By Constance Yasere
The second Vatican Council led to many reforms in the Catholic Church. One of the most talked about reforms was the changing of the language of the Mass from Latin to the vernacular. Here, I list five reasons why this decision was indeed of the Holy Spirit and some considerations for Catholics who think otherwise. Full disclosure: I am an African Catholic so I will be speaking from that perspective.
- We finally understood what was going on
Many new converts to the faith in Africa were attracted to the Catholic church for reasons that often revolved around social justice. The free or heavily subsidized hospitals and schools among others. Based on these, many were attracted to the Faith and went to Mass voluntarily. While they were often enthralled by the beauty of the Liturgy of the Mass, they often did not understand what was said unless someone explained it to them. If Vatican II did not allow the Mass to be in vernacular, the conversions to the Faith that continue in many parts of Africa today, would have likely come to an abrupt halt – especially when the novelty of the social justice projects wore off.
2. We could worship God with our culture
The Church is universal. Psalm 72 predicted that one day, every nation on earth would adore God. Vatican II accelerated the fulfilment of this prophecy. Drums, maracas, gongs, clapping of hands and ululating are now a part of the worship in many Catholic Masses in Africa.
Congregants may dance – but in moderation. Often this is a type of swaying side-to-side or other modest dance. With this inculturation of the Mass, Congregants are drawn into the liturgical worship in an organic, colourful and vibrant way. This is not to say that all Churches around the world should be this way. As Cardinal Francis Arinze once said, these practices are ok if they are a natural way of responding to God in that particular culture. In other words, the dance, clapping, drums etc should be inherent to the culture practicing them. They should never be a mere spectacle.
3. Catechism Deepened
The Catechism of the Catholic Church is taught in many parts of Africa using indigenous languages. In these classes, the focus is on the transferring and receiving of the traditions of the Church including Scripture and Sacred practices from the time of Christ and the first Apostles.
Unless Catechism is being taught to very young children e.g. below the age of 7, the use of artistic tools such as colouring books and expression of feelings, which is popular in some parts of the world in the teaching of Catechism, is not used. In many parts of Nigeria, a brief test or examination with a pass mark is necessary to be admitted to one’s first Holy Communion.
Several schools – including public schools – allow “Religious studies” in the curricula. During Religous studies, students may go in-depth into Christianity or Islam under the guidance of a teacher with a certain level of expertise in the area. The result being many Catholics in the region read, and are familiar with scripture. They are also catechized and generally accept the teachings of the Church as well as her living traditions.
Although some Catholics believe that Vatican II was wholesale destructive to the Church, it is important to take a wider perspective. The Church is universal and any wholesale dismissal of the Council should only be done after a universal assessment.
Evidently the effects of some decisions of the Council may have been problematic in some parts of the west but other effects of the Council such as the inculturation of worship, sped up the evangelization of peoples in other parts of the world. Here I have focused on the region of Africa.
It would not have been enough for the Church to use projects such as schools and hospitals they built to evangelize people across generations. The people also needed access to the Sacraments to sustain evangelization for the long run. It appears that God in his infinite mercy permitted the Council to have the above effects to achieve this goal.
Therefore the Council should perhaps not be criticized wholesale. Its various components and various effects should be appreciated and addressed on a case by case basis, each on their own merits, and with a universal perspective.
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