Mass in one language, hymns in another?

I like this search that led someone to my page: singing Spanish songs at an English Mass

Good question, random person! Well, it wasn’t phrased as a question, but that’s what this person wants to know, and I aim to please.

There are some good-faith efforts to create bilingual hymnals. This is one, by OCP. (My parish doesn’t use this one.)

As a general rule, I don’t recommend using songs of one language at Mass in another language, with the exception of Latin, the language of the Church. And I say this as someone who plays both English and Spanish Mass, as well as bilingual Masses. (I do not have a degree in liturgy and so am basing my answer on experience.) Now, this is in general; your parish may be in a situation where this will work, so I can’t address every situation.

The bad news is that folks don’t like to sing stuff they don’t understand. If you incorporate Spanish hymns at English Mass, you run that risk. At my parish, the congregations at English and Spanish Mass are very different, though there is occasional crossover. So if you try to foist hymns in another language, they shut down. In theory, I suppose, they should be open to singing in another language. But in practice, it’s incredibly hard.

For some tunes, however, there are words in both languages. Sometimes, this is OK. But often, the translations are wonky. I avoid our hymnal’s version of “Pescador de Hombres,” which many English-speaking Catholics know as “Lord, When You Came to the Seashore,” because it’s too literal a translation and clunks along. Unfortunately, this is a fairly common problem in our hymnal, so there’s not a whole lot of crossover, even if the melodies are familiar to both English and Spanish speakers.

So how about songs that don’t have two sets of lyrics, but instead switch between English and Spanish all over the place? To me, most of these hymns try too hard to force people to sing in another tongue. At Spanish Mass, we’re currently doing one like that, and the folks just don’t sing it except for certain Spanish parts. This is at least the third year we’ve tried it, and I really don’t think it works. We just can’t force folks to sing stuff they don’t like.

If you would like to use Spanish at English Mass or vice versa, I would leave it to the choir and not try a congregation hymn. There are many ways to do this effectively, and who knows? Maybe the congregation will like it and want to try a little themselves. With some ingenuity, it can be done, and I happily encourage trying this.

In another post somewhere along the line, I’ll noodle over bilingual Mass.

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2 responses to “Mass in one language, hymns in another?

  1. Hi, and welcome to the Catholic blog directory. I’d like to invite you to join us for Sunday Snippets–A Catholic Carnival which is a weekly gathering where Catholic bloggers share posts with each other. This week’s host post is at http://rannthisthat.blogspot.com/2012/06/sunday-snippets-catholic-carnival_09.html

  2. Pingback: The challenge of bilingual Mass | Pull Out All the Stops

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