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India is a country which boasts of rich cultural heritage including a large number of languages. In addition to the ancient Indo-Aryan language Sanskrit,India has 21 modern languages along with 19,500 dialects out of which 121 are spoken by more than 10,000 persons per language.

Right from the days when Christian missionaries of various denominations from western countries landed in India, they gave body and soul to learning of the local languages and conducting prayer meetings in them. Credit goes to German missionaries for having compiled the first-ever dictionaries in many Indian languages; for instance, Malayalam, the language of Kerala, Southern India owes its first dictionary to Hermann Gundert( 1814-1893), a German Missionary. As for the Protestant missionaries who worked in Northern India during the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, they incorporated in liturgy, a good number of Urdu words which had been introduced by the Mughal dynasty. Many such words are still in use !

Since the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church (comprising all rites) in India ,led by the Catholic Bishops Conference of India(CBCI), has been committed to the use of local languages in conducting liturgy and in evangelizing. But sometimes a situation arises when a considerably good number of people whose mother-tongue may be different from the local language of the place they are staying in , build a church of their own and conduct services in their mother-tongue . For instance, a few hundreds of Roman Catholics from Goa whose mother-tongue is Kongani, may build a church of their own in Northern India where the spoken language is Hindi,and celebrate Mass in Kongani which may hardly be understood by the people staying around or passing by. Such a church would contribute little to evangelizing the people who remain mute spectators to the prayers.

My question therefore is:Has the Catholic Church issued any guidelines in relation to the language(s) to be used by churches in places like India where there is multiplicity of spoken languages ?

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Yes: Sacrosanctum Concilium §36:

36

  1. Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites.

  2. But since the use of the mother tongue, whether in the Mass, the administration of the sacraments, or other parts of the liturgy, frequently may be of great advantage to the people, the limits of its employment may be extended. This will apply in the first place to the readings and directives, and to some of the prayers and chants, according to the regulations on this matter to be laid down separately in subsequent chapters.

  3. These norms being observed, it is for the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority mentioned in Art. 22, 2, to decide whether, and to what extent, the vernacular language is to be used; their decrees are to be approved, that is, confirmed, by the Apostolic See. And, whenever it seems to be called for, this authority is to consult with bishops of neighboring regions which have the same language.

  4. Translations from the Latin text into the mother tongue intended for use in the liturgy must be approved by the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority mentioned above.

§22.2 mentions territorial bishops’ conferences such as the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India.

So in India, for example, it is for the CBCI to translate the Latin text into whichever languages “may be of great advantage to the people”, according to the principles in Comme le prévoit (PDF link):

The purpose of liturgical translations is to proclaim the message of salvation to believers and to express the prayer of the Church to the Lord: “Liturgical translations have become…the voice of the Church” (address of Paul VI to participants in the congress on translations of liturgical texts, 10 November 1965). To achieve this end, it is not sufficient that a liturgical translation merely reproduce the expressions and ideas of the original text. Rather it must faithfully communicate to a given people, and in their own language, that which the Church by means of this given text originally intended to communicate to another people in another time. A faithful translation, therefore, cannot be judged on the basis of individual words: the total context of this specific act of communication must be kept in mind, as well as the literary form proper to the respective language.

There needs to be consultation with other Conferences where the languages are used, and the completed translation must gain the recognitio of the Holy See via the CDW, to ensure that the precepts of Comme le prévoit have been observed in the translation. [You may recall that some recent English texts from ICEL failed this final stage.]

It may also be worth noting that some of the specific examples contained in Comme le prévoit have actually been included in the Third Typical Edition of the Missal in order to more faithfully represent the Latin text and employ a more “sacral” language. The phrase “holy and venerable hands” is a case in point; in this phrase, venerable does not mean “old” — if the word ever did!

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  • Thanks. One wonders whether the Church would be willing to revise the guidelines in consideration of the global changes that have taken place since 1963 i.e. the year of their publication. Those change would include among others, the migration of ethnic minorities in search of job or otherwise, the need for sustaining the identity and integrity of liturgical rites and the need for evangelizing those people who are yet to accept Lord, the Savior. Jul 2 at 4:25
  • I don't think that's necessary. The distribution of languages may have changed, but it's still for local Conferences to determine which translations "may be of great advantage to the people". Jul 2 at 6:37

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