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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Spanish Mass

On Wednesdays I go to a local parish and say their noon mass, in Spanish. I feel a certain obligation to offer mass in Spanish, because the Jesuits paid for me to learn the language so that I could use it in my ministry. But it is an exercise in humility. Despite the fact that many have told me that my accent and pronunciation of Spanish are quite good (for a gringo!), I have yet to get through a Spanish Mass in which I have pronounced everything right! No matter how much I practice, I always manage to trip over or mispronounce at least a few words. It's frustrating. I try to remind myself that I often do the same in English [!] (you can even catch hints of my Woostah accent sometimes), but I still want it to be perfect. I don't always have the time to have someone proofread my homily, so I also know that my grammar isn't always perfect, but they seem to understand the gist of things anyway (occasionally I get a puzzled look that makes me wonder). I never get any complaints, and the people appreciate me coming (and the pastor appreciates the time off).

What's more challenging is that sometimes the people ask for confession afterwards. This takes a bit more effort, because I don't always understand everything they are saying (and maybe that's why they ask!). But in some ways it's nice, because it forces me to be more attentive, and it also forces me to be more attuned to non-verbal cues.

And there's also this sweet older woman who sometimes comes. She'll grab me after mass, insist on giving me five dollars for lunch, and then talk my ear off! The only problem is that she has a very strong accent, and I can't understand half of what she's saying. I smile, nod my head a lot, and try to offer some response to those things that I do understand. There are some common themes I've culled over time, one of which is that she spends a lot of time praying for us priests. Which, it seems to me, means that I can spend a little bit of my time listening to her, even if I'm not sure what she's saying. She doesn't seem to mind.

I've yet to try the full Sunday Spanish mass, and will probably still wait a little while before jumping into that deep end. But I have done the bilingual mass, which I actually quite enjoy. The prayers are mostly in English, with some parts in Spanish, like the penitential rite (yo confieso ante Dios, y ante ustedes hermanos . . .). There's something really cool about writing and giving a homily in both Spanish and English, and doing it in such a way that I'm not just repeating the same thing, but giving people enough to go on in both languages.
Again, I don't get everything perfect. But it's all a good reminder that getting it perfect is not what it's really about, in whatever language.