onsdag 9 maj 2012

English Catholic Mass abroad

Travellers attending Mass abroad will notice the widespread practice of celebrating it in English. This appears to be principally for students and for immigrants from former British colonial countries, though tourists will often attend these liturgies.

There also seems to have been delays in introducing the English translation of the Mass, so they will often find the old 1973 version one still in use. The new version was prepared by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy, following the principles laid down in 2001 in Liturgiam autenticam. The new translation was brought into use on the first Sunday in Advent 2011. Presumably that the new translation will be brought into use in non-English speaking countries when new missals have been obtained.

It seems to me, however, that the opportunity could usefully be taken to re-examine the use of English abroad, especially where there is no significant English-speaking immigrant group, comparable to, for example, immigrants of Polish origin, nor is there a significant number of clergy who come from English-speaking countries.

There is, apparently, an idea that English is a shared common language comparable in status to that which Latin once enjoyed, but this is not so. Where English is used within the context of student chaplaincies, the situation that arises is that the Mass is being celebrated for a congregation, the majority of whom do not have English as their mother tongue, by a priest who is also not from an English-speaking country. This is distracting for members of the congregation who actually are from English speaking countries, when they are forced to listen to a priest and readers who are not entirely fluent in what is for them a foreign language. The selection of readers creates a particular problem because of the diversity of English dialects. These variations are as different as Danish and Swedish; dialects from parts of the USA or even southern Ireland are barely comprehensible to someone used to the English of, say, southern England, unless the words are enunciated with extreme clarity.

A further difficulty relates to the music. Settings for the 1973 translation mostly date from the early 1970s. They were mostly written in the contemporary popular music idiom and are showing their age. New music has been composed for the new translation but the quality is mixed. It will be several years at least before the necessary weeding-out process has occurred. It will also have to be learned.

Whilst the ICEL translation was being revised, Summorum Pontificum was issued. In both Britain and the US, this has led to an increase in the use of the Tridentine form of the Mass, since this was preferred as an alternative to persisting in the use of a translation which was officially acknowledged to be defective. In parishes where the Tridentine form is now being celebrated regularly and at convenient times, there has been a steady increase in attendance, especially where parishioners have been encouraged to receive the Sacrament of Confession more often, typically once a month. In fact, I would go further and suggest that such parishes have enjoyed a substantial resurgence of their faith life, in particular, amongst young and well educated men, who are a potential source of priestly vocations.

Given these developments, I would suggest that consideration be given to the use of the Tridentine form of the mass in contexts where the congregation present is from a variety of different countries. This would also help meet the currently unsatisfied desire of many local Catholics to attend this form of the liturgy at a convenient time and place. A further benefit, especially in protestant countries, is that it would promote a better understanding of Catholic theology of the eucharist amongst parishioners, which as you know, is often confused with protestant concepts.

From a practical point of view, the use of the Tridentine form has the advantage that no new books are needed, much of the Mass is recited silently, members of the congregation can follow in books or from printed sheets in their own language, and that a substantial body of familiar music is already available and familiar.

The opportunity of the introduction of the new English translation should be taken to review the use of English abroad, with a view to the substantial replacement of English masses by the Tridentine form. This is more suitable for use in “international” congregations of students, tourists and other visitors.

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