Understanding the sacraments: A multilingual celebration of Mass

Guidelines for liturgy can enhance our cultural and linguistic diversity

By Father Randy Stice

One of the riches of diocese is its growing cultural diversity, with Mass celebrated in a number of different languages, including Spanish, Vietnamese, and Korean.

In this respect we mirror the diversity of the Church in America. In 1987 the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions (FDLC) and the Instituto Nacional Hispanico de Liturgia produced guidelines for multilingual Masses. These guidelines were revised by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in 2013.

In this column I would like to present a summary of these guidelines (all quotes are from this document).

Since most multilingual parishes provide eucharistic celebrations for the linguistic groups on ordinary Sundays, “multilingual liturgies have particular value in the celebration of major feasts, weddings, funerals, and other important parish and diocesan events.” The planning of multilingual liturgies should reflect the diversity of the community in the choice of postures, gestures, vesture, environmental design, as well as the choice of musical texts and styles and determining which language to use for the readings and prayers. “The extraordinary feature of such celebrations is that only some, not all, of the elements of the celebration of the Mass will be understood by those assembled.”

The introductory rites — processional music, greetings, penitential intercessions and the Gloria — “can elicit an awareness of the cultural and linguistic diversity of those gathered for the liturgy.” The invitation to pray before the Collect (opening prayer) can be given in different languages, but “the Collect itself should be prayed in one language to preserve its integrity.”

The guidelines suggest a number of options for celebrating the Liturgy of the Word. When two readings are proclaimed, it is suggested that the first reading and the Gospel, which normally have similar themes, be proclaimed in different languages “so that each group can hear at least some of the primary themes from the Sacred Scriptures of the day” in their own language. The Responsorial Psalm should be sung or read in one language in its entirety rather than divided into different languages “to maintain the unity and integrity of the text.” The preferred (but not mandatory) language is the same language used for the first reading, “since the Psalm in some way responds to it, and this would show the relationship more clearly.” The refrain should be in the same language as the psalm or bilingual.

The Gospel may be read in its entirety in more than one language. The procession, introduction and incensation are done only once. The conclusion should be done only once in the last language used. The Alleluia verse should be in the same language as the first proclamation of the Gospel. The homily is preached in a language understood by the majority, but a short summary may be given in other languages. There are several options for the Universal Prayer, such as alternating languages with a common response, or giving the first part of the petition in one language and the assembly responding in another language.

In the Liturgy of the Eucharist the Eucharistic Prayer from the Preface through the Doxology should be in the same language. However, the assembly’s acclamations can be bilingual or in the language of the Eucharistic Prayer.

The Communion Rite similarly reflects the languages of the community. “Because the Lord’s Prayer is common to all Christians,” it can be recited by members of the assembly “in his or her own language simultaneously with others” or in one language that is different from that of the Eucharistic Prayer. The Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) can be either bilingual or in the language of the rest of the Communion Rite.

When solemn blessings are used to conclude the Mass, “each of the blessing prayers may be given in alternating languages.”

The guidelines also address the choice of music. Music proper to each culture is preferred to translating texts to accompany melodies from a different culture. “An integrity of musical styles, however, should be respected throughout the liturgy.” Familiar hymns with alternating verses in different languages represented also are encouraged. “The Eucharistic acclamations should reflect an integral musical style and may include a blend of diverse languages.”

The purpose of these celebrations “is to unite people of shared faith in common prayer around the word and the Eucharistic table.” Multilingual celebrations manifest in a special way the universality of the Church as well as her unity — but not uniformity — and her diversity.

The complete document is available online and can be translated into different languages by clicking on the “Select Language” button. http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/the-mass/frequently-asked-questions/guidelines-for-a-multilingual-celebration-of-mass.cfm ■


Father Stice is pastor of St. Mary Church in Athens and directs the diocesan Office of Worship and Liturgy. He can be reached at


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *