Misal Romano: A Tale of Two Translations

Editors note: This article originally appeared in the November 2015 issue of Worship. Reprinted with the permission of the author and Liturgical Press

by Fr. Paul Turner

Many users of the English translation of the third edition of the Roman Missal acknowledge some theological gains but criticize its lengthy sentences, unfocused layout, complicated grammatical structures, unidiomatic superlatives, and the absence of prayers composed in the vernacular for the local church. A recently published missal has alleviated many of these problems, which has eased the transition to its country’s third edition. Almost everything that English-speaking Catholics want was granted in 2014 to Mexico. The Misal Romano is published in several different versions. Spanish varies around the world even more than English does. There is no Spanish equivalent to the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (1CEL), which aims for one common translation among its member countries. Spanish editions of the missal are published independently. This survey reviews those from Spain (2014); Argentina (2009) (also used in Bolivia, Chile, Uruguay, and Paraguay); Colombia (2008); and Mexico (2014). Spain is still using its 1988 missal, republished every few years.


Several differences to the layout of the Mexican book are noteworthy. The richness of musical notation in the English edition promotes the singing of dialogues. However, the pages are difficult for the priest to read because so many texts appear twice, and the church still awaits the increase in singing dialogues. None of the Spanish missals includes much music, not even for the prefaces, and it has almost all been relegated to an appendix, even the Exsultet.

Collects in previous editions of the Misal Romano ended only with the first few words of the concluding formula (Por nuestro Señor), imitating the Latin typical edition. The rest of the conclusion appeared only once in the Ordinario de la misa. But many priests, especially those who had Spanish as a second language, strove to remember the complete formula. Now it appears with every collect of all Spanish-language missals, as it always has in English.

Shortly after the English third edition had gone to press, the Vatican added the name of St. Joseph to Eucharistie ?rayers 11, 111, and IV. Of the Spanish translations, only the Mexican edition has so far included him in those three prayers.

The four versions of the Eucharistic Prayer for Use in Masses for Various Needs have been renumbered since they first appeared. The current numbers 1,2,3, and 4 match the old numbers 4,1,2, and 3. The missal from Spain retains the earlier sequence, but the revised order is now found in the Colombian and Mexican editions. Spain’s translation of these prayers differs considerably from that of Latin America, probably the single greatest discrepancy among the Spanish-language missals.

The Order of Mass includes examples for the third form of the penitential act. These appear in an appendix in English so that the Order of Mass more closely resembles the Ordo missæ of the Latin edition. But all the Spanish examples appear within the Ordinario de la misa, making them easier to find.

The Eucharistic Prayers for Masses with Children were added to the Latin typical edition in 2002 and removed in 2008 because one would never pray them aloud in Latin. The English edition, which imitates the Latin content, excludes them. But they find a home in all the Spanish editions of the missal, even those published in 2014. These eucharistic prayers now have a revised Latin source, which has added an epiclesis to each of them. The English prayers always had an epiclesis because the first translators added it. The revised first eucharistic prayer for Masses with children oddly mentions the names of the pope and local bishop twice. The revised Spanish translation faithfully follows the Latin, even though the second mention could be a mistake in the original.

The Order of Mass in all the Spanish missals includes an expanded explanation of the universal prayer,  prayer of the faithful. Whereas the Latin (and English) simply acknowledges when the prayer takes place, the Spanish translations explain its various parts. Overall, the layout of Mexico’s Misal Romano takes into consideration some practical needs.


All Spanish translations offer a wider variety of commonly spoken texts than the English missal supplies. This has not changed with the publication of Mexico’s third edition. For example, following the Latin, the English translation gives three possible forms o£ the greeting in the introductory rites of the Mass. Missals from Spain and Colombia add four seasonal greetings. During Cristmastime, for example, the presider may say. La paz y amor de Dios, nuestro Padre, que se han manifestado en Cristo, nacido para nuestra salvación, estén con todos ustedes. A total of eight possible greetings appears in the Argentine missal. The Mexican missal now offers twenty-five in all, most of them arranged by season.

