Words at the Consecration

Those few lines before the miracle of transubstantiation are so important - they make the Mass.

It’s kind of peculiar but I was thinking about how the Priest can use any language and say the words in whatever way (you know: really loud, quiet, etc.) as long as he says them intending to do as the Church does. But how does this work when you really analyse it? Could a dead language (such as Old English, I do not include Latin as dead because the Vatican still uses it officially) be used? I mean this seriously: What if I was to make up a gibberish-sounding language and give the phrase I’d made up that translated to mean the words at the Consecration? Seeing that the Priest can speak any of thousands of different languages and the miracle still happens, could he use some random new language? What about Tolkien’s Elvish?

I know it all sounds rather strange. But I am genuinely curious about this!!

Hope somebody can help…
God Bless,

What makes the Mass or the Divine Liturgy valid is the priest who officiates. It doesn’t matter what rite or language for that matter since the Holy Spirit knows what He is to do. He doesn’t need a translater. I am always surprised though why the West thinks more of the words that do make this change. I grew up Western in the first half of my life and I was puzzled with what the Mass teaches or for that matter what it doesn’t teach. The Mass of the Catholic rite as beautiful at it is really doesn’t teach much about what is going on for instance to a child. Even though the Roman rite does not permit Communion to children it does help explain for instance the lack of understanding Communion can be to a child. The Eastern Church permits Communion to children as soon as they are baptised and within the Eastern rites there is noticable explanations of what is going on during the Liturgy itself. It seems East and West go about a different approach in giving out their catechism.

People may object to my own observations but I am not criticising the format of the Western rite rather I am noticing its lack of catechism contained into it for the benefit of a child. I know Catholics receive catechism beforehand to understand the Communion but that is not what I mean. I find the Catholic communion more geared for adults and the Eastern one more geared for children. Catholics need their catechism for without it you may not quite get it. The opposite is true within the Eastern Liturgy. Their catechism is contained within the structure of their Divine Liturgy. It is quite remarkable you can experience God while at the same time learn a bit of catechism.

Language doesn’t seem to bother God. But it must be a language that both the priest and those who are with him can understand together. It seems pointless for instance if a priest celebated a Mass in chinese to people who can only understand for instance english. It doesn’t mean it can’t be done but common sense will tell you that receiving God in your own language will be better. It must of been difficult years ago when Latin was only used at the Mass. In one sense their was a unified experience throughout the world when one went to Mass. But unless you received catechism to supplement it the average layperson wouldn’t have a clue of what is going on.

Thank God for Vatican II to open the doors for the layperson to finally know more. I personally think the words of consecration are beautiful as well. I have experienced many rites and when the Roman rite is done in orderly fashion and with much piety and solemnity it a beautiful experience to behold. As an adult I can appreciate it even more.

Lay people years ago used a St. Joseph Missal which had Latin on one side and the English translation on the other. We knew what was happening. I do agree that more empahsis should be on teaching the Mass to children.

I think one could make the argument that even though most Masses are in the vernacular that people understand even less than when it was in Latin.

I don’t believe any text in Old English is an approved translation.

And understanding the language isn’t as important as understanding what’s happening. The priest’s own actions should convey when and where that’s happening. You may not always find the most convenient Mass to be in your vernacular, but it’s just as valid.

So does it have to be an “approved” language? :slight_smile:


  1. 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. And, whenever it seems to be called for, this authority is to consult with bishops of neighboring regions which have the same language.
  1. Translations from the Latin text into the mother tongue intended for use in the liturgy must be approved by the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority mentioned above.

Okay, that makes sense! Thanks for this!! :slight_smile:

No, approval of the language is not required for validity.

exactly: if approval is needed for something, it clearly can’t change it’s validity.

The OP brings up a very interesting question: what is a language, for litugical validity purposes?

Could a Mass be validly celebrated in a fictional yet working language? This makes my head hurt…

You are right that Vatican II called us to learn more about our faith.

But if by “know more,” you mean abandoning latin, keep in mind that what Vatican II asked for was a retention of most or all of the latin that was used before, with some limited vernacular. What Vatican II did NOT ask for was a discarding of our liturgical language, latin.

Anyways, it would seem that back then, most people understood more than they did now, in many ways. Ever heard of hand-missals?

I know that this forum is for Catholic Sacraments, but I’d just like to point out that in Orthodoxy the people are as important as the priest for the Sacrament. If there is no acclimation (the “Amens” during the Anaphora), there is no Sacrament, from the Orthodox point of view.

I’m commenting this because I see that you are Orthodox.

And those translations in the hand-missals need not be approved. :slight_smile:

To some extent it is.

It’s not valid if a priest says, for example, “This is my body only for those of Polish descent.” in whatever language.

The text should be EXACTLY as the Vatican specifies for liceity and validity.

There has been no approval for Old English texts. In fact even the 1970 language is no longer legal. There can be no certainty in validity in using your own or in some old missal translated texts.

I have another question to add here: “Must the words of the Priest be said aloud?”

I believe in the OF, the words of Consecration must be said aloud. I could be wrong, however. In the EF, the Roman Canon was “inaudible” to the congregation. So, whether the Canon was said audibly or inaudibly would not invalidate the miracle happening on the altar.

Yes, we had the St. Joseph Missal with the Latin and English translation AND, if you went to a parochial high school, you were required to take Latin for at least one or two years. Latin was also offered in public schools.


If you had asked this question 50 years ago, probably everyone would have said “yes” (not “aloud” as in spoken in a normal way but that the words must be “audible”).

But, with the greater appreciation for and understanding of sign language that has come in the past decades, I think many experts would now say that a priest who cannot speak–but uses sign language–can and does validly celebrate the Sacraments. Dr. Ed Peters wrote an article on this topic a few years back: “The Ordination of Men Bereft of Speech and the Celebration of Sacraments in Sign Language.” I found it to be a convincing article.


When I mean know more I am referring to your expeience with God within the Liturgy or Mass. I was referrng more to your heart not exaltly what the format is. You may know these words of another language what it gives but I was not thinking about that. I was only directing to one’s own affair with God which at best can be done within the language they best understand.

Yes you are right. I too learned this discipline and perspective while living my life within the Orthodox Church. The participation of the Laity is vitally important if Grace is to be poured out. May be this distinction from the East is something we can give to the West.

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