söndag 6 juli 2008

Language in the Catholic liturgy

By mistake and due to bad planning I attended the English language Mass in Uppsala today. The music came from a book called "Gathering". It was jaded 1970s material which I had never heard before, and there was only one singer. I could not understand the readings as they were read by an American with a drawly accent. The priest, a Jesuit, I think, had a slight German accent but was perfectly fluent and understandable.

After the service, which was attended by about 30 people as an outside guess, I spoke to some of the congregation and it seems I was the only UK English-speaking person in the congregation. There were a couple of people from Poland, a couple more from Italy, one from Spain and a few Africans.

There is some point in having the Mass in the vernacular of the country it is being said in, but what is the point of having it in English in circumstances such as those just described? And I have come across the same thing in Estonia, only in that case the priest's English was heavily accented and difficult to understand. Latin is the language of the Catholic church, not English. Where the aim is to cater for a multi-national congregation, surely the way to do it is to sing the simpler Gregorian chants? This has the added advantage that it will appeal to local people who want to sing the chants, in accordance with the latest instructions from Rome.

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