Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Latin in the Litugry -- Hooray!!! with Quibbles

Kenny, who maintains the Sleepless Eye blogspot has linked to one of his articles titled, Latin: Reclaiming Our Heritage. These facts alone show why Latin should gain greater prominence in the life and liturgy of the Church. Kenny, as you may know from a previous blog, is from Singapore and a convert from the genteel paganism of the East. That he could write an article about Latin and title it "Reclaiming Our Heritage" speaks volumes, for as Kenny himself points out:
In 1922, Pope Pius XI said about Latin, "For the Church, precisely because it embraces all nations and is destined to endure until the end of time... of its very nature requires a language which is universal, immutable, and non-vernacular." His successor, Pope Pius XII wrote, "The use of the Latin language prevailing in a great part of the Church affords at once an imposing sign of unity and an effective safeguard against the corruption of true doctrine."
Indeed. Can anyone imagine a Chinese or African Catholic urging his countrymen and fellow believers to burnish their English, French, or Italian in order to "reclaim their heritage"? However much those languages may be part of a Chinese or African's history, they are not part of his or her patrimony, the sacred river of witness flowing through the ages, washing and connecting all men to one another. Those languages can't form that living connection, unless they transcend the vernacular and acquire a hallowed status which exists above nationality -- in other words, unless they become what Latin already is.

Latin, used properly, is a visible sign of Catholic unity that cannot be matched. Oddly enough, it is a sign badly needed as the world (and particularly the United States) becomes (once again) the home for immigrants and refugees who do not share a common language or -- unlike prior periods of immigration to my country -- a common and universal experience of the West's cultural heritage. Because my bishop -- like other bishops in my country -- has made it known that any priest who dares to use Latin (including celebration of the Novus Ordo in Latin) will be dealt with harshly, my parish has Spanish-language masses at which only Hispanics gather for worship; English-speaking masses at which only Anglos worship; and a host of vigils, benedictions, and rosaries conducted in "Spanglish", a haphazard polyglot of English and Spanish that switches between familiar and foreign tongues so frequently that we end up, contrary to the hopes and intentions of those involved, reduced to timid muttering or outright silence. This is not the "active participation" or "inculturation" which Sacrosanctum Concilium envisioned. Kenny's essay reminds us of this fact, and it's all the more significant because he is a true Catholic who is not a child of the West. If Latin can reach across the Pacific to excite us to realize a common unity, it can surely reach across the "ethnic time zones" in Dubuque, Houston, or Portland.

Another interesting aspect of Kenny's essay is his comparison between the Second Vatican Council's affection for Latin:
The Second Vatican Council itself affirmed: "The use of Latin, with due respect to particular law, is to be preserved in the Latin Rites. Nevertheless care must be taken to ensure that the faithful may also be able to say or sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them."

Compared with what the Church actually received, although it is here I start disagreeing with Kenny a little bit (for reasons I'll explain later):
While Vatican II affirmed the use of Latin, it also permitted the use of the vernacular. The parts pertaining to the people, such as the scripture readings, or where they were invited to participate, such as hymns, should be in the vernacular. The parts that belonged to the priest, like the Eucharistic Canon for example, would then have remained in Latin. Subsequent implementations did not make Latin obligatory. It is possible that Vatican II's position was one of compromise, and those who implemented the decision were on the side of "no Latin".
Although I tend to agree with Kenny that this was the liturgy the Council envisioned, I'm starting to get a little uncomfortable at this point, because "those who implemented the decision" included the Pope.

