.

    5 years later, a new Priest comes in and sees that this is being done and not a norm. Priest goes to cancel the experiment. Letters are written to the Diocese about the new horrible Priest and his hatred for Vatican II. Half the church leaves in an uproar.

    Lather, Rinse, Repeat

    [Yep. Father hates Vatican II.]

  28. Suburbanbanshee says:

    As a woman, I resent the unhistorical idea that women may not, or should not, quote Scripture accurately. (And yes, the idea if guys swapping genders in quoting the Magnificat would just make the Magnificat lose meaning.) And if I quote Hamlet, I am not going to stand there and say, “To be, as a woman, or not to be, as a woman, that is the question – as a woman.”

    Nor did Jesus find it necessary to annotate His Christological psalm quotation by saying, “My God, as I mean that as true God and true man, My God, why have You abandoned Me?”

  29. Mike_in_Kenner says:

    It migt help to recall that the rubrics for the Order of Administering Holy Communion in the Extraordinary Form are found in the Roman Ritual, Title IV, Chapter 2. (I know it confuses people that they are not in the missal, but that’s just how the old books are.) Fr. Z is not making things up–this issue is addressed in the rubrics in n. 3:

    … conversusque ad populum in medio Altaris dicit clara voce: Ecce Agnus Dei, ecce qui tollit peccata mundi. Mox subdit: Domine, non sum dignus, ut intres sub tectum meum, sed tantum dic verbo, et sanabitur anima mea; quod iterum, ac tertio repetit: qua formula etiam utendum est, cum feminae communio administratur.

    My translation of the rubric: “… which formula is used even when communion is administered to a woman.”

    It’s not like the authorities of the Church have never thought of this question before, and they have already provided an answer.

    [Good job. Now that you have added this, I recall it.]

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  30. Absit invidia says:

    Any rational person would see that Fr. Z is correct. The Spanish liturgical translation of the Novus Ordo prayers since the 1960’s has been and still is today, in both their scripture readings and mass prayers: “hermanos” . . . “y con to espiritu” . . . “es justo y necessario” . . .

    Unlike the fickle english speakers who haven’t figures out it’s a liturgical prayer of the Faithful, not a sing-songy self aggrandizing proclamation.

  31. Imrahil says:

    Dear WillP, thanks. I was thinking the same thing but didn’t, of course, dare write that. You are right that this hasn’t anything to do with anything of the modern nonsense around here.

    Thus, dear oldconvert, it is quite true that Latin, as all languages we know (the real ones, I mean, not the politically corrected versions now sometimes in use), uses the masuline gender for a fellow of unspecified sex, or for a plural of mixed sex, but not for women. Thus, Vicco Mortensen, Cate Blanchett and Liv Tyler are “actors”; but Liv Tyler is not an actor. She’s an actress. – And “homines”, of course, means “human beings” as long as the Latin is Latin – even though the Romance languages generally use the descendant word of “homo” for what in Latin is called a “vir”.

    Dear APX, I don’t associate the “Domine non sum dignus” with singing. Typically this is the one thing that is prayed out loud in a Silent Mass and (apart from the blessing) prayed without any chant in the Chanted Mass.

    Dear Tu_Autem and especially Mike_in_Kenner, good points. (You know, I had considered liturgical law silent on the matter, rather than prescribing either way. Mike_in_Kenner pointed to where it does prescribe one way.)

    As for the Magnificat (though, it could be said, that here 1. the character of a biblical reading is more focused, 2. that after all the subject is “anima mea” and the soul, even the soul of a man, is feminine), I might add in a similar vein that whoever prays the Psalms along, will, at some time, pray “ego servus tuus et filius ancillae tuae” – and this may, sometimes, include a daughter of an apostate mother.

    As for quoting Scripture accurately (dear Banshee and others), the miracle with the captain of Cafarnaum is the scene alluded to, but not directly quoted (as the Psalms, or yes the Magnificat, are in the Divine Office)… after all, it has “et sanabitur anima mea” rather than “et sanabitur puer meus”.

    And… I’m not entirely serious now…

    after all “domine, non sum dignus” is not ungrammatical even if said by a woman, when you look at it. It just translates differently; for a man, it’s an obvious adjective, “Lord, I am not (a) worthy (one)”; for a woman, it can’t be an adjective so it must, and it can after all, be a substantive: and hence the phrase isn’t incorrect if you translate it as “Lord, I am not a worthy man”. Well, of course not, ma’am: you are a woman. – Those not infrequent in pious circles who think that women are holier than man anyway, may well find a justification here: men and woman both are required to state they are not worthy men, which for the men implies that they aren’t worthy, but for the women implies merely the well-known fact that they aren’t men…

    (That was less then serious.)

  32. Mr. Graves says:

    The number of incredibly classically educated people who frequent this blog is just great! Speaking from the peanut gallery of those who learned basic Latin prayers by rote memorization, if the missal (1962, thank you very much) used the second person plural, I’d be saying it — to the priest and deacon? — without knowing any different. What a fun discussion, though.

