Q — In Southern Oregon we are blessed with dedicated, loving, spiritual and generous priests and deacons. They each have special talents and gifts to share. We want to learn from them and understand their point of view. But many of them are not native English speakers. We cannot understand their words when delivering homilies. I and others in my parish agree that we are frustrated to only understand a small portion of what is said. The final consonants of words are missing so listeners don’t know what is being said. Or the syllable emphasis is incorrect. Sometimes after a few sentences you can figure out what that word must have been. But then you have missed lots in between. So what do parishioners do? Tell the speaker they can’t be understood and make them feel bad? Call the church office and make the speakers feel bad? And one more question. Does the archdiocese have an education plan to improve non-native speakers’ diction?
A — As a native Scot people will often say to me after hearing me speak “You have an accent!” And my response is typically, “So do you!” My wife is from Miami, Florida, and during the early years of our marriage I had to translate what she said for my Glaswegian mother, and what my mother said to her. Both were speaking English (of a sort!), but with a very pronounced accent that made ready intelligibility difficult. Everyone has an accent of one kind or another, but if it gets in the way of understanding a homily, that is particularly problematic. The people of God have a right to hear the Word of God broken open in a good homily. The Liturgy of the Word, of which the homily is an intrinsic part, is the first part of the entire action of the Eucharist, and ought to be taken with great seriousness. If the homilist cannot be understood because of his accent, or other complicating linguistic issues, that is a serious problem as the questioner acknowledges. The bigger question is what to do about it. I really like the fact that the questioner acknowledges the generosity and commitment and dedication of our priests and deacons. But what to do about the unintelligibility factor? First of all, it is important to point out that all seminaries in the country have programs in English communication that address these issues for non-native speakers of English. Despite the hard work of those involved in such courses and programs, some of the issues remain. There is no panacea, no formula, no program that will simply eliminate them. Telling the priest or deacon, always in a respectful and kind way, that it is very hard to understand him might be a good thing. Not on a Sunday morning, however, on the church steps as everyone leaves the celebration of the Eucharist. Make an appointment to speak to him during the week. Further, offer to help. There may be persons in the parish who have skills in the area of English communication who would be able to assist. It is always better to light a candle than to curse the darkness!
Posted: Wednesday, September 17, 2014
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Would it not be a good model to follow some of the Eastern Rite Catholic Churches and ordain married men, since we already allow married men in the Roman Rite if they had previously been ordained in other Christian denominations? This would ease our priest-shortage problem here in the U.S. and allow foreign priests serving here to help in other countries where the priest/parishioner is much worse than our own.