ENID, Okla. — For decades, St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church has held a Spanish-language Mass for the area’s Spanish-speaking community.
Father Mark Mason said the church has been offering the service for about 23 years. He said it has an average attendance of 500 people.
“All the sacraments are celebrated in Spanish,” Mason said. “I started celebrating Spanish Mass 20 years ago not knowing any Spanish at all. Because in the Catholic liturgy our prayers are universal and the readings are universal.”
Mason said the message is the same no matter the language in which it is spoken.
“All I need to do is pick up a book and read the prayers from the book,” he said. “It was very awkward at the beginning because I wasn’t sure what I was saying.”
He said he would read the English version of a service and then the Spanish version to get the “heartfelt gesture” of what he was sharing with his congregants.
With time, and increased technology, Mason said he is able to more confidently share the message.
“Now, I’m at the point I use Google Translate to have someone read out my homilies, and I read them every Sunday. But they’re my homilies, not someone else’s,” he said. “I can do baptisms and weddings. I think my Spanish in the lingual context is very good. Outside, it is very bad.”
Mason said the problems he typically has are with his grammar but the program often catches those mistakes.
Standing room only
Mason said he and Father John Herrera share the duties of performing the Spanish-language Masses, which are held at 1 p.m. Sundays. Mason admits, “His Spanish is a little bit better than mine.”
The two bring about 500 congregants to each Mass, often with some standing in the back.
Mason never had any classes on Spanish in his education. He attended Northwestern Oklahoma State University and did seminary in San Antonio. He studied French, not Spanish, on the advice of an adviser.
“You’ll need French in theology, not Spanish,” Mason said he was told. “I wanted to change from French to Spanish. That time in theology, Spanish theologians were not as recognized as the French and Germans. I just took the French.”
Understanding the good news
Whichever the language, Mason said there is a “universal message” he is compelled to share.
“The message is always good. There is universal message of love. I found that out with the Hispanic community,” he said. “They understand the universal language of love. Love always transcends the vocal language.
“Also, to do Masses in different languages, I think really, really calls out the ministry of the Holy Spirit of Pentecost, where everyone understood the good news in their own tongue.”
Mason said he’s seen congregants who have missed a Mass attend it in another language.
“Catholics, if they have missed the earlier Masses many will come in to the Spanish Mass,” he said. “Likewise, the Hispanics will go the English Mass.”
Mason said the area has a generational history of worship in different languages.
“Lots of people who spoke Czech and did not learn English until they were 5 years old learned to speak English when they went to school in Hennessey and Bison,” he said, referring to the 1950s. “Of course, back then, Mass was in Latin so everyone went to the Latin Mass.”
Praying during time of sickness
A number of churches in Enid have ceased in-person worship services to reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus COVID-19.
The Catholic Archdiocese of Oklahoma City issued a statement March 17 suspending public Mass and all worship services through Easter, April 12, and closing all Catholic schools through at least April 5.
“I know this will be difficult for many of us, especially our priests for whom the Mass and the Eucharist are the very center of our lives,” said Archbishop Paul Coakley. “Due to the continued rapid spread of COVID-19, we must take further steps to protect the community and our most at-risk parishioners, so everyone can remain safe during this health crisis.”
Coakley said priests would continue to celebrate daily Mass and pray for the church and its members, and he urged the faithful to also turn to prayer and reading of Scripture during the pandemic.
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