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.