Thursday, April 17, 2008

Multi-lingual thoughts (2)

I heard some sniping about the multi-lingual petitions offered during the Prayer of the Faithful part of the Mass. Today petitions were offered in English, Tagalog, Korean, Vietnamese, Igbo, and Spanish. I not only have no problem with each petition to God being offered in a different language by a different person, I consider it one of the most intimate parts of the Liturgy. It is also, far from being revisionist, very close to how it was during the time of Jesus. Here is why.

Many people seem to think that America is the first "melting pot" of diversity. Well, goodness, what do you think Jerusalem and Rome were like during the days of Jesus and the Apostles and disciples? One of the Apostles, St. Philip, was Greek, and had to interpret the words of Greek visitors who wished to speak to Jesus! Many cultures and many languages were spoken throughout Biblical society, including within Jesus' own circle.

When the Holy Spirit descended at Pentecost, one of the gifts was the ability to understand many different languages. Notice that they realized they could understand each other's languages immediately. How could they notice that if they were all speaking the same language?

Acts 2: 4, 8-11

And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak in foreign tongues, even as the Holy Spirit prompted them to speak. "And how have we heard each his own language in which he was born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and visitors from Rome. Jews also and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians, we have heard them speaking in our own languages of the wonderful works of God."

Pay attention! This is so awesome!! St. Luke is actually listing the native cultures and languages of the people who were present, both within the room and passers-by, at the Pentecost!

How can people carp and snipe, then, when petitions to God during the Mass are offered by different individuals in different languages? This is in fact an authentic vignette of how early services - the very earliest services - would have been conducted. The Apostles and disciples were always comprised of multi-lingual peoples, even before they went out in the world and evangelized. If you went back in time to these earliest services you would have heard participants each speak in their own language as necessary. This is why this temporary gift of the Holy Spirit, to understand each other instantly, was so amazing. If they all spoke the same language they would not have marveled in amazement. St. Luke says that it was so extraordinary that some accused them of being drunk!

So you have proof of the many languages that were spoken directly within the circle of Jesus and in the hugely "melting pot" society of Jerusalem, Israel, Syria, the lands around them, and of course throughout Rome and its Empire. Many, many languages were spoken, including during the early Church gatherings. Latin was adopted because of the See of Peter so that the Church can have the standard language to guarantee global precision of the word of God and consistency, with the continuity of tradition. But to roll one's eyes and snipe at "modern" parts of the liturgy, such as the petitions presented by individuals in their native languages, is to totally NOT understand the very origins of the Church. Acts lists the very depth of languages present in "one city block" within and around the Apostles and disciples as they received the Holy Spirit in Pentecost.