  33. Andrew Rivera says:

    pelerin says:
    25 January 2016 at 6:00 AM

    … I then read somewhere, I forget where, that the Priest was supposed to say it on behalf of us and we were to remain silent. [No. Say it.]

    Degree 2 (through 4) of the Dialogue Mass (1958’s De musica sacra, n.31) prescribes reciting the Domine aloud at a Missa Lecta, but are there rubrics for other occasions of the faithful and/or the choir being mandated to recite it aloud?

  34. wolfeken says:

    Andrew Rivera: there are no “rubrics” for congregational dialogue.

    The responses during the traditional Latin Mass are assumed to be made by an acolyte. A layman in the sanctuary may substitute for the acolyte, wearing the cassock and surplice (since the acolyte is clergy).

    Proponents of congregational responses (recited or sung, for that matter) can point to a small handful of writings by 20th century popes (not one document before the 20th century, mind you), but let’s not confuse these with rubrics or anything in the Roman Missal. Responses are made by clergy, officially, or designated male substitutes.

  35. APX says:

    Dear APX, I don’t associate the “Domine non sum dignus” with singing.

    I was making reference to the polyphony written and sung with the text and the issues that would ensue over having both men and women singing the text according to one’s sex.

  36. jhayes says:

    Imrahil wrote all languages we know (the real ones, I mean, not the politically corrected versions now sometimes in use), uses the masuline gender for a fellow of unspecified sex, or for a plural of mixed sex, but not for women. Thus, Vicco Mortensen, Cate Blanchett and Liv Tyler are “actors”; but Liv Tyler is not an actor. She’s an actress

    Dear Imrahil, “actress” is still borderline, but people will think you are quite elderly if, in English, you use the special nouns that used to be applied to women – for example poetess, aviatrix (or pilotess), shepherdess, etc. Today, they are poet, pilot, and shepherd. I pass this on as a native English speaker.

    Similaly, some nouns that were closely associated with one sex have disappeared altogether and been replaced by others. “Policeman” and “fireman” are now “police officer” and “firefighter,” and “stewardess” is now “flight attendant”

  37. joan ellen says:

    Imrahil…lol…words are fun…but also serious stuff. Latin is careful to distinguish between male & female words. In worship…however… & somehow… a more masculine use of Latin seems not only appropriate…but needed…because…without reflecting…it has a protective quality…maybe. Don’t know…just guessing

  38. WYMiriam says:

    Not only does “do the red, say the black” apply here, as Dr. Peters so succinctly notes, but also what is probably the most frequently quoted line from the Second Vatican Council’s documents (it even appears in Canon Law and in the CCC):

    “Therefore, absolutely no other person, not even a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority.” Sacrosanctum concilium 22 sec. 3

  39. WYMiriam says:

    P.S. Therefore, if I, a woman, were to say at Holy Mass, “Domine, non sum dignus”, I would be in violation of that section of SC.

  40. AlexanderAerarius says:

    Mike_in_Kenner, while it is true that it says to use the masculine even when the communicant is a woman, it is assuming that the (male) priest is the one saying it.

  41. teetee67 says:

    SERIOUSLY?! Personkind?! I had a well meaning nun in one of my choirs many years ago who wanted me to replace “God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen” with “gentlefolk”.

  42. WillP says:

    AlexanderAerarius, you are quite right. That rubric tells the priest what to say; it says nothing about what (if anything) the female communicant is to say, and therefore sheds no light on the issue under discussion.

    And yet another red herring is the question of “masculinising” the language of the Magnificat. Why on earth would one do that? It is quite clear that in reciting the Magnificat we are not saying the words in propria persona: when, for example, we say “beatam me dicent omnes generationes” we are not saying that of ourselves! (Do we really claim that all generations will be calling us blessed?) We are reciting the words of Our Lady, not making them ours.

    Which brings us back to the fundamental question: When we say “Domine, non sum dignus”, are we saying that of ourselves? (This has always been my understanding.) Or are we simply reciting the words of the centurion? For all the interesting contributions on this thread, I do not feel we have got any nearer an answer.

    [The congregation says, “Domine, non sum dignus…”. Period.]

  43. Supertradmum says:

    “Domine, non sum dignus…” as one of the few pre-Vatican II readers and commentators, I can say for sure that the nuns and priests taught us to say it just as you said, and out loud, or just under hearing tone, which I still do when at the TLM. It is one of my favorite prayers in the Mass. We children were also taught to strike our breasts at each of the three sayings of this, when the priest faced the congregation for us all the pray this prayer.

  44. Wiktor says:

    Well… in Polish language I hear most women say feminine form “godna” (digna) instead of (somewhat archaic) masculine “godzien” (dignus; modern Polish: godny).

  45. Marc says:

    Truly interesting as I do not see another moment in the Mass where such a question arise. I always fully support the principle of “Do the Red and Say the Black”, but the rubrics are clearly not written for the faithful’s answers. So there is little light from there. But other principles may be applicable.

    This is also not a question of the masculine including both genders as it is an individual statement. Without prejudging the consequences, could we clarify the key question of whether we are stating “Non sum dignus” in our name or as a citation of the Centurion? This has not been answered yet. Thanks to all.

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