Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Language: The Great Divider

Tower Of Babel tower of babel on pinterest towers , language and ...Phone calls on Saturday or Sunday mornings are normally about Mass times. This Sunday I had a phone call asking, “Where is there Mass at midday in Brighton?” I replied, “There is one here at 12.30, it is in Polish”. The response, “Is there one in Vietnamese? If not we can do English but not Polish”.

Language is of course the great divider, I would have got, I suspect a similar response if I said Mass was in Latin. It is amazing to think most of the world was evangelised when the Church used sacral Latin.

Brighton is a veritable Babel of different languages, Polish amongst the Catholic community is certainly in the majority, and the Polish bishops ensure that for Poles there is a good system of chaplains, having a separate Mass perhaps makes it difficult for the children of Poles who are more comfortable with English to integrate, especially when the move from home. Until the last ten years Portuguese would have been the next biggest language group, there is as far as I know only one Portuguese speaking priest in the country, the result is that hardly any Portuguese seem to come to Mass, though when they return home they might well be devout.

Language for us is a problem, it is of its nature divisive, in the way it isn’t for Islam whose ‘liturgy’ is in classical Arabic, it is of course the sermon that becomes the problem for them as it was for us.

Though we say Latin in the past was the great unifier of Western Catholicism, until just before the Council silence in the liturgy amidst coughs and shuffling of the congregation was the norm, because of course microphones on the altar were forbidden, 'amplification' on the sanctuary was done by the clergy singing, this didn't happen at low Mass which is what most people attended, so in point of fact most people were evangelised by encouraging a strong devotional life based as much on the domestic and school as it was on the parish or mission church. He was merely responsible for celebrating the sacrament properly, praying and possibly preaching a half good sermon and not much else, the Church survived and prospered.


As an addenda: I thought this from NLM was interesting, in the world of the Traditional though priests as a species were important, as individuals, at least in church, they were not that important, I remember a friend who left who said he couldn't cope 'with the weight, the responsibility'. He wasn't the type of priest who could "say the black and do the red".

The Novus Ordo Missae has horizontal and vertical dimensions, but what it lacks is precisely depth. The depth has to be brought to it from the outside — from the interior spirit of the celebrant, from the accidents of place and time, from the luck of options well-chosen and well-executed.[1] As it stands, the modern liturgy does not supply that depth in and of itself. It is utterly at the mercy of the ars celebrandi, the community, the authorities, the prevailing mores of society. Even as contemporary society is living off of the fumes of traditional morality, so too the contemporary liturgy, to the extent that it is sanctifying of men and glorifying of God, is living off of the fumes of traditional liturgy.


Ben Whitworth said...

A Polish priest in Scotland recently introduced a Latin (novus ordo) Mass precisely so that Scottish and Polish Catholics could worship together. A far cry from the Scottish bishop whom I once heard saying to an enquirer, "No, sorry, you've missed the last Mass. Well, there is a Mass in Polish at 12 o'clock, but I don't suppose that will be much good to you."

Victor S E Moubarak said...

Ah ... memories.

When I was young, the Mass was in Latin. The missal had one page in Latin and the next facing page in French so we could respond to "Dominus vobiscum" in Latin but understand the translation in French. The sermon was in French. We had no microphones nor speakers in church. The priest celebrated Mass with his back to the congregation. We knelt by the railings to take Communion on the tongue and the altar server put a plate under our chin to catch any particles of the Host that might fall. There was no Blood of Christ offered. And confessions were in proper wooden confessionals with the priest sitting in his cubicle and the penitents kneeling on either side.

But now ... all is modern and sophisticated ... and I wonder what God thinks of it all.

God bless you. Hope you are keeping well, Father.

Unknown said...

As usual you are fascinating, and point out things that ought to have been obvious. The 'silence', except for coughs and shufflings &c, is wondrous to experience today.

But a tiny detail - 'microphones were forbidden on the altar'. One would dearly love that to now be the case, but were they? (at least for the post-'20s, after the technology had been invented!)

Pelerin said...

Ben Whitworth's comment on what he overheard a Bishop say regarding having 'missed the last Mass' saddened me. It was as if because the enquirer would not understand the homily then there would be no point in his attending Mass. A very protestant view. The Bishop seemed to have missed the point of the Mass being an action in whatever language it is celebrated.

A few years back I remember being disappointed at finding it had started snowing outside one Sunday morning. I realised the buses would soon stop running and I would have been unable to go to Mass. It cleared up later and I remembered the Polish Mass at mid day so of course I went. Not understanding a word of Polish the sermon was of course unintelligible to me but the Mass was the Mass and it was not difficult to follow. The singing was beautiful too.

Incidentally a French tv newsreader once had to apologise for having said that the homily before Vatican II was given in Latin!

Physiocrat said...

The Tridentine Mass has the enormous advantage that in a polyglot congregation, everyone can follow the text in their own languages. This also gets around the problem that most churches have difficult acoustics, badly set up public address systems and readers who do not enunciate clearly and are unable to speak as the PA system requires.

pablito said...

I so agree with Fr Ray here. When Latin was the language of the Mass, which was the same in Poland and Peru, as in Italy, Ireland and Idaho, the Church was truly universal. The Second Vatican Council permitted Mass in the vernacular, but never intended it to replace Latin completely, as has almost happened. I'm no fan of Mass in the Ordinary Form, but when it's celebrated in Latin in one of London's beautiful choral churches, it still has both dignity and universality, notwithstanding its theological shortcomings. But a true Babel exists in today's world where even doctrine is starting to vary from one jurisdiction to another. I don't suppose we'll ever see a return to the Universal Church with its sacral language, but the Church has become infinitely poorer spiritually for the changes it has undergone.

John Vasc said...

If a clear understanding of every word were to be a criterion of receiving grace at Mass, the deaf and hard-of-hearing would be heading for hell - luckily, it is not so.

All the fixed texts from the TLM could always (and of course still can) be followed either from memory or in one's missal - the Prayers at the foot of the altar, the Canon, etc. The Propers are/were also in one's missal, and exactly where and when they are said becomes clear after attending only a few Masses. So anyone who wants to 'actively' follow Mass can easily do so with a missal, even a hundred yards away from a large altar, even at a Low Mass with an inaudible celebrant. Since there is none of the usual noise and chatter in the pews, distractions are far fewer.

John Vasc said...

Back in the day, missals were rarer among the bulk of the faithful:many regulr massgoers would instead either say the Rosary or just switch off in private prayer and meditate on the mysteries. (And who is to say whether they did not have 'the better part' by concentrating on only One Important Thing?)
Wilful inattention is sinful, of course, but no one *must* follow every word to obtain God's grace. Sometimes e.g. when missal-less, or unable to discover which Mass Propers Father is saying today (could it be a commem of St Christina the Astonishing? :-) one has to put up with understanding no more than a glimmer (a phrase of St Paul, the general story of the Gospel narrative, a known tag from a psalm, the silent infinity of the Canon, followed through its visible actions). It is rather like 'not seeing but still believing' - a schooling of patience, and a corrective to intellectual pride.
In comparison, the Novus Ordo often feels like spoonfeeding within the comfort zone. One can hear every word, but engagement is more difficult. It can often go by without much of a sense of meaning at all: even more of a challenge than not hearing.

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