Two things are worth noting here, at least initially. First, the Council of Trent made it clear that the use of Latin or the vernacular in the liturgy was a matter to be judged, ultimately, in terms of pastoral expediency:
And whereas such is the nature of man, that, without external helps, he cannot easily be raised to the meditation of divine things; therefore has holy Mother Church instituted certain rites, to wit that certain things be pronounced in the mass in a low, and others in a louder, tone. She has likewise employed ceremonies, such as mystic benedictions, lights, incense, vestments, and many other things of this kind, derived from an apostolical discipline and tradition, whereby both the majesty of so great a sacrifice might be recommended, and the minds of the faithful be excited, by those visible signs of religion and piety, to the contemplation of those most sublime things which are hidden in this sacrifice.
-- Council of Trent, Session XXII, Chapter V, "On the Solemn Ceremonies of the Sacrifice of the Mass."
* * *
Although the mass contains great instruction for the faithful people, nevertheless, it has not seemed expedient to the Fathers, that it should be every where celebrated in the vulgar tongue. Wherefore, the ancient usage of each church, and the rite approved of by the holy Roman Church, the mother and mistress of all churches, being in each place retained; and, that the sheep of Christ may not suffer hunger, nor the little ones ask for bread, and there be none to break it unto them, the holy Synod charges pastors, and all who have the cure of souls, that they frequently, during the celebration of mass, expound either by themselves, or others, some portion of those things which are read at mass, and that, amongst the rest, they explain some mystery of this most holy sacrifice, especially on the Lord's days and festivals.
-- Council of Trent, Session XXII, Chapter VIII, "On Not Celebrating the Mass Every Where in the Vulgar Tongue; the Mysteries of the Mass to be Explained to the People."
I think these Chapters make it clear that liturgical language is dictated by the prevailing need for those "external helps" which can more easily raise men "to the meditation of divine things," and are selected on the basis of the Church's judgment about what "seem[s] expedient" to that end.

Second, the Council of Trent also taught that the Church has authority to make, re-make, change, and otherwise make regulations regarding the use of vernacular or Latin in the liturgy, again on the grounds of pastoral expeciency addressed by the previous selections from the Council:
[T]his power has ever been in the Church, that, in the dispensation of the sacraments, their substance being untouched, it may ordain, or change, what things soever it may judge most expedient, for the profit of those who receive, or for the veneration of the said sacraments, according to the difference of circumstances, times, and places. And this the Apostle seems not obscurely to have intimated, when he says; Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and the dispensers of the mysteries of God. And indeed it is sufficiently manifest that he himself exercised this power, as in many other things, so in regard of this very sacrament; when, after having ordained certain things touching the use thereof, he says; The rest I will set in order when I come. Wherefore, holy Mother Church, knowing this her authority in the administration of the sacraments, although the use of both species has, from the beginning of the Christian religion, not been unfrequent, yet, in progress of time, that custom having been already very widely changed, she, induced by weighty and just reasons, has approved of this custom of communicating under one species, and decreed that it was to be held as a law; which it is not lawful to reprobate, or to change at plea sure, without the authority of the Church itself.
Council of Trent, Session XXI, Chapter II, "Decree on Communion under Both Species, and the Communion of Infants."
This is not the place or time to address so-called Traditionalist arguments that the vernacular Novus Ordo is invalid because it does not, in observance of Trent's description, leave the "substance" of the liturgy "untouched"; that's not Kenny's opinion and I have no reason to digress about it here. Suffice it to say that the Church has a plenary right and authority to change the liturgy on the grounds of prudence and expedience; and this right exists and must be respected whether or not the change is itself actually prudent or expedient. After all, if the Church's authority to regulate the worship of Catholics on the grounds of prudence and expedience were subject to individual Catholics' judgments about how well the regulation served the ends of prudence or expediency, the Church's authority would be no authority at all. It would merely be the power of suggestion, a power even less forceful than the fabled "Power of Cheese."

Lastly, I note that the plenitude of this power resides in the Church, and in her visible head, the Roman Pontiff:
Therefore, relying on the clear testimonies of Sacred Scripture, and adhering to the eloquent and manifest decisions not only of Our predecessors, the Roman Pontiffs, but also of the general Councils, We renew the definition of the Ecumenical Councils of Florence, by which all the faithful of Christ most believe ‘that the Apostolic See and the Roman Pontiff hold primacy over the whole world, and that the Pontiff of Rome himself is the successor of the blessed Peter, the chief of the apostles, and is the true vicar of Christ and head of the whole Church and faith, and teacher of all Christians; and that to him was handed down in blessed Peter, by our Lord Jesus Christ, full power to feed, rule, and guide the universal Church, just as is also contained in the records of the ecumenical Councils and in the sacred canons.'"

