December 28, 2011

Learn some Latin

From Fr. Finigan's blog I learn today of a conference for the fiftieth anniversary of John XXIII's apostolic constitution Veterum sapientia, which urged the study of Latin as a requirement for priestly formation. The same requirement is echoed by the decree on priestly training of Vatican II, Optatam totius. My experience, however, at least where I studied for priesthood and where our men continue to do so, is that no Latin is required. So much for the spirit of Vatican II.

I had to get myself a little Latin because I took an extra year in studies for priesthood and completed an STL, and I have to say that it was one of the best things I ever did for myself as a Catholic Christian. Even a little bit of Latin opens up tremendous vistas in one's awareness of the traditions of western Christianity.

It's too bad that Latin gets so wound up with our factions and disagreements, as if the only reason a seminarian might learn Latin would be so that he could put on a maniple or black vestments or do some other, equally horrifying thing. Latin is a matter of our tradition, not of so-called traditionalism.

When I was at Weston Jesuit it was joked that, in the theological vision of the school, nothing of note had happened in Christianity between the death of St. Paul and the birth of Karl Rahner. Perhaps that wasn't quite fair, but the jab did get at something. But you have to say that without any Latin, those who would be Catholic priests and theologians do cut themselves off from their ancestors in a certain way.

And when it comes to the ministry of sacred orders and the practice of theology, ancestors aren't just ancestors, but the communion of saints. They are worth conversing with in their own words. So learn some Latin.

5 comments:

carl said...

FWIW, our seminary requires 3 semester of Latin for most all guys, though some get by with 2. Just as an indicator of where other seminaries are at.

Brother Charles said...

Good to hear it!

Anonymous said...

Your post reminds me of the underlying tectonic groaning and shifting of the Church from the viewpoint of a lowly attendee at the parish level. My holier than thou boss, actively involved at the diocesan level, is bemoaning the trend of conservatism coming out of seminaries of late. She specifically despises the resurgence of Latin as the universal language, because no-one speaks it or understands it anymore. There can be no sense of reverence without understanding.

It is all very interesting to me, because somehow I would have thought that the “old timers” would welcome this trend given the pain exhibited in transitioning to Vatican II. We haven’t fully worked out the kinks of Vatican II over 40 years and people are already reminiscing. And then it dawned on me that my “old-timer” fifty-something-year-old boss was probably a child when all this happened, so she would never have remembered how it used to be.

As for my forty-something-year-old self, I welcome this change towards conservatism. I may be wrong, but somehow I see this trend as balm for a wounded church with all its scandal and deterioration of the faithful. There is a reason why modern day Catholics lack proper catechism. There is a reason why mass attendance is at record lows. I still recall standing room only at Christmas and Easter during the 1970’s where the elderly women would wear veils or hats to church, and the men wore suits. The “old” reverence was there even though the language and altar changed.

Yet today, I hear of people quitting the choir because of the reintroduction of Gregorian chant and changing parishes so that they can sing Kumbaya.

I’m not sure what to make of all this, but I do find it all very sad. God is the same today as He was yesterday and will be tomorrow. Why all the grief on form over substance?

Anonymous said...

When I have seen Masses on EWTN, I recall they are a blend of English and Latin: not quite ordinary form, and not nearly the extraordinary form .I was always curious as to how they are classified and if that form is an acceptable means for Mass to preformed at typical parishes. It is a type of Mass I have constantly appreciated.

Barb, sfo said...

Not to mention the beauty and poetry of the language! It is a treasure of our heritage, and absolutely lovely.