July 7, 2007

Want Latin? Got Latin...

It is a singular delight to find that the Motu Proprio on the restoration of the Tridentine Latin mass (in its 1962 version) has at this point in the day (nearly 6 pm Daylight Savings Time) only appeared on the Vatican Website in Latin! Thus only those with facility in the tongue will have the joy of seeing if and to what extent all of the various hedged-about predictions have been accurate, and others unfamiliar with the Mother Tongue of Mother Church will be left to await the translation. I don't know about you, but I find this a delicious touch, and I can't but imagine a somewhat wry smile on the face of Pope Benedict XVI.

I don't know if this is the norm for papal documents, but as this particular one has been awaited with so much interest in so many circles, I would love to think this Latin-only publication (I'm sure soon to be followed by the vernacular) has a self-referential quality.

Tobias Haller BSG


Anonymous said...

Might I suggest that folks consider putting one of these http://www.papalshop.com/bumper/index.html on the backs of their cars? They're a great way to show solidarity with our Holy Father. Viva il papa!

Anonymous said...

I've never heard a Latin mass except on television, and I don't imagine I'll be hearing one anytime soon, as my own poor parish priest has his hands full with English, Spanish and Vietnamese masses every week.

Still, maybe the motu propitio will end the old sense that Latin was some sort of harbinger of the end of Vatican II (press reports to the contrary, Vatican II's Constitution on the Liturgy mandated keeping the mass in Latin, with occasional concessions to the vernacular).

Latin has been much eclipsed. My son's Catholic high school didn't even offer it, which I think something of a shame. As Dr. Johnson said, each one of us gets whatever Latin we can, and I have enjoyed trying to learn it on my own (I am up to Book IX of the Aeneid, thanks to the admirable Loeb crib.)

Anonymous said...

hey, got one of those already. viva il papa, indeed. try the cardinal ratzinger fan club, (no, really) when you google.

Anonymous said...

dunno about the web, but the English edition of the Vatican Information Service printed the English translation today too.

Thomas Williams said...

If you want to call that Latin . . .

June Butler said...

I grew up with the Latin mass, and it was all I knew for many years. The prayer books had Latin on one side and English on the other, so the congregation could keep up. I managed to pick up a little Latin in the process, which was not a bad thing at all.

By the time the change to English came, I was ready for it, but I found the English translation less than admirable.

When it's all you know, it's all you know. It was good to hear the familiar Latin words in other countries when traveling, no matter what the language of the country.

Back to the future. Solidarity in Latin. I wonder how many Roman Catholic priest actually know much of the language today.

Under threat of losing points, I was required to write A.M.D.G. at the top of all papers handed in at my RC school. Ad majorem Dei gloriam. They're good words.

Anonymous said...

And for those of you not thinking of swimming the Tiber, here is a very beautiful ancient prayer to the Tiber, from Book VIII of the Iliad, voiced by Aeneas as he contemplates war over his betrothed:

'Nymphae, Laurentes Nymphae, genus amnibus unde est,
tuque, o Thybri tuo genitor cum flumine sancto,
accipite Aenean et tandem arcete periclis.
quo te cumque lacus miserantem incommoda nostra
fonte tenent, quocumque solo pulcherrimus exis,
semper honore meo, semper celebrabere donis
corniger Hesperidum fluuius regnator aquarum.
adsis o tantum et propius tua numina firmes.'

Anonymous said...

I've never heard a latin mass either.

I'm a post-vatican II chick.

I have mixed feelings on this.

I think having the CHOICE of doing the mass in latin is just great. Choice is a great thing.

However, I think using this CHOICE as an innocuous a starting point to step 50-100 years into the past (as I believe Pope Benedict XVI would really like to do), isn't so good.

But as I have left the RC church, it isn't as big a concern for me as when I was in it.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks to all for the comments.

This may well be a case of returning the dentifrice to its tubular container. I tend to think that the loss of the Latin liturgy, which was a powerful binder in a time of cultural disintegration, was a tragic mistake, governed by essentially the same didactic approach to liturgy that afflicted Protestantism centuries earlier; that is, worship is primarily about talking about God among ourselves. As the comedian says, "Discuss."

In my local RC parish, the move to the vernacular divided the church into linguistic constituencies, completely voiding the concept of joint worship by all of the faithful of a given geographical parish. Although there are a number of other factors (including a demographic shift in the neighborhood and a negative view of theological developments in Latin America on the part of the Pontiff, leading to a significant loss in support both there and among those emigrating from there to the US) the change in the liturgy is surely a part of the loss of 90% of the membership over the last half-century. That's not a typo. The parish went from 19,600 to just under 2,000 members (in three "language" populations). The reasserter crowd love to point to the single digit losses in TEC as signs of doom, but rarely mention the incredible attrition in the "orthodox" church to which some of them have fled.