Instead of  one introduction for the penitential act, Mexico’s missal has eight, most o£ these borrowed from other Spanish missals and rearranged for easier use. The third form o£ the penitential act has always allowed the free composition of its invocations. The English translation has eight examples of this third formula. The Mexican missal has twenty-nine, arranged by season. These include all those from Spain’s missal, which Colombia also adopted. The Argentine missal has forty samples, all situated within the Order of Mass. Those that emphasized the sin o£ the community (for example, Por nuestra falta def e: Señor, ten piedad) instead of the power of Christ were not carried into Mexico’s missal.

In Latin and in English, after the proclamation of the gospel, the people say, “Praise to you. Lord Jesus Christ.” In all Spanish translations since the council, when this final dialogue is sung, there are three more possibilities, including, for example. Tu palabra, Señor, es lámpara que alumbra nuestros pasos.

Two additional options are offered for the Orate fratres, again consistent with other Spanish missals. For example, the priest may say. Oren, hermanos, para que, trayendo al altar los gozos y las fatigas de cada día, nos dispongamos a ofrecer el sacrificio agradable a Dios, Padre todopoderoso.

All the Spanish missals offer three additional introductions for the Lord’s Prayer (for example, Llenos de alegría por ser hijos de Dios, digamos confiadamente la oración que Cristo nos enseñó), except for the Argentine missal, which adds five. All offer three more ways for the deacon or priest to invite the sign of peace. The Spanish missals have been offering five different dismissal formulas, and the Mexican missal has added a sixth: En la paz de Cristo, vayan a servir a Dios y a sus hermano). These bear no relationship to the four dismissal formulas that Pope Benedict XVI put into the Latin typical edition in 2008.

Additional expansions appear in the eucharistic prayers. Consistent with other Spanish-language missals, the number of prefaces in Mexico’s missal has increased beyond those in the Latin and English editions. Advent has four, not two. Lent has five, not four. Ascension still has two preface options, but another has been added for the days between Ascension and Pentecost. Ordinary Time has ten prefaces, not eight. A preface for Masses with baptism has been added, along with a second option for Masses with confirmation, though these do not appear in Colombia’s missal; the second confirmation preface is also missing from Spain’s. All the Spanish missals have a third preface for the most holy Eucharist. Curiously, they all add one for the sacrament of penance, the one sacrament that may not be celebrated at Mass. All the Spanish missals offer a preface for the anointing of the sick; Mexico’s has two of them. All have five prefaces for the Blessed Virgin Mary, not two. All of them have nine common prefaces, not six.

All four main eucharistic prayers in all Spanish missals have more optional inserts than appear in English. In Latin and English the Roman Canon includes special inserts for days such as Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost. The Spanish translations include such inserts for Eucharistic Prayers II and III as well. Spanish inserts exist for occasions such as First Communion and for any Mass taking place on a Sunday. In Eucharistic Prayer III, for example, the priest using the Mexican missal may add this on any Sunday: Atiende los deseos y súplicas de estafamilia que has congregado en tu presence en el domingo, día en que Cristo ha vencido a la muerte y nos ha hecho partícipes de su vida inmortal. He may add this to the same eucharistic prayer at a Mass when children receive their First Communion: Ayuda a tus hijos (N. y N.), que por vez primera invitas en este día a participar del pan de vida y del cáliz de salvación, en la mesa de tufamilia; concédeles crecer siempre en tu amistad y en la comunión con tu Iglesia.

The three possible memorial acclamations each carry their own introductions in Spanish. In this way, the priest may cue the people which acclamation to use. He also has two generic introductions, not one: Éste es el Misterio de la fe. Or Éste es el Sacramento de nuestra fe.

The Latin third edition of the missal removed the solemn blessings for Lent, in order to promote the usage of the prayer over the people in their place. The English followed suit. However, the Mexican missal still includes solemn blessings for Lent and penitential celebrations. Seven more blessings have been added. The Spanish-speaking church has a long postconciliar tradition of possessing expanded options for introductions and prayers at Mass. The Mexican third edition of the missal preserves and increases the practice.


Freedom in the application of Liturgiam Authenticam is evident throughout the missal. The Vatican’s revised rules ask that the original text be translated, insofar as possible, in the most exact manner. More latitude appears in Spanish than in English.

