From the Archbishop's desk: November 2019

By Archbishop Malcolm McMahon

In a recent opinion piece in her professional journal, my niece Philippa wrote that the use of technical language empowers the speaker and disarms the audience. She was referring to the way language can be exclusive or inclusive.

Although she was talking about the construction industry, her comment applies equally to the Church. Does the language we use in our liturgy draw people into the mystery of the Mass or leave them puzzled about the meaning of what we are doing and saying?

When we talk about God, we use a specialist language that doesn’t invite others to join in but keeps the discourse among those who have trained in theology. Of course, this applies to most areas of life. If we want to speak about finance, we need to learn the language of loans, investments and interest rates. To talk meaningfully about motor racing a knowledge of car construction, engines and race rules may be essential.

This raises the question about whether plain English is enough to get the good news of Jesus across to others.

Jesus spoke in parables to help people understand deep messages about the mystery of God, his love for us, and how we are to relate to him and to each other. It can be done then, but it requires imagination and effort on the part of the speaker and a willingness to learn by the listener. The listening stage of our preparation for Synod 2020 taught us to listen. Now I pray that the Holy Spirit will teach us how to speak in a language that does not exclude but includes everyone.