Monday, December 20, 2010

Latin? In my Mass?!

I recently asked a Benedictine priest (who has a rather conservative liturgical ideal) what he thought about the virtual absence of Latin from the typical parish liturgical experience today.  I am referring to Sacrosanctum Concilium (the Vatican II Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy) article 54:
In Masses which are celebrated with the people, a suitable place may be allotted to their mother tongue. This is to apply in the first place to the readings and "the common prayer," but also, as local conditions may warrant, to those parts which pertain to the people, according to tho norm laid down in Art. 36 of this Constitution.

Nevertheless steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them.

And wherever a more extended use of the mother tongue within the Mass appears desirable, the regulation laid down in Art. 40 of this Constitution is to be observed.

It seems that the only parts of this article that get real attention are the first and third sections, which deal with the inclusion of the vernacular in the Mass... potentially (and actually, as experience has shown) throughout the entire Mass.  But what about the second section?  “Nevertheless steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them.”

The saying or singing in Latin of certain parts of the Order of Mass is not the experience of most Catholics nowadays.  In fact, the ability for the faithful to do so is virtually non-existent.  And yet, our weekly experience of the reformed liturgy includes 1) an expanded Lectionary, 2) the regularity of homilies, 3) the Prayer of the Faithful, 4) the use of the vernacular, 5) the partaking in the sacrifice offered at that Mass (rather than Hosts consecrated at a previous Mass and retrieved from the tabernacle), 6) Communion under both kinds, 7) and a new rite of concelebration.

Those seven reforms I just mentioned are part of the typical parish experience (priest shortage notwithstanding), and they are the products of articles 51-58 of Sacrosanctum Concilium.

So why have the other reforms been so successfully implemented (and then some!) and generally well-received, but that pesky little sentence in article 54 about Latin can’t seem to get its foot in the door?  Why do Catholics who otherwise support the reforms they experience from articles 51-58 become indignant whenever mention is made of the mere possibility of making Latin responses at Mass?  (Such a reaction can be found in the comment-boxes at the National Catholic Reporter web site, for example:  here, here, and here.)


What’s the problem with that sentence about Latin in article 54? People — at least SOME people — were making the responses in Latin before 1963. Why did it become impossible and undesirable?  Is it obsolete? Opposed to "full, conscious, and active participation"? A monastic ideal not appropriate for normal parish life? A compromise sentence which was never meant to be taken seriously?

4 comments:

Steve said...

Hi Jeff,

Here's my take on your questions....

There is a VERY vocal "faction" within the Church who directly associate the use of Latin during Holy Mass as somehow advocating a "turning of the clock back to 1962" and other such nonsense.

Many of the folks in that "faction" think that bringing Latin into the Liturgy will necessarily bring back the following (to name just a few):

a) "triumphalism",

b) clericalism (putting Priests upon a pedestal),

c) the unbalanced emphasis upon sin and Divine Justice, and

d) the excessively authoritarian dictates by the Magisterium - supposedly often commonplace in the Church before Vatican II.

Those in the aforementioned "faction" are often in the decision making positions within local parishes and diocesan chanceries, especially wrt deciding what will and what will not be allowed in liturgical celebrations (and not just on the issue of Latin).

Many sincere Catholics today believe that rekindling our Latin language heritage during Holy Mass is completely unneeded for "modern times", and will actually be a deterrent for "active participation" by all of the faithful.

I've been in an e-mail debate over the past several weeks with a prominent Catholic apologist who thinks that the all-Latin ancient rite of Holy Mass is 'inherently deficient' (his very words) wrt meeting the "needs of modern times" for understandability and intelligibility about what transpires during the Liturgy.

Modern day Catholics have put such a premium on understandability, and in making participation during Holy Mass inherently "easy", that they just won't even begin to concede to the the expressly written promptings of the Conciliar Fathers in SC54 section 2.

As I see it - and as many faithful Catholics who greatly appreciate and enthusiastically participate in the ancient Latin rite will attest - much of the attitude by those opposed to Latin boils down to their refusal to "die to self."

I fail to see what else one could attribute their position, if those people refuse to appreciate the Catholic heritage of our ancestors in the faith, and who refuse to make the least bit of effort to embrace anything other than praying in common and ordinary-day language. In many respects, those opposed to the use of Latin in the Liturgy have taken to the extreme what the Council Fathers said in Sancrosanctum Concilium paragraph 14 (my emphasis):

"... this full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else...."

Pax et benedictiones tibi, per Christum Dominum nostrum,

Steve B
Plano, TX

Moonshadow said...

I'm not aware of the reason(s) the post-conciliar liturgy evolved the way it did to an all-English form, seemingly in spite of article 54.