Furthermore We teach and declare that the Roman Church, by the disposition of the Lord, holds the sovereignty of ordinary power over all others, and that this power of jurisdiction on the part of the Roman Pontiff, which is truly episcopal, is immediate; and with respect to this the pastors and the faithful of whatever right and dignity, both as separate individuals and all together, are bound by the duty of hierarchical subordination and true obedience, not only in with respect to this the pastors and the faithful of whatever right and dignity, both as separate individuals and all together, are bound by the duty of hierarchical subordination and true obedience, not only in things which pertain to faith and morals, but also in those which pertain to discipline and government of the Church spread over the whole world, so that the Church of Christ, protected not only by the Roman Pontiff, but by the unity of the communion as well as of the profession of the same faith is one flock under the one highest shepherd.
-- First Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Christ, Chapter III.
We are accustomed to thinking of Vatican I as "the Council that taught papal infallibility." A reference to the Council's decrees might at first glance seem ill-placed in our discussion, which does not involve infallibility or matters of faith and morals. But papal infallibility is not the whole of the Council's teaching. The Council also taught the age-old truth that the Holy Father has immediate, ordinary, episcopal authority over"not only in things which pertain to faith and morals, but also in those which pertain to discipline and government of the Church spread over the whole world." If "those who implemented the decision were on the side of ‘no Latin'," and if they included the Pope, then the Novus Ordo should not in any way be regarded as a invalid ‘subversion' of the Council. Imprudent, or inexpedient, perhaps, but pains should be taken to explain that there is nothing about the Novus Ordo which is "wrong" in some fundamental sense -- either liturgical, sacramental, or juridical.

Kenny goes on to say that:
It is undeniable that with the promulgation of the Novus Ordo — the New Rite of the Mass — many abuses have crept into sacred liturgy. The beautiful and moving Gregorian Chant and sacred hymns has been replaced by too many "warm huggy fuzzy" songs since the 1970s or so. Songs like "Let Us Break Bread Together On Our Knees" have become more popular than majestic solid hymns like "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence". The transcendence of the Sacrifice of the Mass is mostly lost. In most parishes the most solemn and holy re-enactment of the Last Supper—and of the Sacrifice at Calvary—has become like a sing-along session. Many things that are unique to the Roman Rite, such as Gregorian Chant, have been forgotten or deliberately done away with, due to perhaps over-reactionary or erratic interpretations of the documents of Vatican II by folks who don't deserve, as much as they lay claim to, the name "liturgists". Latin, the very liturgical language of the Roman Rite, is one of the treasures of our twenty hundred years-old rich culture and heritage that has been lost.
Since I myself was just recently a teeny bit vitriolic on the subject of hymns, I daren't disagree with Kenny on what the experience of Mass has become for many Catholics. But both of us ought to remember that we're not talking about the sacrament, but about what the Council of Trent rightly called "external helps" for "the meditation of divine things," which have value to the extent that the "minds of the faithful" are "excited, by those visible signs of religion and piety, to the contemplation of those most sublime things which are hidden in this sacrifice." I can heartily endorse Kenny's opinion that a hymn titled "Let Us Break Bread Together On Our Knees" isn't conducive to that awareness -- I don't see how whacking our legs with loaves of bread is going to help us contemplate the Mysterium Fidei. But the Council of Trent's words stress an important fact -- that very mystery is "hidden" in the Mass and will always be hidden, yet mystically unveiled, until He comes in glory. The external helps by which we might more easily raise our minds to contemplate the transcendence of the Mass may well be lost in the static and liturgical malapropisms inflicted on us by a well-meaning legion of pseudo-specialists who confuse the passing enthusiasms of fashion with the enduring conversion of the soul. But the transcendence of the Mass itself is not lost. It remains, and even the most saccharine and banal presentation of the mystery can be the occasion of a great blessing: "Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed." John 20:29 (KJV).

