By Andrea Gagliarducci
Will a Mass celebrated in an Italian dialect pave the way for translation of the Roman Missal into regional dialects?
The question was raised April 28, when Archbishop Giovanni Angelo Becciu, deputy to the Vatican Secretariat, celebrated Mass in Cagliari, the main city of the Italian region of Sardinia.
The occasion for the Mass was the “Sa die da Sardigna”, the Sardinian National Day, and the was Mass celebrated in the “limba” dialect, a variant of the Sardinian language.
“Limba” was used for songs, initial rites, readings, psalm, prayer of the faithful, orations, Sanctus, Agnus Dei and Our Father. Only the Eucharistic Prayer was not translated into “limba,” because this requires the Holy See’s approval. A request for such approval has been forwarded to the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and Sacraments.
An increase in Masses celebrated in regional languages is likely to be one of the outcomes of the September 2017 motu proprio Magnum Principium, which liberalized the translation of the Roman Missal from Latin into vernacular languages.
The Italian language is only the official language of Italy. Until 1861, however, “Italy” was a loose network of small states, each of them with their own language.
When the Savoy Kingdom unified all these states under its crown, the decision was made that the literary Florentine variant of Italian would become standard Italian across the country. This was in part because Florentine literature – thanks to the famous writers Dante, Petrarca and Boccaccio – was understood everywhere in Italy, and was considered part of the national culture.
The newly standard Italian language was taught in schools, thanks to a federal schooling program that made the instruction mandatory everywhere. Use of other regional languages persisted, however, and they remain an important part of Italy’s regional cultures.
In fact, what are called Italian dialects are not exactly dialects at all. A dialect is a variant of a codified language. But many of the so-called Italian dialects developed independently, with their own grammar and vocabularies. They are, in fact, not dialects but languages. Minority languages, but always languages.
There are 32 minority languages, all of them derived from the Latin. Out of them, the Sardinian language stands apart.
Sardinia is an island west of the Italian coast, with a political history that has contributed to the strength of its regional language.
Under the dominion of Spain until 1720, Sardinia became then part of the Savoy kingdom, whose capital was the northwestern italy city of Turin.
Sardinian is considered a peculiar language, influenced by its occasional rulers, while retaining its unique character, even itself developing unique dialects. More than 1 million people speak Sardinian as a native language.
The National Day of Sardinia is celebrated April 28, because on that date 1794, Sardinians began a rebellion which expelled Piedmontese administrators of the Savoy kingdom from the island.
The event of a Mass in Sardinian language was so important that the Italian national broadcasting company regional channel broadcast it live.
The liturgical texts of the Mass were translated by a team of experts coordinated by Fr. Antonio Pinna, while chants and music were composed by maestro Vittorio Monti, and the rite concluded with the “Deus ti salvet Maria,” the Sardinian translation of Ave Maria which has been always sung during papal visits to Sardinia.
Music was also played with traditional Sardinian wind instruments, the “launeddas”.
The decision to celebrate Mass in Sardinian was made by the Sardinian Bishops’ Conference, one of the regional branches of Italian Bishops’ Conference – each of the 20 regions of Italy has its own unique episcopal conference. The Sardinian bishops’ conference accepted a request initially made by the group “Prego in sardu” (I pray in Sardinian), which is also the organizing committee of the Sardinian National Day.
Last year, Archbishop Arrigo Miglio of Cagliari had already celebrated Mass in Sardinian, and that Mass was the guidebook for this translation of the Mass, with several additions.
The Sardinian bishops stressed in a release that “transmission of faith, prayer and liturgy can find new impetus in each one’s mother tongue.”
Can this experiment be considered the first step in a series of translations of the Missal into local – although not official – languages?
It is possible that other groups with strong cultural and linguistic identity will request translation of the Missal into their language. The translation of the Mass in minority, unofficial languages might help to increase participation in the Mass, as it should be seen as part of a region’s cultural heritage. On the other hand, the translation of Mass into “unofficial” languages can also be exploited for political purposes, especially by separatist groups.
As always, things will need to be cautiously handled.