23 June 2009

Heavy feelings over Greek and Latin being introduced in Mass

Manila Cathedral

Below is an email I received the other day from a friend who, with his wife, both now retired, has spent all his working life in the professional service of the Church, particularly in the training of lay leaders in rural communities and among the poor in urban areas.

The names of my friends don’t matter here nor their place, which is in Mindanao. I have included the email as written in Cebuano-Visayan and given an English translation. Cebuano is the most widely-spoken mother-tongue in the Philippines, both in terms of numbers and in terms of area, and is the second or third language of many more in Mindanao. For the past 40 years or so it has been the main liturgical language in the southern Philippines, especially outside of large cities where English is widely used, though not in the parish where my friend lives.

I would welcome your views on this. I have my own but prefer not to share them yet.

For readers outside the Philippines, 6am is the most popular time for both Sunday and weekday Masses throughout the country. People get up with the sun and it’s not at all the same as 6am in northern Europe or in North America.

Buot lang ko mopadayag sa akong gibati tungod sa paggamit sa (Griego)ug Latin nga mga alawiton sa importaneng bahin sa Misa sa Cathedral. Ambot unsa kaha ang reaction sa Obispo ini. Ania ang content:

Sorry kaayo, Monsignor, nga sukad gibalik ang (Griego) o Latin nga mga kalantahon sa importante kaayong bahin sa alas 6 nga Misa sa Domingo, mopauli ko nga frustrated kaayo. Mobati ko nga dili hingpit ang akong pagdayeg ug pasalamat sa Ginoo. Dili hingpit ang akong pagsaulog, kay dili man kaugalingong natong pinulongan ang gigamit, ug gawas pa, diyotay ra kaayo kog masabtan niini. Ambot kon mao ba usab ni ang gibati sa uban. Para nako nindot man ug balaan ang Misang Latin kon itunong kini sa tinuyo nga oras ug sa espesyal nga grupo. Ang alas 6 nga Misa mao man god sakto kaayo nga panahon alang namong magtiayon. Bug-at kaayo kining akong gabati mao nga nangahas ko pagpadayag ini nimo. Usbon nako, pasayloa lang gyod ko.

I want to share my feelings about the use of (Greek) and Latin in the important sung parts of the Mass in the Cathedral. I don’t know how the bishop will react to this. Here’s the content:

I’m very sorry, Monsignor, but since the return of Greek and Latin singing in the important parts of the 6am Mass on Sundays, I go home very frustrated. I feel that my worship and thanksgiving to the Lord aren’t perfect. My celebration isn’t perfect because the languages being used are not our own. Furthermore, very few understand (them). I don’t know if others feel the same. For me the Latin Mass would be good and sacred if it were celebrated at a specific time for a special group. Mass at 6am is just right for our families. I feel a heaviness and that’s why I wanted to share this with you. I repeat, please forgive me.


nissa_amas_katoj said...

People need to learn the Greek and Latin used in the Mass as they learned in the past; even if masses wholly in the local languages are widely available they should be helped to learn this. The advantage here is that people living abroad and linguistic minorities can participate in Mass and be at home with the familiar Latin and Greek parts even if the rest of the Mass is in a tongue they don't speak well, if at all.
Perhaps churches starting to use Latin and Greek in the Mass might have a little ten-minute session just before the Mass begins, where some small bit of the Latin or Greek is taught to the people along with the meaning. That way even unsophisticated people can learn to be comfortable worshiping in this way.

Fr Seán Coyle said...

I made my original post in three separate forums, Bangor to Bobbio, my personal blog, The Pilgrims’ Inn, the blog of www.misyononline.com that I edit, and on the Online Forum there.

There are a couple of references to a comment on the Online Forum.
The Filipino languages I’m familiar with – they’re languages, not dialects, m_arcedas, though there are dialects within the different regional languages – have two words for the English ‘our’. Tagalog has ‘tayo’, Cebuano and Hiligaynon have ‘kita’. These words indicate an inclusive ‘our’, eg, ‘kita sa parrokya’, ‘we parishioners’, when everyone present is a resident of the parish. But if , for example, the group is nationally mixed, with Americans, Irish, Nigerian, Japanese and Filipinos, the speaker might say ‘Kami mga Pilipino’, ‘we Filipinos’, indicating that the group referred to is a limited one. In English we have to know from context which is meant.

