Hocus Pocus!: A New Roman Missal Lesson Plan

With all of the changes happening in the Church related to the new translation of the Roman Missal, it is important to make a crucial point about the prayers of the Mass: they are not magic words. We use a translation of the original Latin to make a fitting offering to God in the liturgy. We don’t have to say the words in Latin for them to “work.” This is unlike “magic words,” which have to be said in a certain way.

Hocus Pocus or Hoc Est Corpus?

This understanding wasn’t always so clear. In the middle ages, the uneducated laypeople (and priests!) didn’t understand Latin very well. To them, the prayers of the Mass were magical. They didn’t understand what the priest was saying (and since his back was turned to them, it was probably hard to hear!). When the priest pronounced, “This is my body” or in Latin, “Hoc est enim corpus meum,” the people misheard him say “Hocus Pocus” as if he was pronouncing the magic words of consecration. Though we have certain set ways of praying the liturgy that have a long history, the words are not magical in the sense that by saying them in a certain way we can cause something to happen.

Learning Objective: SWBAT explain why the words of the Mass are different from magic words.

Assessment: Exit Card

Hocus Pocus Teaching Strategies:

1. Video: Show a clip of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the first movie in the Harry Potter series. Select a clip of the young students learning new spells by saying the magic words just right (Wingardium Leviosa!). Ask the students to point out what makes the magic spell work (saying the magic words just right). (P)

2. Direct Instruction: Write the Latin version of the priest’s words at the consecration, “This is my body” or “Hoc est enim corpus meum…” Ask students to try to guess the popular magic words/phrase that is derived from these Latin words. Reveal it to them if they can’t figure it out: Hocus Pocus. Share a little history of the phrase (given above). (R)

(If there is time or interest, you might also want to point out another legacy of these words: the Hokey Pokey. This game was probably created as an insult toward Catholics whose priest seemed to be dancing at the altar, raising his hands and bowing towards the altar then back toward the congregation.)

3. Individual Activity: Distribute the worksheet, Hocus Pocus! You Didn’t Say the Magic Word. Explain that with the changes to the Roman Missal it is important to remember that even though we say different words, there is just as much power in the Mass. We don’t have to say the words exactly right like they do in Harry Potter. Have students circle the changes from the old Roman Missal to the New Roman Missal. (O)

4. Class Discussion: Based on the changes shown in the worksheet, discuss with the students how they think the new translation shows how the liturgy is translated today. (You might ask: Which one has more words? Which one is closer to the Latin?). Ask the students to discuss which version they think is better. (C)

5. Exit Card: How has the new translation of the Roman Missal changed in style? How do the words of the Mass differ from magic words? (ESS)


PROCESS is a system of lesson planning explained in The Religion Teacher’s Guide to Lesson Planning.


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  1. Very creative and I know the students will love it! :)

  2. ecrmum says:

    Thanks for this great idea…will definitely use it with my 4th graders!

  3. The worksheet has an error. The translations of the mea culpa are reversed.