An English convert’s experience attending Mass in the Aran Islands in 1951
Daphne Pochin Mould (1920-2014) was raised as a High-Church Anglican in England but subsequently lost her faith to agnosticism. She converted to Catholicism in 1950 and a year later, she made a tour of Ireland, eventually settling in a small village in Co. Cork. Her book The Rock of Truth (published in 1953) recounts her conversion and subsequent tour of Ireland. I was particularly struck by her experience with the Latin liturgy in the Aran Islands (a set of rugged Irish-speaking islands off the west coast of Ireland) and her insights on liturgical language (p. 204):
The Aran Islands are Irish-speaking, and it was there, in the May of my first visit to Ireland that I began to understand how the Catholic Church combines an intimate homeliness with a universality that is above all national and racial boundaries. The islanders were chattering to each other in Irish, but the Mass was in Latin. Non-Catholics object strongly to the Latin liturgy of the Church, but to me it had always appealed; partly because of the glitter of the Latin itself, which is a language better shaped for liturgical use than English, and partly because, being a dead language, it has an essential timelessness, and the meaning of the words, unlike those, for instance, of the English Authorized translation of the Bible, remain static and unaltered. Now in Aran, myself without any Irish to speak of and trying to make contact with people who did not normally use English amongst themselves, I realized to the full another aspect of the Latin liturgy; it was linking people together over the hard barriers of different languages. I would have been completely lost if the Mass on the Aran Islands had been said in Irish; as it was, the Irish speakers and I met in a universal rite that we both understood. In the evenings I went to Rosary and Benediction with the islanders and saw the Church from yet another angle. They recited the Rosary in a thunderous growl in Irish; then, as Benediction began, a choir of small girls got up and sang in Latin. The Church was doing something that the Protestants have never dreamed of; she was alternately in the people’s homes, speaking to them in their own first language, and then catching them up into the Church of all the world and all the ages, the Latin linking Catholics everywhere across time and space.
Posted on March 24, 2015, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.
Welcome back, Shane! I never remember Latin being a source of division when I was growing up. In 1961, just before I entered the seminary, I was on a Dublin diocesan pilgrimage to Banneux and Beauraing in Belgium. We were the only English-speaking pilgrims, I think, but we were one with the mainly French-speaking Belgians when we took part in the Mass.
In my first visits to the Gaeltacht in County Galway as a child in 1954 and 1955 I felt perfectly at home at Mass, the only difference being that the Prayers after Mass were said in irish rather than in English. And even at that time I had a bilingual Missal, as did many others.
In 2000 I spent five or six weeks in the Faroe Islands, where there is no permanent priest. I celebrated mass on one occasion in a home in one of the smaller islands, where there is no Catholic chapel. There were 15 to 20 present and we had no common language. I used mostly English, which some did not understand, and read the Gospel in Tagalog, as were in the home of a Filipina. If that were to happen now I would use Latin for the Eucharistic Prayer.
I have known the use of Irish, for example, to be a source of division in churches in Ireland and on at least one pilgrimage in the footsteps of St Columban. (I wasn’t on this myself). In some instances the complaints about Irish, eg, ‘I always go to the nine o’clock Mass. why can’t they use Irish at another Mass?’ are unreasonable and selfish.
During a summer course at Ateneo de Manila University back in 1973 there was a daily Mass in Tagalog, the language spoken in Manila and the surrounding provinces. Some participants, missionaries from overseas, complained about this, and Tagalog was replaced by English.
Muslims throughout the world, as far as I know, use Arabic in their worship, even though this is not the mother-tongue of most Muslims,
It does make sense to have the Word of God proclaimed in the language of the area where Mass is being celebrated or in a language that most of those present understand.
As an aside, there are still people, mostly priests, complaining about the new English translation of the Roman Missal, saying that it uses language that people don’t use in their everyday lives and that many don’t understand. There may be some truth in this but almost everything in the Missal is addressed to the Father, not to the people.