Sunday 12 August 2007

Latin Questions...and an answer

Here are Fr Dwight's Latin Questions for ease of reference and one of the answers given in the comments which will, I hope, show how comprehensively the questions were answered:


"(1) If the Latin language is so wonderful, why is it inaudible on purpose?

(2) How does the priest reading the Scripture in Latin with his back to the people inaudibly in a language they don't understand help the people of God to hear and understand the Word of God?

(3) How does no hymns and a choir singing in Gregorian chant help the people to particpate in the Mass, or have I got this wrong and the people are not intended to participate in the Mass at all? If so, is this better?

(4) How does it help the people to understand what is going on at the Mass when they can't see what is happening at the altar, can't understand the language, and can't hear what the priest is saying?

(5) I've heard it said that the Latin language is 'ancient and mystical' and that having the Mass in a dead language assists the worship by making it more mysterious. But the Mass was first translated into Latin from Greek because Latin was the vernacular at the time. In other words, it was put into Latin so people could understand it. Isn't the veneration of Latin therefore artificial?

(6) If one really wants an ancient, dead language that is mysterious, why don't we have the Mass in Aramaic or Syriac, which are the dead ancient languages closest to what our Lord himself would have spoken? Why is Latin so special?"


"Hello Fr Dwight, again! Carrying on from the previous frame I now essay your questions:

1. The use of the Latin language for the Roman rite is not chiefly to do with its “wonder” as a language, still less for purely aesthetic reasons. To think this is to misunderstand its use. There are 3 primary sacred languages in the Christian Church. They are: Hebrew (Aramaic), Greek and Latin. Why? Primarily, because they are the languages which God chose to use in revealing Himself to us. That, with nothing more, renders them sacred. But there is more. They were also the languages over the Cross of our Redemption – read the Scriptures and you will see it (Mel Gibson unaccountably left Greek out of his film although it was the primary language of the time). They also correspond to the Holy Trinity: Hebrew, the language of the Jews and the Old Testament, to the Father, Greek the language of the New Testament and of the Eastern Roman Empire (pace Mel Gibson, Latin was largely confined to the Roman army not the Roman administration and trade), to the Son, and Latin, the language of the Western Empire, to the Holy Spirit since it is chiefly in that language that the Holy Spirit has unlocked to us the deeper understanding of the mysteries of the Catholic faith so that, for most of the Christian centuries, it has been the language of theologians, learned men, scientists and scholars. So the choice of these languages for the liturgy was not accidental. Sanskrit or Mandarin would not have done, honourable and venerable though they may be.

I suspect because you have confined your study of the traditional mass to the Low Mass alone (a common mistake) you think that the Latin is inaudible. It just isn’t in the Missa Cantata (what you Yanks call High Mass) or the High Mass (what you Yanks call Solemn High Mass). Solemn High Mass is the norm, for parishes and dioceses, not merely the Missa Cantata, still less the said Low Mass. Low Mass is a concession for travelling priests or priests who are in a hurry for a good reason. It is not the norm. To celebrate Low Mass as the norm is an abuse. It is an abuse that arose out of persecution in the Anglophone countries, especially Ireland. Every parish should have Solemn High Mass at every mass, where possible. It is NOT reserved for “special occasions”. The East does not have anything else. Low Mass does not exist for them. At Solemn High Mass or Missa Cantata the Latin is sung and is very much audible, beautiful and highly conducive to devotion and prayer. It is also the ancient tradition of the Church and thus, we can be certain, the manner of prayer which the Holy Spirit has taught us and thus the form of public prayer most pleasing to God.

2. Same answer. When the Mass is sung as it should be, all the readings are sung, in a beautiful chant, and everyone can hear their beautiful words. Moreover, it is sometimes the custom to read them again, in the vernacular, at the beginning of the sermon.

