Author: Jenny O'Brien
Early in June we celebrated the feast of Pentecost, often referred to as the “birthday of the Church,” when Peter and the other apostles presented the Good News of Christ to the Jerusalem crowds who heard them speaking in their own language. So we could say that, right from the beginning, the character of the Church has been multicultural!
Today our parishes are more and more made up of people from countries around the globe who have settled in Australia either through normal channels of immigration or because they have fled war or persecution in their home country. And yet, in many instances, long-term Australian residents remain unaware of the many different cultures that are represented in their parish and still see themselves as predominantly Euro-Australian. Since the first characteristic of any Christian community ought to be hospitality, we would do well to reflect on the way we celebrate our Sunday liturgies so that all members of the community feel appreciated and included in the liturgy. What is involved in preparing a “multicultural” liturgy?
The first step is to recognize the various cultural groups in the parish. Do they have a voice on the Parish Pastoral Council or in the Parish Liturgy Team?
Parishes that have a data projector installed should have little trouble in having either the First or Second Reading proclaimed in another language while the English translation appears on the screen. The same applies to the Universal Prayer (Prayer of the Faithful), where either some or all of the intentions could be announced in one or more languages.
Music is a great vehicle for uniting parishioners. There is no reason why parts of the Mass – for example, the Holy, holy or the Lamb of God – could not be sung in languages other than English. Both of these prayers are fairly short and people are so familiar with their texts that singing them in another language would not present too great a problem. Indeed, paragraph 40 of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy notes that due consideration must be given to the culture of the people and the abilities of each liturgical assembly.” And paragraph 51 of Musicam Sacram, an Instruction on Music in the Liturgy, acknowledges that “there is nothing to prevent different parts in one and the same celebration being sung in different languages.” One of the “different languages” could also be Latin, still the official language of the Church. For example, the simple Gregorian chant setting of the Kyrie (actually Greek), the Sanctus and the Agnus Dei is most suitable for use during Lent.
Hymns from various cultures can also be successfully included in our Sunday liturgies, especially during the Communion procession. Singers from a particular culture can be invited to lead the people, and the English translation of the text can be shown on the screen (or in the parish bulletin if the parish does not use an overhead screen).
Another approach to cultural inclusivity is to carefully consider the style of any sacred images, statues, banners, or other decorations for your church. These are all important ways of communicating the multicultural nature of a parish and of providing an environment of welcome and acceptance.
The Body of Christ is united in faith and baptism, but its “voice” is raised in many languages. Let us become aware of the languages in our parish communities and find ways for them to be part of our weekly celebrations. We will find ourselves greatly enriched, our liturgies more energized, and the links between the members of this Body strengthened.