When the English translation was revised, familiar responses, acclamations, and hymns changed. This did not happen so much in the Mexican missal. In some places, the only change is from the vosotros to the ustedes form. Often the very word or phrase that was changed for the third edition in English remains unchanged in Mexico. For example, the second option for the greeting at the beginning of Mass is still La gracia de la paz de parte de Dios, nuestro Padre, y de Jesucristo, el Señor, estén con todos ustedes. This better cues the people’s response but departs from the biblical source that now appears in English: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

The words that the deacon or priest says when kissing the Book of the Gospels (Las palabras del Evangelio borren nuestros pecados) still resemble the former English translation, now changed to “Through the words of the Gospel may our sins be wiped away.” The word now rendered “consubstantial” in English remains de la misma naturaleza del Padre in Spanish. In the Apostles’ Creed, “hell” was introduced into English where the Spanish still has de entre los muertos. The Spanish equivalent to “my sacrifice and yours” still adds a demonstrative pronoun: este sacrifice, mío y de ustedes٠ The opening line of the Sanctus in Spanish still includes a main verb (Santo, Santo, Santo es el Señor), which was approved in English in 2008 but then rescinded in 2011. The first memorial acclamation in Spanish still includes a petition absent from the Latin: ¡Ven, Señor Jesus! In Spanish the Gloria, the Lamb of God, and the priest’s invitation to Communion all retain the biblical singular form of el pecado del mundo, in place of the liturgical plural form, which now appears in all those places in English: “the sins of the world.” In the dialogue before Communion, English now includes the words “roof” and “soul,” but the Spanish translation remains unchanged: Señor, no soy digno de que entres en mi casa, pero una palabra tuya bastará para sanarme. The English translation o£ the deacon’s command before the final blessing has changed from “Bow your heads and pray for God’s blessing” to “Bow down for the blessing,” which more correctly commands what the rubrics request: all bow from the waist. However, the Spanish translation still has Inclenen la cabeza para recibir la bendición, which departs from the Latin original.

More examples abound throughout the Spanish eucharistic prayers. Some Latin words still go untranslated, and some grammatical structures remain simplified. In Eucharistic Prayer II the phrase that now includes “dewfall” in English is unchanged in Spanish: con la efusión de tu Espíritu. The Spanish translation continues to eliminate numerous occurrences of Latin words such as dignare, propitius, and quæsumus, formerly omitted but rendered now in English as “be pleased to,” “graciously,” and “we ask.” The same is true of presidential prayers such as the collect for St. Benedict’s day, where the Spanish translation omits any reference to the Latin quæsumus. Even superlatives are simplified, such as the four places in Eucharistic Prayer IV where the English now follows the Latin with the £orm o£ address “Father most holy”; the Spanish retains Padre santo. Near the end of Eucharistic Prayer III no modifiers or capital letters for “apostles” and “saints” appeared in the first English translation, but now they match the Latin: “blessed Apostles and glorious Martyrs.” No such change appears in Spanish, ^ e y are still los apóstoles y los martyres.

Normally the verb “to bless” is intransitive or has “God” as its object. In Eucharistic Prayer IV, though, the priest declares that Jesus blessed bread. The English translation honors this because of Mark 6:41, where Jesus blesses loaves and fish. The Spanish translation, however, keeps the verb intransitive in all the eucharistic prayers.

Although much remains unchanged in Spanish, the word todos became muchos, as happened in English. The priest, quoting Jesus, says of his blood that it will be shed “for many,” not “for all.”

The Spanish translation always had longer sentences than the first English translation, and these perdure. However, they seem to flow more naturally. For example, in the English Roman Canon, the priest prays this for the living: “For them, we offer you this sacrifice of praise or they offer it for themselves and all who are dear to them: for the redemption of their souls, in hope of health and well-being, and paying their homage to you, the eternal God, living and true.” In Spanish, he prays, por ellos y todos los suyos, por el perdón de sus pecados y la salvación que esperan, te onecemos, y ellos mismos te ofrecen, este sacrificio de alabanza, a ti, eterno Dios, vivo y verdadero. Certain ideas have changed within the sentence, but what it lacks in precision it gains in expression.

