Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Latin and Active Participation

Before we begin examining the prayers of the Mass proper, we must look at two misunderstood things in the liturgy:  Latin and active participation.  Unfortunately, the common FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) that is spread, or simply honest misconception, is that Latin and active participation are diametrically opposed.  However, they are complementary when viewed correctly.

Why Latin?

The Church uses Latin as her official language, and has really since almost the beginning. Depending on how you delineate, whether ordinary or de facto usage, you can go back pretty far.  Pope St. Clement of Rome used Latin.  Of course, he was in Rome.  But the use of Latin is pretty consistent.  St. Thomas Aquinas used it, as did others long before him.

Latin, in both liturgy and theology, is beneficial for several reasons:
  • It is a dead language--this is actually beneficial because it means that meanings remain intact.
  • It is universal--it was a language that united an empire and bred daughter languages, as well as inculcated itself into others.  It is a single language that the Church can use from San Francisco to Namibia to China and still understand each other.
  • It is the language of the Church Past--we can be more in touch with the Fathers of the Church by not only simply understanding their writings, but also forming our minds in line with their thought through a common language.
  • It is not anyone's language--because Latin is nobody's first language, it is something different to everyone.  This creates a sense of other worldliness.
  • It creates mystery--this ties into the previous point.  Because it is not the tongue of anybody, it creates a sense of mystery and purposeful separation.
They use the vernacular in the East, but the people also don't get to see what's going on behind the iconostasis.  Hence, mystery.
Mystery in the Liturgy
The use of Latin to create sacred mystery is, in my opinion, one of the downfalls of the complete switch to vernacular--which, by the way, is present in probably 99% of the parishes, but is not actually called for in Sacrosanctum Concilium or any other document.

Allow me to paint a picture.  The Mass is where Heaven truly and literally descends to Earth.  We do not rise to Heaven, no matter how high we stretch out our hands.  We are raised, and I daresay caught up with the Lord in the clouds (of incense).  Our Lord descended from Heaven for us men and for our salvation...and He, along with the Heavenly Hosts who proclaim Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Dominus Deus Sabaoth!, along with the flaming Seraphim, the radiant Cherubim, the soaring Thrones and the mighty Powers; with the fearless Dominions, the honorable Principalities, the graceful Virtues, the glorious archangels, and the holy angels; the Blessed Mother, St. John the Baptist, St. Joseph her moste chaste spouse, the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, and all the saints; they reach down, down to us, with groaning intercessions that words cannot express, for us, through the Holy Spirit, who sweeps down upon us and enkindles within us the fire of divine love and the flame of everlasting charity, with our Almighty Father on His throne before all his supplicant people, looking down upon us with a serene and propitious countenance, the souls of all united as one Body in Christ as they receive their God in Holy Communion...!

"And donuts will be served immediately following Mass.  The Lord be with you.  Go, the Mass is ended."

To be sure, this is hyperbole, but isn't the contrast of what is happening and how we express it in our everyday language simply jarring?  Doesn't it seem a little too common?  We talk about donuts in the same tone and register of dialect as the Holy Mass.  The Church had come up with a solution. 

This is why Holy Mother Church held on to Latin, and still does.  The Second Vatican Council called for the vernacular to be used in some places in the liturgy.  Perhaps the readings.  But not in all places.  And Blessed Pope John XXIII, in Veterum Sapientia (Feb 22nd, 1962), discusses the importance of Latin, and why it's not going away.

The Rood Screen in Chapelle de Kerfons, Brittany, France
Clear Separation
Originally, the Church as a whole used something to make clear that there was a side where the people were, where the priests were, and that what was happening on the priest's side was very important, solemn, and sacred.  In the East, this evolved into the iconostasis.  In the West, a different sort of thing took place.

The Church used to put up an altar rail and curtains to demarcate this special area.  In the West, this became a few different things (the rood screen, baldacchino, perhaps others).  The rood screen allows one to see through, but just barely, as though through a glass darkly (cf. 1 Cor 13).  

The Council of Trent called for the Mass to be much more accessible to the laity.  Thus, rood screens were removed, even though they were not explicitly mentioned.  Now, all that remained was Latin.  I would posit that Latin is the last thing that creates a purposeful sense of separation between ourselves and what is happening at the altar--it is the Western iconostasis.  Remember--although in the East they use the vernacular, the Greek Churches maintain the iconostasis, complete with curtains.  

The Vernacular Divides
Briefly, I would like to point out that, in reality, the vernacular divides.  Instead of offering a diocesan-wide Mass in a common tongue, priests and bishops have to offer an English Mass at this time, then a Spanish, and then whatever other group needs a Mass.

Also, because the vernacular allows for certain types of lay participation in Mass, it is actually divisive in the sense that some are getting to do "special" roles, while others are not.

Myths and Misconceptions
There are a few misconceptions about Latin in the liturgy that I would like to try to dismiss.  

1) In the East they use the vernacular!