I think that my friend’s email is related to some confusion about that. In his parish if the Mass is totally in Cebuano-Visayan, as it is in nearly all parish Masses, the experience of ‘our’ is ‘kami’. If a Catholic from Ghana happened to be present at a parish Mass would he feel excluded? I have met Filipinos overseas who do. And it’s not only Filipinos. I read on the blog of a priest in England the other day that he was quite shocked to discover that some of his parishioners while visiting Rome didn’t go to Sunday Mass because they couldn’t find one in English.

When visiting countries in continental Europe I sometimes simply attend Mass, knowing that it will be in a language I don’t know. In Ottawa, the capital of Canada, I have attended Mass in French, as French and English are the two official languages of that country, though not of each province in the federation. When visiting the Holy Land in 1994 I spent a few days in a German-speaking monastery where German was the language of the liturgy. I concelebrated Mass because the monks provided translations of the Mass in the main European languages. One of the monks turned out to be an Italian from northern Italy, where German is the main language. He had spent many years as a Mill Hill Missionary in Antique.

Fr Seán Coyle said...

Continuation of previous comment - I used too many characters:

I have seen one columnist on a local paper here complain about a particular weekday Mass in the cathedral being in Hiligaynon. On one occasion members of the Vietnam, I think, soccer team, turned up and she felt bad that they didn’t understand Hiligaynon. I doubt if most of them understood English either!
I find the widespread use of English at Mass in the larger cities and in schools difficult to accept. Here is what the document on the liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, published on 4 December 1963, actually says about language http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19631204_sacrosanctum-concilium_en.html.

The document is for Roman/Latin Rite Catholics, the vast majority, including Filipinos:

36. 1. Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites.

2. But since the use of the mother tongue, whether in the Mass, the administration of the sacraments, or other parts of the liturgy, frequently may be of great advantage to the people, the limits of its employment may be extended. This will apply in the first place to the readings and directives, and to some of the prayers and chants, according to the regulations on this matter to be laid down separately in subsequent chapters.

3. These norms being observed, it is for the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority mentioned in Art. 22, 2, to decide whether, and to what extent, the vernacular language is to be used; their decrees are to be approved, that is, confirmed, by the Apostolic See. And, whenever it seems to be called for, this authority is to consult with bishops of neighboring regions which have the same language.

4. Translations from the Latin text into the mother tongue intended for use in the liturgy must be approved by the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority mentioned above.

54. In Masses which are celebrated with the people, a suitable place may be allotted to their mother tongue. This is to apply in the first place to the readings and "the common prayer," but also, as local conditions may warrant, to those parts which pertain to the people, according to tho norm laid down in Art. 36 of this Constitution.

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.
And wherever a more extended use of the mother tongue within the Mass appears desirable, the regulation laid down in Art. 40 of this Constitution is to be observed.


Fr Seán Coyle said...

Part 3:

In other words, Latin is still the official language of the Latin Rite. One of the great things about the implementation of the document is the much wider use of the Scriptures in the language of the people. But does your ordinary Filipino at Mass in a city understand what is being read if Mass is in English?
Back in 1961 there was a Patrician Year in Ireland to celebrate the death of St Patrick, the main evangelizer of Ireland, in 461. I was at a Mass – the ‘Old Mass’ - in the biggest stadium in Dublin and remember feeling utterly left out when the crowd sang the Creed in Latin. The hair stood on the back of my neck. My feelings were something similar to those of my friend who sent me the email – but for a different reason. I asked, why had I never been taught to sing the Creed in 14 years of Catholic education. It has to be said too that the Irish are reluctant in general to sing at Mass.

Very few countries have only one language and so the topic can be divisive at times, though not necessarily. I spent nearly six weeks in the Faroe Islands in the north Atlantic in the summer of 2000. On one occasion I celebrated Mass in the home of a Filipino family where we simply had no common language. I used mostly English and we had one reading in Tagalog. (There is only one Catholic chapel in the Faroes, that of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary). I would be inclined to use Latin to a large degree in a similar situation now.
Before going to the Faroes I drove around Iceland on a pastoral visit to the Filipinos there. We had some masses in Cebuano and one in Hiligaynon. I gave a weekend retreat in Reykjavík in Cebuano.
But celebrating Mass with Filipinos in England, as I did regularly, even though they conversed mostly in Tagalog, it was clear that they preferred Mass in English, even when I provided all the texts in Tagalog.

I know one Columban priest in the Philippines who goes nearly crazy when he hears ‘The Lord hears the cry of the poor’. It’s not the words that upset him but the music. Much of the music used at Mass in the Philippines, whether from the USA or from Filipino composers, comes from the late 60s and early 70s and has long since passed its sell-by date. We don’t sing the hits of the 60s or 70s except at reunions or if they have become ‘standards’, that is songs that are lasting.

