Liturgical Celebrations

Good, Basic Principles for Bilingual/Bicultural Liturgies

October 24, 2007


While there may be the best of intentions, a “bilingual, bicultural liturgical celebration” often gets reduced to language. Both languages are represented by a reading, in the prayers and in a bilingual song or two. Such a celebration is, at best, borderline satisfactory for those who are present. On the other hand, people can truly be touched and transformed by bilingual/bicultural prayer happen when the following principles are followed and implemented:

»  The planning team has representation from both communities.

»  Ambience: Planners create an environment that speaks to both communities. (The statue or portrait of an important religious figure (ie: Our Lady of Guadalupe for Latinos) is given a prominent place in the worship space; culturally appropriate textiles adorn the altar, ambo, or base of an upright processional cross, statues, and/or other ornamental objects; greenery, or lack there of, reflects the liturgical season, etc.)

»  Liturgical Ministers: Members from both communities are present as altar servers, hospitality ministers, Eucharistic ministers, and lectors.

»  Presider: This person is competent in both languages so that s/he can easily move back and forth between languages during the liturgy. A second option is co-presiding or, at Mass, concelebration.

»  Readings:

+  If possible, choose readings with one clear, concise message.
+  None of the readings should be too lengthy.
First and Second readings at Mass: Each reading is proclaimed by a seasoned lector in her/his native language. Have the same reading printed in the worship aid in language that is not being proclaimed.
Gospel: Proclaim it in both languages. At the end of the first language proclamation, instead of saying, “The Gospel of the Lord,” the second proclamation is immediately begun in the second language with the same lector or native speaker. Afterwards, said lector ends with the “The Gospel of the Lord” in whichever language has just been proclaimed.

»  Music (perhaps the most important element…):

+  Music should be reflective of liturgical season and easy to sing by all (a well-known bilingual song or very easy, catchy song from one community or the other. (ie: “Alabaré” in a Latino context)
Penitential Rite: One language or the other is used. Again, something that is easy to sing for all, or choose a well-known “Kyrie.”
Psalm: The psalm response is short, easy to remember and pronounce
(ie: El Señor es mi pastor, nada me habrá de faltar.) whether it be in English or another language. Or, choose a psalm that has a short refrain with both languages represented.
Gloria: Easy for all to sing! Choose one language or the other.
Alleluia: This refrain is known by all! (If alternating languages, use the one not used in the Gloria for the acclamation.)
Communion: Bilingual songs, or easy-to-sing monolingual selections. (Have one or two in each language depending on number of people present)
+  There is some really fine bilingual music out there – challenge the choirs from both communities to work together, being both teacher and student. Choir members from one group might take the lead on some monolingual songs and visa versa.. The choirs’ modeling will give people from both communities the courage to try their hand at the foreign language too!
Consider songs in all one language that are easy to sing (ie: “Alabaré”). Again one choir could take the lead on the verses with the other members joining as s/he feels comfortable.
Rehearse the music for a special celebration ahead of time when possible - include selections in Sunday masses prior to the bilingual event. And, if possible, rehearse the music again the day of the celebration while people are gathering.

Other helpful hints….

»  Welcome people in both languages and make the sign of the cross in one or the other.

»  Homily: Depending on the presider’s command of the two languages and preaching ability, a “braided” homily might work very well. Other options include two short homilies, which are not necessarily a translation one of the other, or a principal homilist in the language of the majority of attendees and a summary of said homily in the other language.

»  Prayers of the faithful: Invite persons from each community to create prayers that speak to what is most on the hearts and minds of those members. It is important to pay attention to cultural nuances. Perhaps the least desirable option is to translate one community’s prayers into the other language.

»  Presentation of the Gifts: Minimally, there is intergenerational representation from both communities. Cultural dance or other gesture of gift-giving is incorporated when appropriate.

»  Eucharistic prayer: There are many good bilingual music settings for the Mass parts. In the spoken text, the (hopefully bilingual, bicultural) priest often uses personal discretion for where to change from one language to the other.
For example, often the bread is blessed in one language and the wine in the other.

»  The Lord's Prayer: All present are invited to join hands as one community and to pray in the language of choice.

»  Final blessing: Said in the language not used for the opening greeting.

Overall, look upon planning for a bilingual, bicultural liturgy as a creative task to make something new! For example, using bilingual Mass parts that are not overly familiar to either group is a “new” way of doing liturgy for the community as a whole. In the future, when such music is used, people will have a certain sense about the liturgy and hopefully a great spirit of anticipation and joy rather than resentment or bother. Provide ministers from both language communities with the opportunities to explore and practice unknown, uncomfortable music, readings, etc. in a lighthearted atmosphere that makes learning fun for all.

Photo credit for image no. 2: Maria Capouch

Anne Attea is Coordinator for Hispanic Ministry, Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.


Liturgical Celebration of a Quinceañera

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