The concluding formula to the collect in Spanish remains the same: Por nuestro Señor Jesucristo, tu Hijo, que vive y reina contigo en la unidad del Espíritu Santo y es Dios por los siglos de los siglos. In spite of ICEL’s efforts, the Vatican did not permit a similar translation in English, one that explicitly identifies Jesus as God (y es Dios), in keeping with the Latin grammar. The Spanish translation still shows little evidence of the debate over inclusive language. In two places from the Order of Mass where the English translation offers a choice between “brethren” and “brothers and sisters,” the Spanish translation has hermanos. The Nicene Creed continues to say that Jesus became an hombre in order to save hombres. Where Eucharistic Prayer III prays for “our departed brothers and sisters,” the Spanish translation still prays for nuestros hermanos difuntos. Both translations fail to rework Eucharistic Prayer IV where it says, “You formed man in your own image” (A imagen tuya creaste al hombre)٠ However, the title for the third preface for Sundays in Ordinary Time is Nuestra humanidad salvada por la humanidad de Cristo, in place of the English missal’s “The salvation of man by a man.” The first English translation took more liberties with the Latin source than the first Spanish translations did, but the English is now more literal than the Spanish.

Not all is rosy. Deficiencies in the first Spanish translation have carried into the second unchanged. Translators opted for the status quo, not taking the opportunity to make some theological enhancements. For example, the revised English translation clarifies that the Roman Canon no longer prays for an angel to take the sacrifice from the altar in church to the altar in heaven. There is only one altar. But the Spanish translation preserves the separation. It would be speculative to say why the Mexican missal received these freedoms. The reasons could be authoritative, administrative, subsidiary, national, ecclesial, theological, ideological, interpretative, traditional, liberal, practical, or accidental. All are plausible. Whatever the reason, the 2014 Misal Romano of the Conferencia del Episcopado Méxicano has achieved much of what critics feel the English translation lacks.


  1. “There is no Spanish equivalent to the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (1CEL), which aims for one common translation among its member countries.” True. There is no such commission TODAY. But there was one in the years immediately following the Second Vatican Council. It failed in its work largely for two reasons: 1) disagreement concerning the style of the Spanish translations (should they be literal, with a formal syntax and vocabulary, or more “everyday” speech?); 2) the issue of various Castillianisms found in the Spanish that is spoken in Spain but not in most other Spanish-speaking countries. (The most significant of these Castillianisms are the FAMILIAR forms of second person plural verbs, pronouns, and pronominal adjectives. Most Spanish-speakers outside of Spain use the corresponding POLITE equivalents, which are usually the same as the third person plural forms.)

    These issues caused a great divide among the Spanish-speaking member conferences, and the joint commission was abandoned within a few years of its formation.

    Some fifteen years later (February 1986) the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship summoned to Rome representatives from the national liturgical commissions of all Spanish-speaking conferences of bishops (including the USA, which had not yet approved Spanish as a liturgical language for the United States). When the delegates arrived for the meeting, they were presented with a new Spanish translation of the Ordinary of the Mass (not the complete Roman Missal) that had been prepared by that dicastery. It was based on all the translations then in use, but most particularly, that used in Spain. It was intended to be a unified translation to be used worldwide in Spanish-language celebrations. The delegates were told that the Holy Father had remarked that, on his pastoral visits, he was exposed to many different Spanish translations, and he desired a common text. The delegates were asked to go back to their respective conferences and have them approve theOrdinary of the Mass unified translation (texto único). They could keep their own translations of the rest of the Roman Missal, or make new translations of those texts (mainly the proper presidential prayers, commons, votive Masses, etc.).

    So that is what appears in all the various editions of the Misal Romano published between the late 1980’s and the appearance of the Latin Missale Romanum, editio tertia: the ordinary of the Mass is the same in all the editions, everything else differs.

