A NIGERIAN CATHOLIC AND HIS LATIN

Credo in Deum Patrem omnipotentem, 

Creatorem caeli et terrae, et in Iesum Christum,

Filium Eius unicum,

Dominum nostrum, qui conceptus est de Spiritu Sancto, natus ex Maria Virgine…

Sigh…

I’ve struggled, really. For years, it’s been a battle oscillating between Latin and English during Mass and this time around, I give up – finally. Any last thoughts I had about persevering were crushed when I looked at the old woman beside me and realised she was having a harder time keeping up. I think she’s Ibo, guessing by the double wrapper she’s got tied around her waist and the blouse she’s wearing. She had a copy of the hymn book open with the Latin version of The Apostles Creed right before her eyes but she was having the same struggles as I was. Why can’t she just do it in English, or Ibo? I wondered. I didn’t have a hymn book; afterall, I should be smart enough to memorise and mouth off my profession of faith in Latin. Unfortunately, I’m not smart enough.

You see, the first Sunday of every month is an important one in most Nigerian churches. There are a lot of activities; thanksgiving, testimonies, tithe offering, etc. The Catholic church where I worship is no exception. It’s also a special Sunday when the most important aspects of the service are said in Latin, just like the excerpt from the Apostles Creed above which is be translated to mean:

I believe in God,

the Father almighty,

Creator of heaven and earth,

and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,

born of the Virgin Mary…

Just one wee problem: I suck at Latin. It’s a beautiful language and I love the rhythm of Latin songs and prayers the priest says. Still, I sucketh, like a tornado.

I understand the need to profess my faith in God in church, what I don’t understand is why, on any given day, and at any point in time, I have to do it in Latin. I’m Nigerian, I speak Yoruba, Pidgin English and English – the latter borne out of a colonial past and the need to be understood across dialectical boundaries in this country. So if I’m already laden with a language burden, albeit one I’m grateful for, why do I have to bother with another one just for the sake of religion? Is it because our prayers would be more effective? I don’t know. Anyway, on such occasions, I choose to simply say my prayers in English or Yoruba on such occasions; God isn’t deaf. And I do not need to speak some Latin in church to remember that I’m Roman Catholic.

I’m not complaining, I’m just thinking out loud, wondering if anyone else has had this thought cross their minds. And it’s not just for Catholics, I also wonder if it’s a crime for any Muslim to worship in any other tongue, since all prayers are said in Arabic. I’ve never really heard a Muslim say a ‘serious’ prayer except in Arabic. I do not know why, and since I do not boast an extensive knowledge in Islam, I’ll let it rest here in the hope that a Muslim (preferably a scholar) would be so gracious to educate me about this – soon (and just so that I wouldn’t be lynched for blasphemy, in case a member of the mosque a street away from home reads this).

Now to another small matter -yes I can be petty at times, and this is really petty. But if my pettiness will spin a wheel of thought in some heads, I’ll be a happy man-boy. Why do we bear ‘Christian’ names? I know a lot of people who bear Mary, Grace, Peter, John, etc. For Catholics, we get baptismal names from a list of biblical names and those of the saints. For other Christians, they get their Christian names during their christening (I guess).  That’s totally cool.The thing is these names, to the best of my knowledge, aren’t really ‘Christian’ names. Mary was a Jew before the birth of Jesus Christ. Her name didn’t change. Okay, Saul became Paul but Peter = Cephas = Rock. Now what’s possibly Christian about being named rock? A name is a name, primarily as a means of identification and in our culture, I understand a name is also symbolic. So if it is for symbolic reasons, okay. But if not, why?

Still, what is wrong in choosing ‘Oluwasegun’ as a Christian name, especially when it means ‘Our God has won the battle’? I’ll leave you to answer this. I know I’ve touched on a sensitive issue, or one that can be made sensitive. All I aim to do is to create a discussion.

Fire away…

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