So this may be too late, even though I support it as an option. I even more think it was a mistake to remove the Latin liturgy in the first place, and I'm not sure this will lead to significant recovery, given all of the other problems facing the Holy Catholic Church of Rome. Redeeming great-grandmother's jewelery, pawned to the spirit of the previous age, is a good step -- but will it be enough to bring the children back?

June Butler said...

In the Latin mass in the RCC, there was an awe and a majesty about it, a focus on worshiping the living God, which disappeared in the change to the vernacular.

The focus of the new English mass seemed to be on the brothers and the sisters worshiping together, but somehow the central idea of the purpose of mass as worshiping God seemed to have been somewhat squeezed out.

Of course, that's my individual impression, and it's possible that others did not share it.

Nick Finke said...

As a young Jesuit I not only prayed in Latin, I learned to do all kinds of things (including wash dishes, set the table and mop the floor) in Latin. As a result of all this exposure (which included language labs and reading all kinds of stuff from the Breviary and elsewhere) my Latin was very good. I will never forget the feeling when our Latin teacher had to go away for 2 weeks and threw Cicero's Pro Milone at us as he went out the door. I started to read it and realized that this guy could really write! Before then reading a Latin author was more like doing a crossword.

My point here is that there were very few people who ever had a real background in Latin so that prayer in that language was as natural to them as praying in their native tongue. The Latin of the Roman Mass is formal and literary, but it ain't Cicero.

A great deal of the perceived "mystery and majesty" of the Latin liturgy was IMHO really due to the listeners not having much else to compare it to.

From my own experience I sometimes think that we like to use something like a Latin (or Church Slavonic or, for that matter, Tudor English) liturgy as a sort of protective barrier between ourselves and the real "mysterium tremendum et fascinans."

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Perhaps I betray some of my earlier experience in Zen when I observe that any language repeated often enough tends to shift from "meaning" to "being." That is, how many people, when they say the Lord's Prayer, are actually "meaning" what they pray in an intentional way, the way you use "real" language when actually talking to someone. My sense is that all ritual and ceremonial tends to be there at least in part to bring the worshiper to the place of "no-mind" or "no-self" -- which is at the opposite pole from the Protestant didacticism with its Cranmerian double-takes and explanations and language "about" what is happening. Thus the Protestant approach seems to be about self-consciousness, while the Catholic tends towards a self-forgetfulness in which the worshiper may be caught up in a transcendence. This polarity is no doubt an oversimplification, but I think you will see what I am getting at. Ultimately, for me, a "good" worship experience will provide both poles -- both the human contact and the sense of the divine "other." One comes "out of oneself" (ecstasis) in order to return to oneself empowered and equipped to serve others. In any case, that is what I attempt in my own liturgical practice.

Nick Finke said...

I like your contrast between "self-conscious" and "self-forgetful" language. I recently had an extended conversation with my wife's nephew who grew up in a United Church of Christ congregation where, as he put it, "we did something different every Sunday." We were discussing how he has acclimatised to the Roman Catholic church of his wife's family, which he joined several years after his marriage. He said that it took him a while to understand how one prays in a more traditional liturgy where it is an advantage that the words are the same every time so you don't have to think about them but are freed to pray "beyond" them. Somewhat similar to what you said.

I think that my most prayerful and "self-forgetful" worship experience was about 40 years ago when I attended a Russian service for a year. It was sometimes in English and sometimes in Slavonic and you never knew which until the priest sang out "Blessed be the kingdom" or the Slavonic equivalent. The litanies of the liturgy of John Chrysostom became a real transcendant experience.

I keep trying to get my somewhat Broad Church family here in Ohio to try doing the Prayers of the People this way, but they are somewhat resistant. They can't seem to imagine forgetting about the words.

Anonymous said...

As usual, fascinating discussion here!

I have obviously always found God in the vernacular - I have never had the opportunity to do otherwise.

However, I think both Tobias and Nicholas TW make excellent points about the "zen" or "mysterium tremenden et fascinans" aspect of worshipping on auto pilot, per se. The cadence of the words and the predictable structure of liturgy allow you to get into a "zone" when worshipping. I have experienced this before in the vernacular.