    I purchased a copy of Mexico’s 2013 Misal Romano in early 2015. I have not noticed many departures from the unified translation of the Ordinary of the Mass that has been in use since the late 1980’s. Even in the 1986 texto único translation of the Ordinary, there are relatively few second person plural Castillianisms, since most of the texts are addressed to God (second person singular). The few texts addressed to the plural “you” are admonitions and blessings of the people, and texts such as “the Lord be with you” / “pray, brothers and sisters…” / “take and eat… take and drink” / “peace I leave you, my peace I give you” / “go in peace.” The Castillianisms in the texto único translation caused quite a stir when it was presented to the delegrates in 1986. Most Spanish-speaking conferences were dismayed that they would have to use expressions not in the ordinary speech of their people. Within a few years, however, the conferences were told that, although they could not change the written text, in actual use, the priest could change these familiar forms to the polite ones (e.g., “vosotros” in the text could be proclaimed as “ustedes,” etc.). As Fr. Turner points out, these relatively minor changes are now incorporated in the text of Mexico’s 2013 Misal Romano.

    As an aside, I have been told that the new Misal Romano from Colombia (I have not actually seen a copy) was prepared with the incorrect understanding that the ketib/qere approach to the “vosotros” and related forms still stood. So these Castillianisms are still in that text, even though most people in Colombia do not use them in ordinary speech.

  2. (continued)

    Father Turner states that “almost everything that English-speaking Catholics want was granted in 2014 to Mexico.” Actually, many of the features he references in his article were granted to ALL Spanish-speaking conferences of bishops back in 1986. The 2013 Misal Romano from Mexico contains a new translation for texts not included in the Ordinary of the Mass, but the translation of the Ordinary itself remains the 1986 texto único one – with some slight changes.

    For additional information, see my review of Mexico’s 2013 Misal Romano in:


  3. All the misales that I have seen continue to use the Septuagint/Vulgate numeration of the psalms. The English language missals use the Masoretic numeration. Confusion will continue in countries where both English and Spanish are widely used. Publishers with their bilingual aids find themselves “entre tres y dos”: whether to follow the respective missals and end up with two numerations in one booklet, or take matters into their own hands and further confuse matters. My opinion: For pastoral as well as ecumenical reasons all missals in every language should follow the Masoretic numeration.

      1. @Chris Castell:
        Yes, UK editions of the Missal and Lectionary all use the Septuagint numbering. We are very used to converting when using US-derived materials!

      2. @Paul Inwood:
        Thank you for the clarification. So the English-speaking world was not of one mind when preparing its lectionaries. (Let the reader take note!) Though we are dealing with a Spanish language missal here, my further comments could also apply to the Spanish-speaking world.
        1. What are the repercussions on joint prayer when the participants use different psalm numberings? Is the primary sponsor the one who decides?
        2. When Psallite was made available for the U.K., was a different edition made with the Septuagint numbering?
        3. We old-timers, if we love the liturgy enough to care about such matters, have engaged in mental conversions of this kind for decades. That covers quite a few minutiae of our common prayer besides psalm numbering. Some of them are the result of constructive development and deserve to remain, to remind us of our bonds to the saints and to Christ. Others have a marginal or irrelevant relation to our deposit of faith. Those who contribute to this blog may disagree as to what belongs in which category. That makes for a lively blog! As to me, whether we unite or split Psalms 9/10 and 146/147 has almost nothing to do with how we believe and express our belief together.

      3. @Paul Schlachter:

        2. When Psallite was made available for the U.K., was a different edition made with the Septuagint numbering?

        Psallite was imported into the UK “as is”. No issues.

        We are used to thinking of Ps 22, but we are also familiar with our Anglican sisters and brothers referring to “the 23rd Psalm”. Many will use the reference Ps 22(23) or Ps 23(22). Which number comes first will depend on who your market is.

        The original 1963 edition of the Grail psalter used Septuagint numbering, but indicated where in the Hebrew text the numbering diverged and reconverged, and provided a very useful comparative table.

  4. Regarding the translation, I thought the following remark by Fr. Turner was noteworthy:

    The first English translation took more liberties with the Latin source than the first Spanish translations did, but the English is now more literal than the Spanish.

    This fits with my limited experience of Mass in Spanish. The previous Spanish translation hewed somewhat closer to the Latin, and so they could get away with leaving more in place in translating RMIII. English speakers had a poorer translation to begin with, and funny enough have ended up with a poorer revision (as if two wrongs would somehow make a right).

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