Is Latin Making a Comeback?

Latin is an excellent way to learn English.

Does that sound counter-intuitive?

It’s based on my own experience of studying Latin. I don’t know that I learned much Latin, but the study of it taught me the English language inside out. Studying Latin was a beneficial activity for me that I do not regret in the least.

Nothing gets arguments going like the subject of the Catholic Church and Latin. I’ve seen remarkably exaggerated comments from people on both sides of this discussion. To me, Latin is a language, and like every other language, it is a tool for communication. The Latin that we use today is easy stuff, mainly because it’s a dead language. That means it doesn’t have the burden of idioms from common usage to muddy it.

We basically use the Latin of the great Roman poets, not the every day Roman. It is simple and clear. For that reason, studying Latin is an effective prism for viewing a huge mess of a language like English. Latin allows the student to boil English down to its skeletal roots and see how it hangs together from the inside.

I’m not quite so enthusiastic about Latin as liturgy. I think it had a place once upon a time, and still has a place in a limited usage, even today. But the mass is more than the language in which it is prayed. The mass is communion and communication. It is prayer, worship, and mystery, all rolled into one.

Wrapping all this in a language that is inaccessible to most people can easily push the mystery over the edge into magic. The mass is many things, but it is not an incantation. The Eucharist, which is the sum total of the Church itself, is the point where heaven and earth meet. It is the simple and plain way in which ordinary people can reach out and touch the living Christ and, like the woman who touched the hem of His garment, be healed.

It is not a magic charm and it is not a superstition.

For many people the Latin mass deepened the mystery of the mass to the point that it became inaccessible. Rather than the reverence which proponents of the Latin mass feel and miss, it became something that verged on superstition for a lot of people.

Mass in the vernacular is an antidote for that. By making the mass accessible, it allows people who are willing to bring worshipful hearts to their mass attendance to enter into the upper room.

The mass is a re-creation of Calvary. It is where heaven and earth meet in the Eucharist which is given for all. As such, it should be both beautiful and accessible. That’s why  I dislike it when the liturgists load it down with ugly words like “consubstantial.” Not only is this language inaccessible to many people, it is flat-out ugly. I think that it challenges the reverence that the mass is due with this ugliness.

As for the question of whether or not Latin is making a comeback, I hope it is. Latin is a beautiful language. Studying Latin is a useful enterprise. The Latin mass should be an option for those who benefit from it and who grow spiritually by participating in it.

But the mass needs to be accessible. After all, the mass brings us into contact with a Savior Who spoke to us about rainfall and harvests, lost coins and wedding feasts. If He could be accessible, so should the celebration of His Body and Blood.

I know that those are fighting’ words. So now that I’ve said them I’ll back off and let the discussion begin.

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It’s a Rule

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You can’t make everybody happy.

It’s a rule.

I’m not sure where this rule is codified. Maybe in the back pages of the textbook for the school of hard knocks.

But it’s true. You can not make everybody happy. So, in my humble opinion, you should not try. It appears that Pope Francis is of a similar opinion, at least about the not trying part.

He has, from the moment when the announcement “Habemus Papem!” sounded and he walked out onto that balcony, been indisputably and absolutely himself.

That is an incredible accomplishment for someone who sits on a throne that is placed above the grave of Peter. Every move the Pope makes, from the things he wears, to the gestures he makes, are supposedly choreographed by centuries of other Popes who did it this way first. However, Pope Francis seems to have understood from the beginning just how much power the Papacy holds, including and especially the power to communicate by word and action.

He knew that he didn’t have to do these things. He could choose. And chose he has.

By the choices he’s made, he has focused on a Papacy of the Word, accompanied by a visual simplicity that symbolizes his message of concern for the least of these. This is a heartfelt pain for those who are what education professionals call “visual learners.” In Catholicism, we tend to call them “traditionalists.” But I think they are, for the most part, simply visual learners gone to Church.

These people groove on the same lace that I think looks like my great-grandmother’s doilies. They feel lifted up to heaven by the incense that sets off my asthma and raises worries of fire hazards. They love the sound of Latin and find awe and grandeur in pre-Vatican II liturgy, all of which I see as unnecessary barriers between the people and Jesus.

Some folk like pcs; some folk like macs. We are individuals who, due to His superior democracy, can come to God through whatever path opens in front of us. The same God who honors one person’s incense and Gregorian chant, will rock along with another person’s rap. What He wants is our love and obedience. How we get there is all good to Him.

There is neither Greek nor Jew, neither slave nor free, male nor female. For you all are one in Christ Jesus.

There is also neither lace nor non-lace, neither red shoe nor black shoe, neither miter nor non-miter. For we are all Catholic, united under the one Vicar of Christ, who is our Holy Father, Pope Francis.


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