Thursday, September 01, 2005

Vosotros vs. Ustedes in the Liturgy

Q: No. 59 of the instruction "Redemptionis Sacramentum" states that the reprobated practice by which priests, deacons or the faithful alter or vary at will the text of the sacred liturgy that they are charged to pronounce, must cease. Does this also apply in the Spanish language where in the United States the sacramentary has "Vosotros" but the Mexican culture has made most of the priests and deacons use "Ustedes"? Are we obliged to use the actual words in the sacramentary in this case? -- G.O., Pendleton, Oregon

A: About 15 years ago, at the instigation of the Holy See, all Spanish-language bishops' conferences agreed on a common text for the Mass. Before this agreement there were many differences in the translations including different versions of the Our Father. The lectionary for the readings remains proper to each national or regional episcopal conference.

In this missal the greetings retain the more familiar "vosotros" form prevalent in Spain instead of the more formal "ustedes" common in Latin America.

In fact, except for some remnants in Argentina and Chile, the "vosotros" form practically disappeared in both spoken and written American Spanish several generations ago. Only in Spain does the plural "vosotros" with its attendant concordances form part of daily usage.

This distinction has no current equivalent in English as both expressions translate as "you" plural. However, the familiar "tu" or "vos" and "vosotros" are roughly equivalent to the archaic English "thee" and "ye" which were familiar forms whereas "you," at least in the singular, was slightly more formal.

Because this form is no longer current speech the Mexican bishops requested and obtained permission to substitute "ustedes" for "vosotros" in the greetings. For the sake of unity, however, they retained the older form in the verb constructions of Christ's words at the consecration narrative "Take and eat/drink."

Not all Latin American bishops' conferences adopted the same criteria as the Mexican. Some have preferred to maintain the more archaic form in the liturgy considering that it creates no particular barrier to understanding and is well accepted by the faithful.

Even in Mexico, the faithful readily adapt to visiting priests used to the "vosotros" form as it does not imply any variation with respect to the responses and interventions of the assembly.

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