That having been said, I turn to Kenny's closing lament and question:
It is most unfortunate and shameful that we have to admit we are slowly deteriorating into a state where we have almost lost our identity as Roman Catholics. If, as described by Pope Pius XI . . . we have abandoned the very "universal, immutable, and non-vernacular" Latin language of our Rite that enabled the Church to "embrace all nations" and "last until the end of time", how can we say that we are "Roman", and "Catholic" (universal)?
Ahh, Kenny, no -- our identity does not rest on the fact of Latin. Latin is an external help, a visible excitement to contemplate a unity which endures through any vicissitude. That unity is founded on Jesus Christ:
By means of the Eucharistic Sacrifice Christ our Lord willed to give to the faithful a striking manifestation of our union among ourselves and with our divine Head, wonderful as it is and beyond all praise. For in this Sacrifice the sacred minister acts as the vicegerent not only of our Savior but of the whole Mystical Body and of each one of the faithful. In this act of Sacrifice through the hands of the priest, by whose word alone the Immaculate Lamb is present on the altar, the faithful themselves, united with him in prayer and desire, offer to the Eternal Father a most acceptable victim of praise and propitiation for the needs of the whole Church. And as the Divine Redeemer, when dying on the Cross, offered Himself to the Eternal Father as Head of the whole human race, so "in this clean oblation" He offers to the heavenly Father not only Himself as Head of the Church, but in Himself His mystical members also, since He holds them all, even those who are weak and ailing, in His most loving Heart.
-- Pius XII, Mystici Corporis, ¶ 82 (1943).
We are Catholic because He is, and we are Roman because He founded His Church on the Bishop of Rome:
[T]he person of Jesus Christ is represented by the Supreme Pontiff, who in turn must call on others to share much of his solicitude lest he be overwhelmed by the burden of his pastoral office, and must be helped daily by the prayers of the Church. Moreover as our Savior does not rule the Church directly in a visible manner, He wills to be helped by the members of His Body in carrying out the work of redemption. This is not because He is indigent and weak, but rather because He has so willed it for the greater glory of His spotless Spouse. Dying on the Cross He left to His Church the immense treasury of the Redemption, towards which she contributed nothing. But when those graces come to be distributed, not only does He share this work of sanctification with His Church, but He wills that in some way it be due to her action. This is a deep mystery, and an inexhaustible subject of meditation, that the salvation of many depends on the prayers and voluntary penances which the members of the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ offer for this intention and on the cooperation of pastors of souls and of the faithful, especially of fathers and mothers of families, a cooperation which they must offer to our Divine Savior as though they were His associates.
-- Pius XII, Mystici Corporis, ¶ 44 (1943).
Wherever Christians united with the Pope pray or worship, work or rest, glory or grieve, in Christ Jesus, there is the Roman Catholic Church. In his Letter to the Romans, St. Ignatius saluted:
the Church which has obtained mercy, through the majesty of the Most High God the Father, and of Jesus Christ, His only-begotten Son; the Church which is sanctified and enlightened by the will of God, who formed all things that are according to the faith and love of Jesus Christ, our God and Saviour; the Church which presides in the place of the region of the Romans, and which is worthy of God, worthy of honour, worthy of the highest happiness, worthy of praise, worthy of credit, worthy of being deemed holy, and which presides over love, is named from Christ, and from the Father, and is possessed of the Spirit . . .
The "Church which presides in the place of the region of the Romans," is not, except by passing historical coincidence, the "Church which speaks Latin." When Pope Clement wrote the Corinthians, he gave them many exhortations, told them to do many things; he did not tell them to learn Latin. The language, glorious as it is, evocative of unity as it is, is nonetheless only an external "help." Yes, it would be better if we all had that help, at least sometimes. The breakdown of Latin usage in the Church is a very bad thing, but it doesn't mean we're losing our Catholicism or even the best part of what it means to be Catholic.

Those quibbles having been lodged, Kenny's essay is an elegant proof of why the Church needs Latin -- to provide a visible sign of her unity and her continuity, to more widely spread the bounty of her heritage, and to circumvent the comparatively-ephemeral boundaries of nation, place, and culture.

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