Gregorian Chant has been part of the liturgy of the Church for about 1,500 years and, from the time of Magellan until the late 1960s, part of the heritage of the Church in the Philippines. It’s only purpose is to praise God.

Fr Seán Coyle said...

Part 4:

We have more and more international gatherings of Catholics, whether such events as World Youth Day, or Sunday Mass in countries that have large numbers of immigrants. In Dublin there is a monthly Mass in a city-centre chapel of the Blessed Sacrament Fathers, but in English. However, the vast majority of Filipinos attend Mass in the local parishes and have formed choirs in some of them. In other words, there are times when they come to a Mass for ‘kita mga Pilipino’, ‘we Filipinos’, but generally attend Mass for ‘kita mga Katoliko’, ‘we Catholics’. Ten years ago the typical parish Mass in Ireland was like typical parish Mass here. The only difference was that everyone there was Irish and everyone here, except maybe the priest!, Filipino. Now the typical congregation in Ireland reflects the reality that in ten years the number of foreigners has gone from practically zero to ten percent of the population. There are Masses in their own language for some groups, eg, Poles who now have their own church in Dublin and their own priests.

In my own parish, in the suburbs of Dublin, I see Filipinos, Indians, Poles, Lithuanians, Nigerians, etc, at Mass, which is in English, though some parishes have Masses in Irish (Gaelic) the ancestral language of the country.

Fr Seán Coyle said...

Part 5:

If the Kyrie and the Gloria and the other chants were known by Catholics of the Roman Rite everywhere and used on occasion, we would have worship partly in the common language of worship of Latin Rite Catholics that belongs to all of us. Muslims in the Philippines, most of whom don’t speak Arabic, use some of that language, I understand, in their worship and only the Arabic version of the Qu’ran is accepted as official.

I don’t believe it’s beyond the ability of the average Catholic anywhere in the world to know that ‘Kyrie eleison’ is the Greek for ‘Ginuo, kaluoy kami’ or ‘Lord, have mercy’. I have a friend in Mindanao who, when she was a teenager in 1971-72, when I was learning Cebuano-Visayan, memorized a song in Irish (Gaelic) that I used to sing for the children with whom we practiced our language. She didn’t understand a word until I explained it to her after she had memorized it, and can still sing it.

I’m not sure if the parish of my friend had any preparation for the re-introduction of some chants, in line with the specific teaching of Vatican II. And I believe that the widespread use of English in Mass in the Philippines – I have to go along with it to some degree since I’m neither a Filipino nor a parish priest, and it’s Filipinos who have made that decision, as m_arcedas points out in the Online Forum of Misyon – could be considered a betrayal of Vatican II.

One thing I do share in common with my friend who sent the email is a frequent frustration after taking part in a celebration of Mass, especially concelebrated Masses. There are often no periods of silence, as there should be, and some priests seem to have the people applauding every few minutes. Some of the ‘music’ I have heard at weddings, usually after the Mass, is utterly appalling, turning the church into a concert hall for poor music.

And so often a Mass is held when there’s no pastoral need whatever. I know of one instance of a Mass being celebrated on the occasion of the blessing of a tennis court in a seminary. What kind of nonsense is that? But I’m wandering now!

When I was growing up churches in Ireland were packed on Sundays and on weekdays during Lent. The cough of the congregation after the elevation of the Body and Blood of Christ was often a far more profound act of worship that a hurried ‘Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again’. Now there are very few young people, young adults, teenagers and children, present, except for immigrants and overseas workers. I sometimes ask if there’s a direct connection between the empty churches, the widespread loss of faith, and what has happened to the celebration of Mass in the last 40 years in my country. It’s probably now as simple as that but I think It’s proper to ask the question.

But the central question in my friend’s email is, when should the celebration of the Mass reflect ‘kami’, the exclusive ‘we’, and when should it reflect ‘kita’, the inclusive ‘we’, more strongly. There is a place for both, always keeping in mind that the liturgy, especially the celebration of the Mass, is the source and summit of our Christian life, as the Vatican Council clearly taught. I believe that it’s time all Catholics of the Roman Rite were given back their common heritage of Gregorian Chant, as Vatican II clearly taught.

Fr Seán Coyle said...

You can find more comments on this topic on another forum: http://misyononline.com/misyonforum/index.php?q=node/877