Apologize and Don't Be Sorry!

A site dedicated to thinking through the common objections to the Catholic Faith as well as questions of a general religious nature.

Location: Prague, Oklahoma, United States

Just your basic 21st century priest trying to bring the Gospel to everyone who will give it a fair hearing.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Dear Father Tharp,

A week ago Saturday, in the religious section of the Oklahoman newspaper, my husband read an article stating that there is to be more Latin in the Mass? Is this true and when does it start and how much more Latin?

Mary and Bill
St. James the Greater Parish, Oklahoma City

Ah, thanks for the question which allows me to vet my favorite subject: What did the Second Vatican Council actually teach? As you might gather from these columns, I am a pretty simple guy and when it comes to what the Council intended to teach, I tend to start from the documents the Council produced. Put another way, it is difference between the reforms the Holy Spirit wished to enact in our time versus a false reform coming from a so-called “Spirit of Vatican II.”

This might come as a surprise, but a priest needs no special permission to celebrate the Mass of Paul VI, also known as the Novus Ordo Mass, in Latin. In prudence, a priest should prepare a parish before diving into the Mass in Latin. I have wonderful memories of my time in seminary when, at least once a month, the Mass would be celebrated in this ancient and venerable language. I could faintly hear the echo of the ages reverberating through the chapel, hearing the voices of generations who uttered their praise of God in this way.

At no time did the teaching of the Second Vatican Council suggest that Latin should be completed expunged from the Mass. If anything, the opposite was true. As the Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy states: “The use of the Latin language, with due respect to particular law, is to be preserved in the Latin rites” (Sacrosanctum Concilium #36). However, the Council Fathers recognized that the faithful could benefit from the inclusion of the vernacular language; hence, greater use of it was encouraged. Specifically the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy lists three places where the faithful might realize this benefit: the readings from the Sacred Scriptures, directives, and in some prayers and chants (Sacrosanctum Concilium #36). Furthermore, even where the vernacular was permitted, the Council Fathers cautioned that the faithful should still “be able to say or sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them” (Sacrosanctum Concilium #54). You can see, then, that the battle is between Latin versus vernacular language; true to Catholic sensibilities, the ideal was a “both-and” gesture, keep what is good from the past and include what might benefit for the future.

We can find this line of reasoning echoed in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal from 1975 and 2000. In the 1975 edition we find this “both-and” aspect echoed in paragraph 12: “Since no Catholic would now deny the lawfulness and efficacy of a sacred rite celebrated in Latin, the Council was able to acknowledge that ‘the use of the mother tongue frequently may be of great advantage’ and gave permission for its use.” People found the vernacular so beneficial that even broader use was permitted by the Holy See (GIRM 1975 #12; GIRM 2000 #12). Notice though that there is no conflict between the use of the vernacular and the use of Latin in the mind of the Church. The same document reaffirms the use of Latin especially in situations where people of different countries, hence of different languages, come together for the sacred Liturgy (GIRM 1975 #19; GIRM 2000 #41). Specifically, the Creed and the Our Father are cited as concrete places for this to happen.

In the end, Latin is the patrimony of every Catholic. To be deprived of exposure to its riches is unfortunate, at best. It was only a hundred years ago when to be well-educated meant being well-versed in classical languages, Latin and Greek. The article you mention shows how people misunderstand the role of Latin in the Liturgy. In my own parish, I am working with my music director to broaden our parish’s use of Latin. This implementation will require cooperation but ultimately, putting my parishioners in contact with the fuller picture of the history and practice of the Faith can only benefit them and me. Even though it might take work, I would encourage any pastor to do the same.


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