Letter from Benjamin Wang Xianwei (Published in an edited form in CN02/06, Jan 22)
I went for Mass on Christmas Eve at the Church of the Risen Christ, and to my surprise, the 'Our Father' hymn was sung totally in Latin! I feel that this "Latinization" of our Masses is unnecessary, and that it takes away the meaning of the hymns, the reasons for which are given below:
Firstly, most Singaporeans do not understand the Latin language. Even for parts of the Mass like the 'Lord Have Mercy', the Latin version of "Kyrie, Kyrie eleison" does not strike a chord with me, as the words do not mean anything to a non-Latin speaking person. Yes, it might be more traditional or sound more sophisticated, but at what expense? Of course, it is possible for us to learn simple Latin to keep up with the Mass, but surely, this is an unnecessary and tedious step to take, compared to the alternative of leaving the Mass in English which everyone understands!
Secondly, as with speaking any other language that one is not familiar with, our pronunciation and articulation of the Latin words are surely inaccurate. I believe the way most of us attempt to speak Latin is just like how many non-Chinese speakers attempt to prounounce Mandarin words: wrong and humorous at best, and having a totally different meaning at worst.
During the Christmas Mass I attended, although the Latin text of "Our Father" was flashed on the screens, I found myself mumbling nonsensical noises when trying my best to sing it in Latin. With all due respect to the Latin language, I find it meaningless to go through the Mass, or something as significant as the 'Our Father', in a language that is as foreign as Arabic to most Singaporean Catholics.
Why go through all the trouble to revert our Masses back to Latin, after correctly switching from Latin to English earlier on? Let's face the facts; we are in Asian Singapore, predominantly English-speaking with only a minority who understand Latin. Having Masses as much as possible in English allows people to participate fully and reflect on the words we recite and the lyrics we sing. Let's keep it this way.
Benjamin Wang Xianwei
Benjamin Wang Xianwei