However, I do believe, as Tobias says, that loss of the Latin mass, was a loss of a Catholic hallmark: part of what made Catholics "Roman Catholic".

As I said, i have mixed feelings on this - I think the choice to perform the mass in Latin is good, but, I do worry it is a back door attempt to repeal Vatican II - most of which I feel should be expanded on, and brought to the next level not repealed!

Anonymous said...

alas, the press gets everything wrong.

Vatican II did not abolish the Latin Mass, nor did Paul VI. The new missal is actually published in Latin, every translated edition always has the Latin in the back, and the Latin has never ceased to be officially allowed.

What *was* abolished, though Benedict is now doing some rewriting of history and saying it never was *really* abolished, was the "Tridentine" rite, as revised many times and most recently by John XXIII. It is *this* which has had grudging use, and now Benedict has extended its use from exceptional cases to much more broad usability.

What makes the confusion is that *two* changes happened at about the same time; first, the use of the vernacular, and second, the issuance of a revision of the liturgy. But these are orthogonal changes; nothing about the revision required the vernacular, and the Latin never ceased to be a permissible option.

However, this move does not reverse the Babel of which you lament; it only increases it, by adding another language to the mix, and turning potentially every parish into a polyglot situation.

I wonder...was it a disaster for the Church of England to switch to the vernacular in the 16th century? Perhaps the Latin Mass is something Anglicans can look fondly upon, the way Americans look at the British royal family: very nice to think about at a safe remove, but intolerable to live under.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Amen, Thomas. The situation is similar to that surrounding the "Eastward Position" which was not abolished, nor was "versus populum" required -- but it became the norm anyway.

As to However, this move does not reverse the Babel of which you lament; it only increases it, by adding another language to the mix, and turning potentially every parish into a polyglot situation. I agree. That's why I refer to the toothpaste/tube syndrome. Only a wholesale return to the Latin form would actually address the disintegration, and I doubt at this point even that would succeed.

Ecgbert said...

Me on the motu.

It's not about Latin.

That said, as long as the 1962 services have to be in that language their appeal will be limited. Roman Catholics put up with Latin when they thought they had to (as you might even remember, Father) but now they don't want to and won't go back to services in a tongue not understanded of the people.

Which is fine with me even though I think it's a beautiful language.

The Knott Missal and Anglican Breviary are ready for the RC Church to pick up if they change their mind on this rule.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Here we disagree, in part. It would be more accurate to say "It is not only about the Latin." The use of a "sacred language" is very much a part of the discussion. However, I agree that what is being said is also important. As is the posture of the clergy, the manual acts, and many other matters. It is all of a piece.

Is the Knott Missal not a translation of a previous version of the mass of Trent? Only the 1962 version of John XXIII is authorized at this point as an extraordinary form. My copy of the Knott dates from long before then -- was it updated post-1962?

As to the effect these changes will have on the state of the RCC -- who knows? My general sense is that the toothpaste has been out of the tube too long for this to have much impact. The motu and the "ecclesial" document, will appeal to a moderate=conservative and antiquarian base; but aren't these people already essentially loyal? If the papacy is seeking a leaner, meaner church, it may well achieve that goal, on both counts. The recent settlement in Los Angeles, and the collapse of several US dioceses, or their considerable diminution (here in NY 1/3 of the parishes are due to close or consolidate) is hard to portray as good news. Only time will tell.

Ecgbert said...

I agree that the language is part of the discussion but what annoys me is something accidental is treated by both the mainstream and RC media like it's the only issue. ('Traditionalists = those crazy people who want to force you to have services only in Latin.') Again as long as the 1962 books have to be in Latin it'll be an issue so in a sense you're right, Father.

As is the posture of the clergy, the manual acts, and many other matters.

I agree those matter. The RC liberals have nearly suppressed the truth that one can do the Novus Ordo facing east just like places that use the 1979 Prayer Book that way.

Technically you're right that the approved Roman books are from 1962 and the last edition of the English Missal was in 1958. My point stands: it is essentially the same; all it would need are a few tweaks like adding St Joseph to the Canon. No biggie.

Because most Roman Catholics don't want Latin, as long as the 1962 services have to be in it they will be self-limiting! I think there will be a resurgence but a limited one; if it's really allowed without hindrance but required to be in Latin it will be the usage of a robust minority.

The recent settlement in Los Angeles, and the collapse of several US dioceses, or their considerable diminution (here in NY 1/3 of the parishes are due to close or consolidate) is hard to portray as good news. Only time will tell.

They brought that upon themselves and deserve everything the courts can throw at them.