If the mass is in English, should the song repertoire be all English?

In the growing concern for good liturgy, many music ministries, whether in the parish, school or local community, would like to know how to choose appropriate songs for the mass.

One of the concerns is the use of language. In a repertoire for a particular liturgy, should we use one language according to the tongue used for the mass? If the mass is in English, should the songs be all English? If the mass is in Filipino, can we also sing Cebuano or English songs? This is a chance to use our pastoral judgment: What is best for the members of the gathered liturgical assembly.

Parish and worship communities nowadays are multi-lingual and diverse. In the Philippines, we are usually tri-lingual. We understand and speak English, Filipino and our own regional dialect. We are multi-cultural and thus our music ministries should respect this intercultural relationship within the gathered assembly.

To respect the diverse languages and ethnicities of the congregation, a bilingual or multi-lingual repertoire can help bring the gathered community together in sung praise. Choirs of the community must know their gathered assembly. What languages do they speak?

In an academic institution in Manila, where English and Filipino are modes for instruction, a bilingual repertoire is appropriate. But in a school like Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro City in Mindanao, a tri-lingual repertoire will fit the community: English, Filipino, and Cebuano. If a community knows Latin, then a latin song can be sung too; if not, don’t. The use of the vernacular is still the norm, “for the sake of a better comprehension of the mysteries being celebrated.” (General Instruction of Roman Missal, no. 12)

Furthermore, we can also use varied musical forms to encourage participation. We can use music with refrains, responses and even song translations as long as the translation does not violate the integrity of the original song.

Therefore, many liturgical leaders and musicians should compose and use their traditional music for worship. They know their culture, and thus they know how to incorporate various cultural expressions into the liturgy, particularly music. However, they have to ensure that the songs they sing are always theologically correct and appropriate for the parts of the mass.

The objective in judging the language of the mass is clear. It is the mandate of Vatican II in 1965. This is the dream: “full, conscious and active participation of the faithful.” Thus do everything to make the mass an experience.

Published by Jboy Gonzales SJ

TV/Digital host: Kape't Pandasal. Vlog: YT On the Line. Environment, Youth Formation. Music. Leadership. Always dancing to a different drum.

One thought on “If the mass is in English, should the song repertoire be all English?

  1. I have gotten used to hearing Mass said in English and sung in Filipino.

    An occasional Latin anthem won’t hurt, I reckon, at least for parts of the Mass where congregational singing or response will not be possible.

    If a part of the academic community receives instruction in a third language (i.e., a non-Philippine one, e.g. Spanish or Latin), I think it will not be a large concession to allow for the occasional use of the Latin ordinary or a Spanish hymn at Mass or any other office of the Church.

    It is incumbent upon teachers and learning institutions to make these things possible.


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