You’ve likely noticed this past year on several holy days such as the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary or All Saints Day we’ve celebrated bilingual Masses in English and Spanish in the evening. We just celebrated a bilingual Thanksgiving Day Mass, and this Friday, December 8th, we will have a bilingual Mass in the evening at 7pm, for the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which is a holy day of obligation.
Previous to coming to St. Raphael, I worked for 5 years at……….Blessed Sacrament parish in Burlington which was also a parish with a large percentage of Spanish-speaking families. They had a long tradition of celebrating bilingual Masses on holy days, but even there, as happens here at St. Raphael, questions arise about why they are celebrated. I want to address why I think having several liturgies each year in both English and Spanish is important, necessary, and even a good and valuable thing.
But first, I do want to acknowledge the difficulty. Believe me, no one knows more about the difficulties of celebrating bilingual liturgies since I’m in charge of putting them together, but am not conversant in Spanish myself. There is a lot more work that goes into the preparation of a bilingual liturgy. We have to coordinate between two groups of liturgical ministers, two choirs, prepare a worship aid that is more extensive than normal, prepare a bilingual ritual text for the presiders, etc., etc. It’s tedious. And from the perspective of someone in the pew, it definitely requires more work. You may be singing music that isn’t as familiar, in a different language. You may have to follow along with one or more of the readings in the program instead of listening to it in your own language. Preparing and participating in a bilingual Mass no doubt requires more effort from us than a liturgy entirely in our own language.
So, why bother? I think it comes down to the question of whether we want to be one parish, one people, united in faith despite our lingual and cultural differences, or two or more parishes that happen to share a building. United communities are able to worship together regularly. Being part of a community, a family, is about sacrificial love. In order for us to come together, we have to give up, to sacrifice, parts of the Mass for the greater good. So we might not understand 100% of what is said, or have to work harder to follow along. We might not get to sing all of our favorite hymns on All Saints day. We will not get to rest in our comfort zone for an hour.
This is precisely why bilingual Masses are gifts from God. They remind us of what is important, why we are there. We should not come to any Mass only expecting to receive in the manner that we deem suitable. Rather, we are reminded to come with open hearts, ready to be surprised, and to be taken out of our comfort zone. We are reminded that the most important thing that happens at Mass is not that we intellectually process every word, but that we encounter Jesus Christ in his Word, amidst the assembly of his Mystical Body, the Church, and in his Body and Blood. We are reminded that the word “liturgy” means “work of the people” and that having to do a little extra work to fully participate in the Mass is not a bad thing.
So, confession time, when I began at Blessed Sacrament, I prepared and participated in bilingual liturgies because I had to for my job, not because I saw a whole lot of value. At first I was annoyed, but God worked on my hard heart, and over the first couple of years, I came to appreciate the beauty and importance of the entire community worshiping together at one liturgy. I soon looked forward to these several times a year when we all gathered together, despite our language and cultural differences, and worshiped the one Creator of us all. My prayer for St. Raphael is that a greater number of us in both the English and Spanish-speaking communities can find the value of worshiping together, learning together how to love one another as Jesus teaches and demonstrates to us.
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– Jeff Rice, Pastoral Associate of Liturgy & Music