About a week ago, the Xavier community held the Spirit Celebration to kick off the academic year, a tradition that dates back to 1940 at Xavier and much further back for Jesuit schools around the world.
There has already been some contention among students over how inclusive or exclusive the event was, especially considering the closure of the Hoff Dining Commons during the time of the Celebration. (Some claim the event planners were “starving out the nonbelievers.”)
While I have strong opinions about what inclusivity might look like and how well the event this year may or may not have achieved that, I do not wish to bring that to a public forum. Instead, I want to address one very specific part of the Mass: the use of music in Spanish at several points.
First, I want to make it clear that I am a gringo and I recognize that. I did not grow up with Spanish, but rather in a relatively homogenous, English-speaking small town in southern Indiana. That said, I believe this critique is an objective one.
Why use Spanish during Mass? There are several reasons one can list: to facilitate the understanding of Spanish-speakers during the mass, to reflect the diversity of the audience or merely for aesthetic pleasure.
At the Mass of the Holy Spirit, it could not have been the first. As far as I am aware, everyone present had a basic knowledge of English. If there were people present who needed Spanish to understand the Mass, then it was a tremendous failure since Spanish was only employed in music at two points in the event.
The second possible reason, to reflect the diversity of the audience, seems tenuous at best. The event was meant to reflect the diversity of the Xavier community, but I’m not sure that using Spanish during the Mass is the best way to go about that.
Frankly, it is cultural appropriation and the desire to appear diverse that motivates the usage of Spanish, not appreciation for diversity. If we really respected the full diversity of the community, why would we not make it a bilingual Mass?
Lastly, the aesthetic pleasure of Spanish during Mass seems limited at best. English speakers simply cannot pronounce it correctly, thus rendering two parts of the Mass awkward.
Furthermore, almost every part of the M ass serves a purpose. If most of the people present cannot understand the words, then we should not continue to privilege aesthetic pleasure over the utility of English.
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