Growing up in one of Canada’s English-speaking provinces, I experienced a faith that was passed on to me at home, at Mass, and at Catholic school. This exposure was consistently in English, apart from a few basic prayers taught and subsequently memorized in French. In my 20s, I moved around quite a bit, spending time in the United Kingdom and the United States. I found a new parish wherever I went, and always in an English setting.
Eventually, I moved to Montreal, a vibrant, multicultural, and multilingual (with French as the official language) metropolis in Canada, and I have been blessed with the opportunity to now call this city home. My husband and I live in one of the city’s historically Italian residential neighborhoods. Although it is a very diverse community today, there is still a significant Italian presence, and our local parish offers Masses in either Italian or French, accordingly. I am at a proficient level in French, and I have a basic understanding of Italian. Since further connecting with my Italian heritage and rekindling my French language skills were both on my bucket list, I viewed these Masses as an exciting opportunity.
The experience of participating regularly (that is to say, not just occasionally while on vacation) in a non-English Mass has been enlightening and refreshing, but of course, took some adapting. Following all the points made in the homily, for instance, was a particular challenge for me at first. Still, there are lots of people locally and worldwide who have to adapt to attending Mass in a different language than their own. I had never really given much thought to this fact, but now I have a much greater awareness and appreciation of individuals in such a scenario.
Before the Second Vatican Council in the first half of the 1960s, Masses around the world were celebrated in a common language, Latin. It was only after this important ecumenical council that the faithful were able to attend Mass in the language of the local community. Despite this change to the vernacular, the format of the Mass remains the same in whichever part of the world and in whichever translation.
This consistency provides a visible sign of the universality of the Church. In fact, the word “catholic” literally means universal. The Catholic Church is indeed a vibrant community of believing women, men, and children connected in faith across the globe. The universality of the Church in the context of the Mass has become clearer to me since moving to Montreal and joining a parish community that functions in a language that I had not been accustomed to using at Mass.
I would like to share two actions that helped me to adapt to a non-English Catholic Church community more readily.
First, I take more time to prepare for Masses. Before each Mass, I read through the Sunday readings and corresponding reflections in my English-language Missal. (I use the Canadian edition.) At the Italian-language Masses, the parish provides printouts at the entrance of the Church, which contain the corresponding readings for the day and other key parts of the Mass, including the Creed and Prayers of the Faithful, in Italian. This resource is very helpful to follow along and participate more fully in the celebration. To better streamline my adaptation to the French-language Masses, I subscribed to a monthly resource providing the Readings for all the Masses, including the daily Masses as well. About a year ago now, I started as a lector during the weekday French Masses, and the preparation involved in that context has also helped me adapt more seamlessly.
Second, I seek out alternative ways to celebrate the faith in English (or the language that I am used to attending Mass in), in addition to personal/family prayer. Shortly after moving to Montreal, amidst the first year of the pandemic, I became aware of an online prayer session hosted by the Sisters of the Congregation of Notre Dame. This virtual English-language prayer session in the Lectio Divina format gathers a small group of young adults (or those young at heart) once a month to pray together using one of the readings from the upcoming Sunday Mass. Lectio Divina is a beautiful way to pray with Holy Scripture. The Scripture passage is read three times and participants are invited to reflect upon what the passage is saying today and to share these thoughts with the group. Sometimes a reflection may be about certain emotions that have moved our hearts. Other times, it relates to a specific character in the passage, and other options could be seeing the pertinence of the text in the context of a current personal circumstance.
Regularly participating in the Mass in a different language has presented me with some graces, despite the natural challenges associated with adapting to the less familiar. The extra preparation that I do in advance of Mass gives me more time to think deeply about the readings. I can be more attentive and focused throughout the celebration.
I highly recommend attending Mass in a different language if the opportunity arises, perhaps while traveling or if there is a local parish that celebrates Mass in another language. A change from the familiar, a switch from the routine, can be a valuable blessing to heighten one’s focus or reduce distractions during the Mass and to develop or renew one’s awe and appreciation of the various rites.
To sum up, the Church is indeed universal. Participating in the Mass, in whichever language, is a powerful sign of the unity that connects Catholics around the globe. Each time we gather around the Eucharistic table for the fulfilling nourishment that only Christ can provide, we partake with others worldwide who are receiving the same sacrament.