Earlier in the month, I attended a mass at St. Patrick's in NYC. The Agnus Dei was sung in Latin. Same thing at a Latin-rite church I attended once in Jerusalem.

But, unlike Steve, I don't see the laity having an actual say in the matter. Nobody's ever asked me whether I want Latin or English at mass. I think it depends largely on local custom ... which can change: this Advent, for the first time in probably twenty years, the liturgy at my parish includes singing the Kyrie. Again, did anyone ask me?

Alan Aversa said...

From the Vatican II document on the sacred liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium:

§ 30: “To promote active participation, the people should be encouraged to take part by means of acclamations, responses, psalmody, antiphons, and songs, as well as by actions, gestures, and bodily attitudes. And at the proper times all should observe a reverent silence.” [Huh? It doesn’t mean “eucharistic ministers,” “liturgical dancers,” “lectors,” etc.? Wow, who would’ve known.]

§ 34: “The rites should be distinguished by a noble simplicity; they should be short, clear, and unencumbered by useless repetitions; they should be within the people’s powers of comprehension, and normally should not require much explanation.” [This would seem to go against a 3 year, complex liturgical cycle where almost the whole bible is read. A pedagogy of yearly repetition of Sunday gospels and readings pertaining to saints’ feasts days is a good thing. (The frequent relegation of the saints in daily Novus Ordo masses is a big pet peeve of mine as well as the expanded choices of vestment colors.) I love yearly revisiting the same gospels at Sunday EF masses. Also, “noble simplicity” must have meant “strip the mass down so it is doesn’t take as long”... And, “Ordinary Time”? I seriously never knew what Pentecost was before going to an EF mass ~3 years ago, where they call it “xth Sunday after Pentecost.” That did indeed “require much explanation” for me. So did why the tabernacle is dissociated from the altar, the altar now being just a freestanding table. Do we genuflect "sideways" to the side-room where the tabernacle is? Few do that. Then why genuflect to the altar before sitting in your pew and not even kneel to receive Communion? The confusing conclusion is that the altar is more important than Holy Communion! The Extraordinary Form is much more "within the people’s powers of comprehension" because—perhaps besides the Latin which nevertheless retains the mystical character of the Mass, that one can never completely understand the Holy Sacrifice before attaining the Beatific Vision—it makes so much more sense for these very reasons. Latin is necessary as Fr. Gihr so eloquently argues.]

§ 54: “steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them.” [So basically we should all be singing the Credo, Gloria, Agnus Dei, etc., in Latin. Who would have known? After weekly repetition for years, even those who never knew Latin would know at least these by heart.]

§ 101: “In accordance with the centuries-old tradition of the Latin rite, the Latin language is to be retained by clerics in the divine office.” [Wow. Who knew.]

§ 116-117: “Gregorian chant [...] should be given pride of place in liturgical services.” “The typical edition of the books of Gregorian chant is to be completed; and a more critical edition is to be prepared of those books already published since the restoration by St. Pius X.” [What happened to this? OCP buried them?]

§ 120: “In the Latin Church the pipe organ is to be held in high esteem, for it is the traditional musical instrument which adds a wonderful splendor to the Church’s ceremonies and powerfully lifts up man’s mind to God and to higher things.” [Where are the organs in most Novus Ordo parishes? Card. Newman said the organ is the instrument that represents best the voice of God.]

I’m sure there are many more quotes like these.

Alan Aversa said...

Read footnote #2 of Fr. Gihr's book:

Opponents of the Latin language of worship were, as a rule, heretics, schismatics and rationalistic Catholics; for example, the Albigensians, the so-called Reformers, the Jansenists, the Gallicans, the Josephites, the so-called German and the Old Catholics.

or this section:

In the attempt to suppress the Latin language of the liturgy and to replace it by the vernacular, there was a more or less premeditated scheme to undermine Catholic unity, to loosen the bond of union with Rome, to weaken the Catholic spirit, to destroy the humility and simplicity of faith.

The Freemasons indeed want to undermine Catholic unity.

Also, have you ever read the Council of Trent's Session 22, especially chapter VIII and canon IX?

CANON IX.--If any one saith, that the rite of the Roman Church, according to which a part of the canon and the words of consecration are pronounced in a low tone, is to be condemned; or, that the mass ought to be celebrated in the vulgar tongue only; or, that water ought not to be mixed with the wine that is to be offered in the chalice, for that it is contrary to the institution of Christ; let him be anathema.

This is fully in agreement with Vatican II's document on the liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium (especially §36: "Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites."), but why have both Vatican II and Trent been ignored?