Recently I overheard a woman speaking angrily on the way out of church. She was upset that the parish had recently reverted to Latin for the Agnus Dei and the Sanctus. Not the whole Mass, mind you; just those two brief and familiar Latin settings. “Why should we go backward?!” the woman exclaimed.
I’ll tell you why:
Latin is a universal language. As Catholics, we are not just this small group, this ladies’ altar society, this community of believers. No, in faith we reach beyond this suburban parish with its young families at 9:00 a.m. Sunday, its grey-haired seniors on weekday mornings, its schoolchildren and its ushers and its hipster teens. In Christ, we Catholics are united with fellow believers in churches in cities and countries around the world, with those who have gone before us, with those who are to come.
And we have become a society of travelers. Several times through the years, my husband and I have attended Mass at parishes in Europe (or at foreign parishes right here in our own city). The vernacular, the language of the people, was German or French or Spanish or Italian. Language-starved as I am, I was rendered clueless. Had they been speaking Latin, I’d have responded with an enthusiastic “Et cum spiritu tuo.”
And of course, Latin remains the language of the Church. How else could the cardinals and bishops from around the world communicate with one another? How could they have met in the conclave to elect Jorge Mario Bergoglio to the papacy?
I realize that I’m giving away my age here—but I remember the Latin Mass. For me and for others in my peer group, those hymns are a reminder of a cherished time, of hushed worship and candles and a fiddleback chasuble.
Not that the post-Vatican II changes aren’t welcome! They did, in fact, open the doors of the Church, and the use of the vernacular made it possible for more people to become involved in many ways. On the down side, it also made it possible for people to take for granted the miracle that happens on that altar; but that is the fault of the individual, not of the English-language prayers and lyrics.
But please, brothers and sisters, love one another! Even mentioning the use of Latin tempts vociferous complaints from the Right and from the Left, from ardent Traditionalists and earnest Modernists. Please don’t do that! Please don’t whine in the combox. You have a personal preference, and it is neither right nor wrong. Enjoy the liturgy, pray the liturgy, in whatever form draws you closer to God; but do not begrudge your brothers and sisters their preference, as well.
Our God is a great and awesome God, and His creation is amazing in its diversity. Let our worship, too, be full-bodied in its variety, in the Extraordinary Form and in the Novus Ordo.
Please love. Don’t complain. Don’t criticize. Just love. Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.
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Here’s an example of the Church’s use of Latin: Pope Francis writes his “tweets” on the @Pontifex account in Italian, or Spanish, or whatever. It falls to translators from around the world to translate the messages into various languages.
You might be interested in the career of Monsignor Daniel Gallagher, a Michigan priest who serves as the Pope’s Latinist–translating papal tweets into Latin for the @Pontifex account.
The Detroit Free Press has Msgr. Gallagher’s story (with a video interview) here.