Monday, 5 February 2007

Language in the liturgy

This week's Catholic Herald contained a letter from a bishop in response to one from a priest, about the language that should be used in the liturgy. Both referred to various Vatican documents. It is depressing that the debate should be conducted in these legalistic terms.

Is the use of the vernacular may well have been of advantage to the people in Britain in the 1970s, but in these days of mass immigration and mass travel, we have a different state of affairs.

In recent years, countries in Northern Europe, some with no Catholic tradition, have experienced an influx of Catholics from many different countries, and we often find imported priests struggling to say mass in the vernacular to congregations who are not familiar with the local language either, with parishes cut up into separate language groups with their own liturgies.

Conversely, with the growth of tourism, visitors find themselves excluded when they attend the local church while on holiday.

Here in Brighton, we have experienced a large influx of Catholics from Eastern Europe, who would be a great asset if they were integrated, but instead keep themselves entirely separate, while at the same time we have students and visitors from many different countries. It does't make sense to have mass in English all the time.

Most of the world religions have a special language for the liturgy and for good reasons. Firstly, it is unifying, where the vernacular is divisive. Second, the vernacular is constantly changing and affected by all sorts of factors. These vary from one country to another, but in Britain, the way that people speak is linked to issues of class and place of origin; if the priest's accent is too posh or too strongly local, it becomes an unnecessary distraction in the context of the liturgy. The same goes for the written texts - whatever the style - broadsheet, red-top or Transatlantic - someone is going to feel it is not for them.

The Church needs to move with the times, and we are now in a time of great mobility. The use of a single liturgical language is essential for the integration of the Catholic community.