One liturgy in many languages

By Pat Wettstein | For The Compass | May 12, 2016

The Living Rite column explores what you will see, hear, taste, touch or smell while at church this weekend.

Imagine you are in a foreign land as part of a large crowd celebrating a major holiday and suddenly you hear the native people all around you speaking your language. In today’s first reading the witnesses to the disciples speaking in tongues experienced just that.
Some of us have been fortunate to celebrate the liturgy in a foreign country. We are able to follow the common rite, but something is missing because we cannot fully participate in our own tongue.

Many immigrants and refugees now residing in our country feel happy to be here, but still not fully acclimated. How fortunate that, while they strive to learn their new language, they can participate in a liturgy that can take them back to a warm place in their hearts when it’s celebrated in their native language.

As we travel the Green Bay Diocese and other dioceses, there are Masses celebrated in many languages. What a gift to live in a country where people can celebrate the same liturgy in their own tongue.

The first language of the early church was Aramaic or Hebrew. As Christianity spread to the Gentiles, Greek was the common language of the people. By 380, Latin was the established language. However, by the 9th century, Latin was no longer the language of the people. However, since the Mass was already steeped in Latin it continued as such, although the homily was in the vernacular (common tongue).

The reforms following Vatican II revised that. While retaining Latin as the official language of the Roman Rite, it also allowed the use of the vernacular in all the Mass texts. The reasons are not hard to surmise According to the Vatican II document on the Sacred Liturgy, “Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful be led to that full, conscious and active participation in liturgical celebrations,” which is more readily accomplished in the language of the community (Sacrosancto Concilium, n. 14,)

Today’s psalm, “Lord, send out your Spirit and renew the face of the earth,” is a relevant refrain for us to store in our minds and hearts. Though we all are comforted in our own separate native languages, we are in communion when we celebrate the Eucharist. So let us be like those first witnesses — amazed to hear the emanations of the Holy Spirit declared in their own tongue.

Sources: Encyclopedia of Catholicism;

Wettstein is a volunteer choir director and former director of music and liturgy at Good Shepherd Parish, Chilton.

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