Language at a Multicultural Liturgy

How do we determine in which language to proclaim the Gospel at multicultural liturgies? Is it always the language of the majority present? Has any resource been published that might help us?

The goal to be sought is intelligibility in the service of active participation by all members of our assemblies. The Introduction to the Lectionary for Mass (1981) strongly emphasizes the need for Scriptural readings to be intelligible, both in their translation (no. 111) and in their proclamation in an "audible, clear and intelligent" (no. 14) manner. For "the faithful's participation in the liturgy is increased to the degree that they listen to the word of God spoken in the liturgy..." (no. 6). Intelligibility is all the more important to the gospel, "the high point of the liturgy of the word" (no. 13).

While the liturgical books are otherwise silent concerning the question of multi-lingual liturgies, dioceses and parishes have developed a variety of strategies in an effort to make the Scriptures intelligible for their multi-lingual assemblies. Some have followed the lead of Multicultural Celebrations: A Guide by Mark Francis, CSV, published in a bilingual edition (English/Spanish) by the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions.

These guidelines suggest that the principal language of the assembly be determined first. The gospel should be proclaimed only in the language of the majority of those assembled and a short synopsis or commentary on the reading should also be announced in alternate languages. These guidelines suggest " avoiding an unduly long period of time speaking in a language that is not understood by the whole assembly." Non-verbal ways to acknowledge the other cultures present should also be explored. (Multicultural Celebrations : A Guide, p. 20,21).

A second practice permits the proclamation of the gospel in two different languages. While the duplication of parts of the Mass (even in two different languages) is generally to be avoided, there is precedent for this practice in the more solemn Papal Masses of Easter Sunday (where the Gospel is proclaimed in Greek and in Latin) and in some papal journeys to the United States and elsewhere.

During these Masses the gospel was proclaimed both in English and in Spanish. It is important to note, however, that the greeting in English was followed by the proclamation of the gospel in English. Then, without the greeting or introduction the gospel was proclaimed in Spanish, concluding with the acclamation in Spanish. Thus the order of this proclamation was:

  1. Greeting and introduction in English
  2. Proclamation in English (without concluding acclamation)
  3. Proclamation in Spanish (without greeting or introduction)
  4. Concluding acclamation in Spanish