People who travel, I suspect, are well aware that, from place to place, there are marked differences in churches and worship styles. There are differences in dioceses as well. Some have large populations but few Catholics, while others have predominantly Catholics in the general population. Other dioceses have many towns and major cities, while others are known for their large unpopulated areas. Our own State of Washington stands out for a number of reasons. For one, the Northwest is quite low in terms of the number of citizens who are churchgoers. At the same time, we are rich in ethnic diversity. The last I heard, there are more than eighty languages spoken in our state. Such differences - particularly that of ethnic diversity - will most certainly impact the way we plan and celebrate our liturgies.
The Catholic Church’s official position in light of this increasing cultural diversity is, first of all, that all must be made to feel welcome. This is not always possible when elements familiar to particular cultural styles of worship are not to be found in one’s local parish. Language is a prime example. It is one thing to declare welcome and hospitality to Catholic Christians who do not understand English, but often an enormous challenge to provide liturgies in the languages that people can understand. In order to include all equally as members of the Body of Christ, the Church teaches that adaptations in the liturgical rites may be authorized, “especially in the case of the administration of the sacraments, the sacramentals, processions, liturgical language, sacred music, and the arts.” Thus certain elements “from the traditions and culture of individual peoples may be appropriately admitted into divine worship.”
The challenges we face with the reality of growing cultural diversity are enormous. The Asian and Hispanic population in our country has grown considerably in the last two decades. We know that a significant percentage of U.S. Catholic parishes now celebrate the liturgy in a language other than English. In the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Mass is celebrated in more than fifty languages. How do we meet such challenges?
Fr. William Bausch, a priest from the diocese of Trenton, New Jersey, has written and lectured extensively on today’s pastoral challenges to healthy and inclusive Catholic parishes. He writes, “In past times, the Church typically met the immigrant presence by segregation, that is, by establishing separate, national parishes... Nowadays, we have a single parish trying to blend various ethnic groups into one sense of Church, and it is a formidable challenge to form relationships that transcend cultural differences. The parish must be able to recognize that the dominant ‘white’ culture, which is apt to be seen as central and normative, is operative in most parishes and, therefore, in need of adjustment. The parish must also avoid separate, parallel communities; learn intercultural communication; incorporate the language, music, food, and celebrations of the various ethnic groups into the fiber of the parish; provide hospitality as ‘they’ understand it, not we (‘have a nice day’ doesn’t cut it); and value the differences between the different cultures. All of these are enormous challenges that must be met.”