As discussed above, this is true.  But you also cannot see what is happening, particularly at the consecration, due to the iconostasis and curtain.  From what I have experienced, in the Byzantine liturgies, the Eucharistic prayers are also silent.  In the Maronite liturgy, the words of consecration are in Aramaic (another dead language that nobody speaks).

2) I can't/you can't/nobody can understand it!

That's not true.  Why would I go to a Mass that I did not understand?  Yes, I have a missal, and I have practiced to follow along with it.   

But so what?  I haven't studied Spanish that much, but I've heard it around me long enough to know that loco means crazy, bueno means good, etc.  You will learn some of it.

Also, did the saints not understand it?  Surely they did.  Or did they?  Which brings me to...

3) I need to understand what is going on.

Why do you?  If it is a priest up there, have faith!  He is consecrating bread and wine and the substance is turning into the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, for you and for the remission of your sins.  It doesn't matter what language it's in, does it?  

Also, St. Bernadette Soubirous was known to be a "dunce," more or less, at the very least in regards to learning the catechism.  And yet the Blessed Virgin came to her at Lourdes.  Clearly, our own human understanding is not important for holiness.

Sometimes lack of understanding, like little children, allow our minds to be more open to the Truth.

4) The early Church used vernacular!

We aren't the early Church, and trying to return to the roots of the early Church to produce novelty is condemned by Popes, such as Pope Pius XII did in Mediator Dei.  This denies that the Church found better ways to express her beliefs [N.B. this is different than the Church "becoming wiser" or similar thoughts and thus changing from previous doctrinal positions, which is a heresy].

Furthermore, the early Church, while in Rome, used Greek.  Greek was obviously not the vernacular.  Soon Latin took over, but it was not the Latin on the street: it was a higher register of Latin (equivalent of using thees and thous).  A possible exception is probably the Eucharistic preface (i.e. "sursum corda", "habemus ad dominum").

In Judaism, church services were conducted in Hebrew, not Greek or Aramaic or whatever the local tongue was.

Many, if not most, of the major world religions use a sacred tongue.  Judaism uses Hebrew, Islam uses Arabic, Buddhism uses Pali, Hinduism uses Sanskrit...you get the idea.

I leave this section with this:

Tres sunt autem linguae sacrae: Hebraea, Graeca, Latina, quae toto orbe maxime excellent.  His enim tribus linguis super crucem Domini a Pilato fuit causa eius scripta.

"There are three holy languages: Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, that are the most excellent in the world.  Thus these three languages were written above the Lord's cross by Pilate's order."--St. Isidore of Seville and my on-the-fly loose translation.

Whoa, too active!  Too active! Yes, this is a Catholic parish on the West Coast. 
Actuoso Participato, a.k.a. Active Participation

In conclusion to this primer, I find it appropriate to discuss Active Participation.  As some of the points above should illustrate, Latin is in no way a hindrance to true active participation.  Far from it.

Active participation does not necessarily mean that we get to get up and read, distribute Holy Communion, shake each others hands, or hold hands.  After all, if it did, then we'd be back to square one--not everyone would get to actively participate!

No, active participation means something different.  Let's take a cue from Pope St. Pius X:

The Holy Mass is a prayer itself, even the highest prayer that exists. Is is the Sacrifice dedicated by our Redeemer at the Cross, and repeated every day on the Altar. If you wish to hear the Mass as it should be heard, you must follow with eye, heart, and mouth all that happens at the Altar. 

Further, you must pray with the priest the holy words said by him in the Name of Christ and which Christ says by him. You have to associate your heart with the holy feelings which are contained in these words and in this manner you ought to follow all that happens on the Altar. When acting in this way, you have prayed Holy Mass.

With all due respect to little old ladies everywhere (including my great-grandmother, I'm sure), praying the rosary during Mass was not cutting it.  Not that it's bad or forbidden, by no means!  But it is not the highest prayer; it's not optimal in this case.

During the Traditional Latin Mass, there are many moments of silence. 

Quiet, glorious, pregnant silence, full of life and quickened by the Spirit.  

There's no hustle and bustle like the outside world, no comings or goings, no empty silence while the offense takes the bench and the defense takes the field, focusing and then--jarringly, too--interrupted by the demands to sing a song, the eyes moved here--no, there, to the cantor's hand!--shake my hand, take mine, hey, didn't you know you were supposed to be kneeling, you didn't say the responses!  Pay attention, be quiet, and sing loud!  

There is silence and peace as the Lord gives.

Silence full of holiness and wonder in which we can unite our prayer to the priest who is praying the Mass, by praying the prayers of the Mass itself.  We can take a moment to contemplate the mysteries of our faith without worrying about anything else.  And, as I hope to demonstrate in subsequent posts, these prayers are kernels of truth from which the blossom of Eternal Life grow in your heart.  Nurture these kernels in the Mass, in your heart, as the priest says them.  Meditate on them.  Let the prayers flow over you and through you.  We don't need to understand it all.  Who can understand a Triune God?  Who can understand the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass?  Who can comprehend the wonders of God?  Quis ut Deus?

More active than you think.
St. Isaac of Syria, pray for us.

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