There are many wonderful things about being a Catholic in a “Latin Mass only” parish. One of them happens to be language immersion. In this post I share some scattered thoughts on language and liturgy that I have had this Lent.
“Everybody” knows that Lent is forty days long . . . and “everybody” is wrong! Lent is spiritually forty days long, inasmuch as it represents the forty days that Our Lord spent in the desert. But it is not literally forty days long. If you don’t believe me, take out your calendar and start counting!
If this is shocking news, to you, then you probably don’t hear the Traditional Latin Mass regularly. In the traditional calendar, the first Sunday of Lent is still Quadragesima Sunday, from the Latin for “forty.” And the three Sundays before that are Quinquageisma (“fifty”), Sexagesima (“sixty”), and Septuagesima (“seventy”). Are you doing the math? With only seven days in a week, four consecutive Sundays can’t be the seventieth, the sixtieth, the fiftieth, and the fortieth days before the same date!
(The First) Passion Sunday
My parish marks the Sunday before Palm Sunday with a Way of the Cross around the neighborhood. Fourteen homes volunteer to host one Station each, and all the neighborhood “types”are usually represented. This year’s mix included religious communities, middle-class families, and poorer families squatting on the land. If you had to choose only one language to touch them all, you would pick English.
Most of the middle class families hear Mass in the Ordinary Form, in English rather than in Tagalog. The religious communities have members from all over Europe and Asia, and even if some never pick up Tagalog, they do learn English. And the poorer families who may never speak English fluently are surrounded by English-language media: Their ears will be quicker than their tongues. This is why the Stations of the Cross were in English last year. This Lent, however, Father had a different focus.
The religious communities and middle-class families are relatively rich, spiritually speaking. They may not like their liturgy in Latin, but they’re very religious in their own ways. It is the poor families who are most likely to miss Mass, stay away from the sacraments, and be uncatechized. And it was for them that Father made us all pray in Tagalog this year.
It was much fancier Tagalog than I was used to. Sadly, I hardly pray in my own mother tongue. Tagalog is what I use to chat with friends, to go shopping, and to make small talk with strangers — but until this Lent, not also to pray with my community.
If you celebrate Palm Sunday — the second Passion Sunday — in the Philippines, you will learn the word “palaspas.” This refers to the decorative palm fronds that we carry in memory of Our Lord’s entry into Jerusalem. I’m guessing that it originally meant all palm fronds, but now they mean only the sacramentals. It’s so specific that even Filipinos who prefer English will slide into “Taglish” to use it.
By the way, another perk of a “Latin Mass only” parish: Your friends casually refer to “palaspas” as “ramos olivarum” (olive branches). “Taglish” is nice, but it’s nothing next to “Latalog.”
Bonus: Easter Sunday
The Philippines must be the only country in the world where the translation of “Pascha” (Latin for “paschal lamb”) points to Christmas rather than to Easter. So “Maligayang Pasko” means “Merry Christmas” and not “Happy Easter”! If you want to greet Filipinos this Sunday, you have to be a little more specific and say: “Maligayang Pasko ng Pagkabuhay!” — “Happy Easter of the Resurrection!” (It’s only redundant in English, I promise!)
But we’re not the only country with translation issues . . . At work I talk with a cross-section of Americans, and many of them now say “Resurrection Sunday” instead of “Easter Sunday.” It may be because of the “pagan” roots of the word “Easter” — an issue I never cared about!
On the other hand, I do care about changes in language. And I’m not a fan of this one. “Resurrection Sunday” might be more specific, but it’s far less traditional. I think any change in language that makes it harder for you to talk to your great-grandparents about things you both share is a bad idea.