Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Worshiping in a Bi-lingual Community

Over the past 7 years, I have worshiped at St. John the Baptist, Joliet, IL - a community in which I am not a member of the dominant culture. With approximately 75% Hispanic parish members, St. John's has faced the challenges of cultural transition over the last 15 -20 years as we embrace (some not always happily) the immigrant population. The former St. John's German Catholic Church, in inner-city Joliet, has perhaps had more success integrating the two cultures in the liturgy than almost any other area of parish life. While we may struggle at times in parish administration to honor the presence of all, that is almost never a problem in the liturgy.

We recently celebrated the liturgies of the Easter Triduum, as has been our custom for some years, mostly as bi-lingual experiences. (Good Friday, because it is primarily text-driven, was celebrated separately.) Thursday and Saturday were a blend of alternated readings, a few repetitions, and lots of decent bi-lingual music. For the first time, we proclaimed a bi-lingual Exsultet (setting by Pedro Rubalcava). As one of the two cantors, I had the thrilling experience of helping embody the good news of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ in the language of our two cultures.

While some people say that in a bilingual celebration half of the people lose out half the time, I have not found that to be the case. Instead, I have found my worship experience is richer and more exciting whenever we share languages and musical styles. Before I came to St. John's, I knew almost no Spanish. From the exposure to the language over the years and with one 6-week Spanish for Gringos course, I can now follow along reasonably well. (Besides, there is usually a worship aide or missalette available if really needed.) What I experience is truly the coming together of the entire Body of Christ in worship - and a celebration both of what we have in common as well as our delightful differences.

I have gained far more than I have lost by this experience of worship together with my Hispanic brothers and sisters. Even better than that, has been the experience of participating in the bilingual Liturgy Planning Committee - where everyone's ideas and input are honored, in whichever language - and the result is quite often a team effort that brings the gifts of everyone in the community together. Tonight, we meet to evaluate the Triduum. While I am sure there will be details we will deem necessary to adjust, I am also sure that both cultures will be honored and respected. Where indeed do we share the most common ground? In our liturgy.

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