If you want to understand the traditional rite of mass, Dwight, you have got to attend the Solemn High Mass, well sung, and attend it numerous times so that you fully see and understand it and how it works. Otherwise you will continue to tilt at windmills and merely waste your time attacking a straw man.

The priest, deacon and sub-deacon do not always have their back to the people and certainly not when chanting the readings. That is yet another of your straw men!

However, when they go to the altar of God they face God. They do not have “their back to the people”. On the contrary, it is the New Mass priest who has his back to God – that is, assuming that he believes that it is really God in the tabernacle behind him which he has turned his back on. It is fitting, right and proper for the priests of God to face Him and to bow low before Him when they pray to Him. Let us not forget that is what we are doing at Mass: we are praying to God, first and foremost. We are not engaged primarily in a public meeting in some lecture hall as Protestants often seem to be. We are approaching the Holy of Holies before Whom we kneel and lie prostrate as before the presence of Almighty God Himself, albeit, in His great humility, He has chosen to appear to us disguised as a circlet of bread and a cup of wine. What arrogance, then, for the sacred ministers of the altar to turn their backs upon the sacred presence of the Divine Majesty of the King of Heaven. But more surprising, still, are those who still speak of the priest who turns toward the Lord as though he were thereby “turning his back” upon his people. On the contrary, he stands as one pressed forward by the people to be consecrated to address the prayers of all to that Sacred and Majestic Presence that inhabits our tabernacles. How is it that the humblest and most ignorant Jew of the Old Testament understood this well enough but we modern Christians, in all our knowledge and wisdom, cannot understand so simple a thing?

I shall carry on in another frame hereafter, with the other questions.

6:52 PM
Hello Fr Dwight, again! Carrying on from the previous frame I now continue with the next questions:

3. With respect you need to read a bit more about what “participatio actuosa”, the proper active participation of the faithful at mass, actually is. I suggest you start with The Organic Development of the Liturgy by Rev Dr Alcuin Reid OSB, one of the foremost liturgical scholars in the English language. Let me try to put it simply: the purpose of liturgy is to lift up and conform ourselves to God through the public prayer of the Church, hallowed by tradition and the Holy Spirit. The purpose of liturgy is NOT about trying to bring God down to our merely human level by cutting and slashing what the Holy Spirit has provided us and so seeking to get God to conform to us. That is the very reverse of liturgy’s purpose and yet so many modern liturgists and clergy seem to be seeking to do that.

So “active participation” is about the faithful participating in that way: lifting themselves up, through the liturgy and public prayer of the Church, to God. It is not about rendering the sublime and sacred less sublime and more ordinary and hum-drum so as to bring it down to our level. If we do not understand some part of the liturgy we should not then require that it be re-written or re-presented so that we, in our ignorance, can understand it better. What we must do is to learn about the liturgy, understand it better so that what is now obscure is clarified by study and so that we are then lifted up and conform ourselves to God, not try to bring his great mysteries down to our merely human level. THAT is active participation, not the singing of trite ditties and bad nursery rhymes in place of the ancient rites of Holy Church.

The Church does not rule out hymns, even vernacular hymns, where necessary but that is really an admission that the people are are seemingly unable to lift their understanding to appreciate the beauty of the ancient rites of the Church and must have something less sublime to meet their lower levels of understanding. It is allowable but it is far from perfect. For the same reason the Church allows a vernacular liturgy such as St Cyril and St Methodius provided for the pagan Slavs and the pagan Croats in the Glagolitic rite. In time, however, these vernacular rites have taken on a sacred hue of their own. But, good though they are, they are not as perfect as the sacred liturgy in the sacred languages of Hebrew, Greek and Latin which are the languages of all the most ancient rites in the Church, even today e.g. the Syrian and Chaldean Churches use Aramaic, the Greeks and Melchites use Greek (although the Arabic vernacular is creeping in fast), and, until recently, the Western rites, chiefly the Roman but also the Toledan, the Ambrosian, the Bragan and the other Western rites, used Latin.

