Friday, 4 February 2011

Are we being subjected to liturgical engineering?

I don't mean clown Masses or prancings around the sanctuary, I'm talking about the rash of Masses in Tagalog, Polish, Cantonese (why no Mandarin?), Spanish, Portuguese and even Xhosa for all I know.
These have erupted in Great Britain over the past ten years and I believe that the whole concept of liturgical provision in various languages to be flawed.
Why? For very many sound reasons. For a start, our essential Catholic nature is universal and inclusive. If you must have Mass in the vernacular then that is what should be on offer. The only exception might be if any one country had a "national" Church in a major city, like the French Church near Leicester Square.
For too long we have pushed factions into separate pens, encouraging a ghetto mentality. When Phillipino nurses come to Britain en masse they should go to Mass in the vernacular as part of the process of adopting the language and customs of the country. Keep them apart from their British brethren and you have separatism and exclusion.
In the aftermath of Vatican II, the Catholic regions in India suffered from this problem, and are probably still suffering for all I know. They certainly suffered from it in 1997 when I was last there.
Madras, or Chennai as it is now called presents a very good example of the dangers of "language" Masses. In that region it had been the custom, fully approved of under Quo Primum, of celebrating the Mass in Malayalam but when Vat II took root, the Masses began to be offered in Tamil, Hindi, Kannada and so on. The congregation, of course, split into the social or ethnic groups so that Tamils never had  occasion to mix with Hindi speakers, factionalism crept in and there were scraps over Mass schedules, the various groups became ever more isolated and partisan towards each other. A strain was placed on the Church authorities who had to make great efforts to ensure that priests who spoke the required language were available. What had once been one united congregation (need I say, with the Tridentine Latin Mass) became a series of much smaller, disparate groups with little in common.

Exactly the same problem is emerging in Great Britain. Phillipino Tagalog Mass proliferate as do Polish ones and its not just in the cities, rural communities are being affected also.
Different races need to be brought together rather than segregated and the other major issue is, what happens to the native Catholic? If they only have one chance to get to Mass on a Sunday and its in Polish, they are sunk (at least from following in any co-ordinated fashion). Pastoral care is threatened also. It is unreasonable to expect a priest brought up in a Sri Lankan or Nigerian culture, to click into place in leafy Leamington Spa or Aberaeron in Wales -  generally it just will not work and besides, these priests are much needed back in their home countries.

Photo: Tradition in Action
Mass Indian style in Juan Capistrano Basilica, California - could be your parish next!
 A rapid check online shows that, for example, St Patrick's Soho Square offers Mass in Spanish, Portuguese and Cantonese; and remember last year when Damian Thompson of Holy Smoke reported on Mgr Curry's move to ditch sung Latin Mass in favour of Tagalog Folksie?
It can only be a question of time before someone offers us Mass in Esperanto!
                                     Dio sav ni!


  1. Funny you should mention this. Our new pp announced a Spanish Mass recently. Not that I've noticed an overwhleming need among the congregation which tends to be elderly and British.
    Perhaps the pp wants to mug up on his Holas as against halos.