Sunday, April 02, 2006

Bilingual Situations

As you may have noticed (or perhaps not...) I've disappeared for Lent along with most of the rest of the Catholic blogging universe. But today is Sunday, and I had this urge to write, so I decided to break my fast and post a good long article. Anyway...on to the subject.

The parish I have attended for the last 6 years is comprised of several different culture groups, each of which speaks a different language. To be specific, we have English, Hispanics, Filipinos, and Vietnamese. And when certain days are celebrated (such as Thanksgiving, New Years, and Holy Thursday) at which all of these groups are likely to be present, the commonly used solution to the language problem is a bilingual or multilingual Mass. For those of you who have never attended one of these, the basic format might go something like this: Opening hymn in English, greeting in Spanish, readings in Tagalog, homily in English, Offertory hymn in English, Eucharistic prayer in all three languages, Sanctus and Agnus Dei in Spanish, announcements in English and Spanish, and closing hymn in Tagalog. Or something similar. You get the basic picture. I think the idea is to attempt to bring at least some sort of unity to the parish by getting all the language groups together at one Mass. But I believe there is a problem with these kinds of Masses, and that is that they simply don't unify the congregation. I'll try to illustrate.

Imagine that you're sitting in a pew at church. Next to you is a Hispanic family chattering away in Spanish. On the other side is a Filipino couple whispering to each other in Tagalog. You can't understand a word of what they're saying, and they are just as baffled by the English coming out of your mouth. You know that you are both Catholic, but their culture and language is so different that it seems as though there is a complete disconnect between you. You hope that perhaps participating together in the Mass will help to eliminate that feeling, but when the Mass begins, it turns out to be neatly chopped up and the little pieces relegated each to a different language group, to do with what they will. Perhaps the processional hymn is in English. You can understand that just fine, but your neighbors are standing with tightly shut mouths and looks of complete bewilderment on their faces, not singing, just glancing around rather uncomfortably. Then the priest begins to greet the people, but suddenly a transition has been made from the traditional English hymn to a lively Spanish penitential rite. Then the guitars start up and a straight-out-of-Mexico Kyrie and Gloria are sung. Now it's you standing there looking around uncomfortably, feeling as though you're completely out of place. And when the reading begins, the Filipino couple next to you perks up at the sound of Tagalog coming from the pulpit, while you and the Hispanics next to you sit and stare at the pledge cards in the back of the pew while waiting for your next segment of the Mass. And so it continues on until the closing hymn.

To me, this sort of thing doesn't foster true unity at all. All that happens is one group getting their little part of the Mass all to themselves, with their own type of music and all, while the rest sit around and have no idea what's going on, until it's their turn to have their little piece with their kind of music and their language, while the first group sits and stares at the walls. The two groups are not doing anything together as one. When I attend these Masses, I generally have the following thought pattern: "Oh, it's my turn now. Time to do something in English at last. Oh, okay, now it's their turn over there. Hm, I have no idea what they're saying. Whoa, didn't understand that at all. Oh, looks like it's the Filipinos' section. Time to sit down again and look at the shrine while they go on in Tagalog." I'm not really conveying this as well as I'd like, and it's hard to get the idea across to people who have never actually been to a multilingual Mass. But hopefully you get at least a dim idea of what I'm trying to say. It's like going to these things just highlights the total cultural differences between you and your neighbors, rather than making a real attempt at having the congregation feel unified in their faith.

But there is a different, better solution to multilingual situations, and that is simply to use the Church's language, Latin. The Church does not belong to any one country or nationality; it is international. It is for all people. This should be reflected in the language of the liturgy when more than one language group comes together at one time. And what better language to use than Latin? It is not the language of any country; it is not commonly spoken by any ethnic group anymore. This eliminates any resentment that might arise ("Why do they get to have the Mass in their language? What about us?"). It also enables the entire congregation to participate as one. They can all reply in one language to the words of the priest, spoken in that same language. Will not it bring a sense of true unity to speak in the same common language, the language of the universal Catholic Church, along with the Hispanic, the Filipino, the Vietnamese, and any others that are with you? To me, it gives me a feeling that yes, this is our faith; this is the Catholic faith of all of us, that binds us together spiritually as the Body of Christ, rather than feeling that this is my part, and that over there is your part, and neither of us can participate in the other's section. Most people will probably not understand the Latin, but translations can be made available if desired, and this way everyone will be on an equal footing with everyone else as far as understanding the language goes, so no one will have the Mass more to themselves than another group.

I understand that some people probably disagree with me on this topic, but there you have my feelings on the subject and why I feel that way (the best I could describe it). I'd like to close with a quote from Pope Pius XII. It is taken from his encyclical Mediator Dei. "The use of the Latin language, customary in a considerable portion of the Church, is a manifest and beautiful sign of unity, as well as an effective antidote for any corruption of doctrinal truth."


Anonymous Madeline said...

Terrific! I agree that Latin is quite appropriate. And much nicer.

3:59 PM  
Blogger the Green Flash said...

Your observations regarding the tendency toward divisiveness inherent in "multicultural" events, Sanchez, are astute and well-taken, as are your remarks on the essentially unitive power of the Latin liturgy. Were we at a Protestant service, we really wouldn't have any idea what was being said, since there is no fixed lectionary and each congregation is often autonomous in devising its own forms.

Fortunately for us Catholics, dispite linguistic and stylistic differences between the various ethnic groups, we still have our common Catholic culture, a blessed patrimony! We are all familiar enough (or should be) with the basic structure of the Mass and the common prayers of the Ordinary that, even were we to attend a Mass said in Chinese, Arabic or Navajo, we wouldn't be entirely at a loss. And, in the U.S., we usually have the Missalettes that provide a ready translation of most everything (except the homily), so we wouldn't have to stare off blankly into space with "no idea" of what's going on. (I realize that you were making a rhetorical point and didn't actually mean that we had no idea what was going on.)

Have a Blessed Triduum!
(8:30 am, April 10, '06)

8:33 AM  
Blogger Giacomo said...

Vatican II says the following in its constitution on the sacred liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium:

116. The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services.

But other kinds of sacred music, especially polyphony, are by no means excluded from liturgical celebrations, so long as they accord with the spirit of the liturgical action.

54. In Masses which are celebrated with the people, a suitable place may be allotted to their mother tongue...Nevertheless steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them.

+ + +

In other words, get rid of Gregorian chant and polyphony, throw out Latin altogether, and start singing Sesame Street tunes with Protestant theology.

Am I understanding the spirit of the document?

1:44 PM  
Blogger Sanchez said...

Thanks for your comment, Todd. It's nice to be able to see what Vatican II actually says about the matter, instead of being constantly bombarded by what you refer to as Sesame Street tunes in the name of the "spirit" of the council.

9:31 PM  

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