4. You repeat yourself here and I have answered you already, I think.

5. Here you make the classic mistake of thinking that the reason the liturgy was first put into Greek and Latin was because the Church wanted to use the vernacular. As I said earlier, the first Christian liturgical language was almost certainly Aramaic-Hebrew and the Jews used a liturgical variant of it. Greek, being the language used by our Lord, quickly followed. Latin came later but a liturgical version of Latin was used, as also Greek. These languages were used because they are sacred languages: they appeared over the Cross, they were the languages of the Old and New Testament and of the continuing revelation of the Christian Gospel by the Holy Spirit through the Church. To describe the veneration of Latin as “artificial” is therefore to display the kind of dismissal of two millennia of Christian learning, scholarship, theology, teaching, government, law, science, medicine, literature, art and continuing enfolding of God’s revelation that one might normally expect only to hear from the most ill-informed of Protestants. And yet, to be frank, one does hear such things from the clergy of the Catholic Church these days all too often. I go back to my first remarks: it is demonstrative of the extent to which our clergy are no longer properly educated. Indeed, the poor, ignorant and superstitious clerics of the immediate pre-Reformation period begin to look actually rather better informed than do many of our moderns! So many of our clergy have become so imbued with Protestant and Enlightenment ideas that they seem no longer able to see the difference between them and the true teaching and practice of the Catholic Church.

None of these ideas and complaints about the traditional practices of the Catholic Church are new, of course. They are no more than regurgitated ideas dredged up from the Protestant Reformation and the Enlightenment. The VERY SAME arguments were advanced by the Philosophes of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution that are now being used against traditional liturgy, Latin, facing God, High Altars, plainchant and sacred music and so on. I repeat: NONE OF IT IS NEW. It is also a re-hash of the very ideas that were advanced by the Enlightenment and the enemies of the Church in the 18th century. One need only read the decrees of the heretical Synod of Pistoia to see that.

To argue their case now, in the 21st century, is to argue the case for those same historic enemies of the Church. They were wrong then and they are wrong now.

The solution is to re-educate oneself about the true liturgical teaching and practice of the Roman Catholic Church and not to allow oneself to wallow in the ignorance and prejudice of the Reformation and the Enlightenment.

I recommend reading what the great popes had to say on the subject e.g. St Gregory the Great, St Pius V and St Pius X. The reforming popes always sought to return the Church’s liturgical practice back to the main stem of tradition, eliminating inappropriate novelties. There never was a papally-approved liturgical reform that consisted in ditching the old and substituting the new, not, that is, until Pope Paul VI allowed Archbishop Bugnini to begin the unprecedented experiment which is the Novus Ordo Missae. And what have been its fruits? Well, the evidence is before our very eyes: a massive decline in attendance at mass and the sacraments. Not a very propitious or edifying legacy, I think we must all agree.

This does not mean that the Novus Ordo Missae is heterodox, illegal, unspiritual or, still less, invalid. On the contrary, it is an authorised and valid rite of the Church and those who wish to use it are perfectly free so to do (provided they follow the prescribed rubrics and either the original Latin or an accurate translation which, regrettably, excludes the current ICEL mistranslation). That it is markedly inferior to the traditional rite no objective scholar can deny but that does not make it heterodox, illegal or invalid. Let us be clear about that.

What then is artificial? The faithful handing on of the traditions, including Latin, sanctified by pope after pope after pope and bequeathed to us by our fathers in the faith, or the substitution for it by a novelty put together by a committee appointed by Archbishop Bugnini?

The answer is surely obvious. It is the Novus Ordo Missae which is artificial, not the traditional rite. However, I repeat, that does not make it invalid - just inferior.

