Nuestra Señora de Estados Unidos

This last spring, Matthew Richer described for VDARE.com how, on his way out of St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City after attending William F. Buckley, Jr.'s memorial service on April 4, he observed two banners hanging from the choir loft. These banners commemorated the 200th anniversary of the founding of the Catholic Archdiocese of New York. One banner was inscribed in English. The other presented the same message in Spanish.

I, too, attended Bill Buckley's memorial. I barely noticed the thing (although I certainly agree it was symbolic of the failure of Establishment NR-style "conservatism"). Spanish intrusions upon the English-speaking Church, and English-language Masses, have become a commonplace in the past several decades.

The ostensible reason for the now-prevalent use of Spanish by the Catholic Church in the United States is, of course, the prevalence of Mexican and other Spanish-speaking immigrants. Many of these immigrants, indeed, have no English, making the use of Spanish in dealing with them a convenience, if not exactly a necessity, for parish priests and Catholic welfare agencies.

The historical, social, and political circumstances giving rise to this usage are as familiar to Americans as Mexican faces in the streets and Mexican immigrants in search of day jobs hanging about on street corners. So far as the Catholic Church regards the resort to Spanish as a regular convenience and an occasional necessity, I have no quarrel with it.

But when the Church aids and abets Latino immigrants in wielding Spanish as a political and cultural weapon against the Anglophone peoples and their culture in this country, it goes too far—from the religious, as well as from the secular, perspective. And this is exactly what is happening.

Thus, the calendar of the Roman Catholic Church lists a great many recognized feasts, or saints', days. Not quite one for every day in the year, but almost. Among them, the greatest saint of all is Mary, the Mother of Our Lord, who is honored by more than one feast day. These devotions include the Feast of Mary, Mother of God (January 1), Purification of the Virgin (February 2), Queen of Heaven (May 1), Assumption into Heaven (August 15), Our Lady of the Rosary (celebrating the Christian victory over the Turkish Muslim fleet at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, October 7), and the Immaculate Conception (December 8).  There are also feast days to recognize various Marian appearances on earth. Among these are Our Lady of Lourdes (February 11), Our Lady of Fatima (May 13), and…Our Lady of Guadalupe (December 12).

Our Lady of Guadalupe is recognized as the patron saint of Mexico. She has always been more than a symbol of Mexican Faith; she has been as well the symbol of Mexican nationalism. But over the last several decades, Our Lady of Guadalupe has also become almost as significant in U.S. Catholic churches as it is in Mexican ones. (Though not quite: Twenty years ago, I attended mass at the Catedral de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe in Ciudad Juárez, where Masses are celebrated hourly from early morning until mid-afternoon, commencing with a vast procession led by the Archbishop in which the halt and the lame stagger along in their rags with the wealthy and able-bodied beneath a profusion of banners, standards, and crosses.)

In my own parish church, where Latinos are a small minority, the celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe is lavish enough. The Spanish Ladies' Choir outdoes itself in the choir loft, parents dress their small children in elaborate costume, the better part of the Mass is said in Spanish, and the church is filled to capacity by Latino families, of whom many are notably absent from Mass the rest of the year.

The service is colorful, picturesque, and to some degree moving. Yet I cannot help but feel that on this occasion the focus of the Eucharistic Sacrifice is hardly any longer the Holiest of Holies, but rather that it has been supplanted by an idol.

And, whether parishioners of Mexican descent recognize it or not, the observance of her feast day has become as more a cultural and political statement than it is a religious devotion.

And this is merely the tip of the iceberg. Perhaps a third of parish churches in the U.S.—not alone those in border towns and cities, or in the American Southwest—have been celebrating at least one Spanish-language Mass a week for approximately those same few decades. Many churches have Spanish choirs that perform at English-language Masses as well as Spanish-language ones. Some Sunday Masses are bilingual, with the Old Testament and Epistolary readings read in Spanish, followed by the Gospel and the homily in English.

The confusion begins with the use of Spanish in Catholic Churches in the United States for other than a few limited purposes. For instance, Spanish is obviously crucial in the administration of the Sacraments of Penance and the Anointing of the Sick to those of the Faithful who do not understand English. But there is simply no cause for Mass to be said in any vernacular other than the national one.

To begin with, it is not spiritually necessary for the worshipper to grasp more than the general sense of what is being said and read at Mass, an accomplishment that is certainly not beyond the regular Mass-goer. Moreover, in my parish at least, most of the "Hispanic" members speak English as fluently as do the "Anglos" who have no Spanish at all, their families having lived here for generations. For those Spanish speakers who feel they need them, Spanish-language missals are readily available in cheap editions. (I myself carry an Italian messale along with me to church every Sunday, as part of my study of the language of Dante and Lampedusa.)

Recently, an Anglophone parishioner remarked to me that our newly-instituted monthly Spanish Mass (granted by the priest to compensate for his decision that the Old Testament reading at the Spanish Choir's Mass should henceforth be delivered in English instead of Spanish, which is incomprehensible to the Anglophone majority) demonstrates an obvious and urgent need for such a thing. I cannot disagree with her more.

Catholics who think that way appear to have forgotten that, until two short generations ago, all Catholics the world over heard Mass spoken in an ancient language that probably only a small fraction of one percent understood, with the exception of certain crucial or oft-repeated words. (It is but one of the great and innumerable advantages of the Tridentine Mass in Latin that its linguistic universality obviates any of the nationalist rivalries and sensitivities that the vernacular of the Novus Ordo Mass has created.)

There is, in short, no need whatsoever, beyond those I have mentioned, for a Spanish-, or a Polish-, or an Italian-, or a Swahili-, or a Mandarin-language mass in the United States. I fear that Mass-goers who believe otherwise are dupes of the multiculturalist agenda, people who are determined to convert Holy Mass into a cultural-political statement, or Catholics who feel such a blasphemy should be tolerated in the name of "niceness".

But all this is equivalent to scandal, which is defined in my dictionary as "discredit brought upon religion by unseemly conduct in a religious person." D Demands in non-Spanish-speaking countries for Spanish choirs, Spanish readings, and the celebration of the Liturgy of the Eucharist in Spanish amount to saying:

 "We are a racial and cultural minority that demands recognition by the majority culture in holy worship. Our language, our music, our customs, and our nation of origin are as good as yours, and require to be acknowledged as such. A few of us have been in your country for a very long time, and a great many more of us are coming. So you'd better look to the future and see how it will work."

All of which may, or may not, be true. But national identity is not what people are supposed to be concentrating on when worshiping in the Holy Catholic (that is, universal) Church. And insisting on it in Holy Mass is, it seems to me, a Hell of a way to make a statement.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops obviously disagrees. But then, in respect of the National Question and mass immigration, we disagree on absolutely everything. For some reason, the bishops don't seem interested in listening to, or even arguing the subject with, me.

Chilton Williamson Jr. [email him] is the author of The Immigration Mystique: America's False Conscience and The Conservative Bookshelf: Essential Works That Impact Today's Conservative Thinkers. He is an editor and columnist for Chronicles Magazine, where he writes The Hundredth Meridian column about life in the Rocky Mountain West. His latest book is a novel, Mexico Way.