Do They Need Priests In Babel?

Look, I am so very grateful to all priests. So very grateful.

What do you do when you have a priest in your parish that you simply cannot understand a word he says?

I frequently ask my children what the Gospel and the homily were about. The pop quizzes make them pay attention. Lately, it seems that no matter which mass we go to, we get Fr. Babel.

I asked each of my children today what the Gospel was about. Being the feast of the Epiphany, that should be an easy one. But each one, some with tears in their eyes for fear of being in trouble, told me that they simply cannot understand the priest.

Fr. Babel is foreign born and seems to be a good priest and a good man, but we just can't understand him.

Myself, I have an ear for accents and can understand just about anyone. But with Fr. Babel, maybe one out of ten words.

Some people question why I sometimes attend the TLM, a mass in a language I don't really know.

6 of one, half a dozen of the other.

I am grateful for the priest and grateful for the mass. Just venting I guess.

*subhead*Can't understand a word.*subhead*


  1. I occasionally offer Mass at a nearby parish where Spanish is predominant. I have sufficient grasp of the language to celebrate the sacraments, understand and be understood in conversation....and that's about the sum total. Yet each time I have come, I have been overwhelmed by the enthusiastic reception I've received from parishioners. They never fail to thank me (abundantly no less) despite my broken delivery, thick accent and limited vocabulary.

    I have found myself wondering afterwards if I would be so gracious and grateful if the roles were reversed. What does that reveal of my approach and expectations of the Mass? What if I was in that position for a long time, or indefinitely - as I imagine is the case in mission fields?

    I hope that the answer would be 'yes', but that's a tough row to hoe. Sure, it's not the toughest (the Mass is celebrated, sacraments are offered, et cetera), but its tough enough.

    Prayers for you and your family. God bless you for sticking with it.

  2. I know what you mean. Our assistant priest Father Babel can read English quite understandably but when he preaches, I can't understand him at all. He is a good man and we are grateful for him, but I sometimes wish he'd write a sermon and then read it. Still - God bless him and keep him.

  3. I know what you mean. Our assistant priest Father Babel can read English quite understandably but when he preaches, I can't understand him at all. He is a good man and we are grateful for him, but I sometimes wish he'd write a sermon and then read it. Still - God bless him and keep him.

  4. The Tridentine comes with a translation....

    Our pastor is from the mountains of Tennessee, our associate pastor from Nicaragua. I can sometimes understand the Spanish accent better than the Tennessee twang...

  5. A couple of thoughts:
    1. As a professor who works with lots of international folks at a university, I have no problem with accents once I get a handle on it. Aim itself, some speakers are better than others. Also, sorry but I had to out myself as an academic in this blog which is hostile to academics, but...oh well.
    2. We aren't inspiring enough American priests, so when others come here we should be grateful. It's just a fact of life they may be hard to understand. Get used to it.
    3. My fellow Knights support our foreign born parish priest. We're more grateful to have a priest than frustrated with his accent. And he is a good guy.
    4. As a parent, so much happens at home in catechesis and education that I'm not sure the homily really matters in terms of education as much as it's authoritative aspects.

  6. A saintly Jesuit (of 80 years standing!) once remarked to me that when he was ministering in France he used to prepare his sermon, write it out long-hand, rehearse privately it with a parishioner to ensure it was intelligible and always keep it simple. I'm not sure everyone could adopt such a time-consuming method though...

  7. You've got my empathy; I grew up in rural parishes, which means we got the "problem" priests-- when they learned how to give a sermon you could understand, they got reassigned.

    It could be worse, though; we've got one priest who I think took classes in public motivational speaking! Lots of striding around, yelling and requests that we do a call-back. Keeps my kid's attention, but I prefer the shorter, kind of rambling, highly accented but touching ones from the Vietnamese father.

  8. Our bishop has always said to contact the Diocese in such cases since there's always training available for priests for whom English is not their first language.

    I've also known priests to use translators (i.e. a parishioner who speaks both languages) for the homily. It also encourages the priest to keep his homily short and pithy :-)

  9. @ Proteios1, the homily is not meant just to "teach" parishioners but to maybe say something to someone who needs to hear it. I have experienced that myself so that is why I mention it. Often times it is something that I have forgotten overtime and therefore needed to hear it so I could be reminded of it again.

    In regard to accents, sometimes closing my eyes and listening helps me. I know that may not make sense but we just had a priest with a heavy accent come to our parish to give a presentation and it helped me because I was not distracted by other things.

  10. I've been in the opposite situation, where I didn't speak the language all that well, so, a few suggestions. Sit in a different place. Sometimes acoustics really do interfere with understanding. Sit towards the front. If you can see the speaker's lips, you learn to read what they are saying despite the accent. Pray. I hope those help. Oh, one more, read the readings from magnificat, iBreviary or another app on your phone. Helps the readings make sense and, you learn the speaker's pronunciation of certain words.


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