Now, when you add to that mix, the fact of the appallingly bad and trite translation of the Latin which is the ICEL English mass, with its over 300 mistakes of translation, that so many modern Catholics attend, you compound the problem a thousandfold. This is another reason why it is better to have a small number of liturgical languages: it is easier to avoid mistranslations, and easier to keep an eye on deliberate mistranslations designed to undermine the faith of the faithful. It is bad enough that Bugnini’s Collects for the Novus Ordo are already doctrinally ambiguous, as Professor Lauren Pristas has shown, but those ambiguities are made worse and even turned into actual errors by the ICEL mistranslation that has so watered down the faith of millions.

That, surely, is what is properly characterised as “artificial”.

6. And your question 6 I have now answered several times over.

I again emphasize that your questions reveal the extent to which you have been short-changed in your priestly education. I do not blame you for that but rather the Seminary Rectors and professors who have so signally failed whole generations of seminarians in recent decades. At a time when we were told that the use of the vernacular and modern idioms would open up the riches of the Church’s traditions to the faithful, the true reality is that there has never been such appalling ignorance in the Church of even some of its most basic traditions and practices.

I know that I have been a convert for many more years than you but I have made an effort to study and understand the public prayer of the Church. I began with the best of intentions to study and follow and conform myself to the Novus Ordo Missae thinking, like you still do, that it was proper so to do. Gradually I began to see and learn more and more about it, about the Church’s rites and traditions, and about the Church’s traditional teachings and practices. Anyone who sincerely and honestly studies these things will eventually see what is undeniable and indubitable: the Novus Ordo is not the same as the old Roman rite but rather a radical departure from it so that it is not accurate to describe it as the Roman rite. It is an entirely new rite, man-made and confected by a committee. It might at best be called the 2nd Roman rite or “new” Roman rite but more accurately it should be called the Pauline rite or, better still, the Bugninine rite, after its real inventor.

What has, in fact, happened, is exactly what Sacred Scripture warns us against: substituting the traditions of men for the traditions of God. We have substituted the traditions of Bugnini and his committee for the ancient and hallowed traditions of God handed down to us for the greater part of 2,000 years, taught and sanctified by the Holy Spirit through the Church. Not surprisingly the results have been pretty disastrous.

Some will now say that calling it the traditions of men means calling it invalid or heterodox. Not at all. Not all traditions of men can be so characterised and many traditions of men are very good. But the traditions of God are better. THAT is the point that so many fail debaters fail to understand.

The fact that it is a radical departure and a novelty would have been sufficient for every previous great reforming pope, if not, indeed, every pope, to have rejected it tout court. But the idea that it should be imposed upon the faithful and the traditional rites abandoned and even prescribed and forbidden would have filled every previous pope before Paul VI with the utmost horror at such a sacrilegious idea. And yet that is what has happened. And with dire and disastrous results. It has split not only the Church but also families, husband and wives, children and parents, priest from priest and faithful from faithful so that some of the most vitriolic and hateful abuse ever to be uttered in the name of theology has been uttered by those on either side of the liturgical fence, against each other and all, amazingly, in the name of Christ and His Church. And that at a time when the Catholic Church needs unity more than ever. It's pretty appalling! What a catastrophic state of affairs. The authors of such a state of affairs should hang their collective heads in shame.

It is not, my Father, about being the “afficionado” of one rite over another. Alas, the differences are much greater. They are about the very survival of a Catholic tradition. The issue is nothing less than that, so serious a matter is it.

Read, learn, reflect, pray. It is the only answer. And as you do so, you will also enjoy, grow and be greatly blessed and nourished in your faith. However, great the disaster has been, to learn more of these great riches of the Church’s tradition will nevertheless inspire and uplift you and warm your spirit and the inner reaches of your soul.

In these parlous times that is of the greatest comfort, not least for a priest of God.

I commend it to you, therefore.

With all love and blessings..."

Well that's a pretty full answer! And one that deserved a full reply. As can be seen from the next post, no such full reply was forthcoming. Indeed, the answers were either ignored or not read.

This seemed to undermine the spirit of honest enquiry in which the "Latin Questions" were first posed.

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