July 10, 2007

Summorum Pontificum: On Language

I have a lot of thoughts on the recent developments regarding Summorum pontificum, issued motu proprio by Benedict XVI this past weekend. The ones that are coalescing first are about language.

For me, I have no problem with liturgy in Latin. What doesn't make sense is what you always hear about "going back to Latin." Vatican II affirmed Latin as the ordinary language of the Roman rite, while at the same time opening up the possibility of translating the liturgy into local languages. Therefore, to celebrate the Latin rite in Latin (shocking!) is not to "go back" to anything.

Even more, I have some hermeneutic suspicion about Vatican II and the vernacular liturgy. The more I read Vatican II, especially Gaudium et spes, the more I see, as a basic framework, an admission of the ideas of the European Enlightenment. It's like (just when it was getting to be too late), the fathers of the Council are going to admit that the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries happened. So therefore you end up with a theology that incorporates all of these good Enlightenment ideas like historical optimism and confidence in the human role in historical progress. And one of the most powerful ideas of the Enlightenment was the nation-state.

Therefore, my interpretation of Vatican II and the vernacular liturgy is that it was about "full, conscious and active participation" for sure, but I think it's also about the affirmation of the particularity of peoples and of national character.

Now this makes sense when you have Italians in Italy praying in Italian and Germans in Germany praying in German. But in our time the nation-state is breaking down, especially in the sense of a certain people, an ethnos, making up a homogeneous country. On the contrary, ours is a time of migration and ethnic diversity. Only once in my life as a friar have I been part of a parish with only one language, and often there have been three or even five.

It seems to me that Latin might be part of the answer to the multi-lingual parish question. Not that it would be a full solution, but it might be part of a plan. With many languages in a congregation you can either have separate services, which tends to produce parallel congregations, or you can try to do multi-lingual liturgies.

Now the latter celebrate diversity for sure, and are a beautiful sign of the many peoples processing to the Lord, as Isaiah prophesied. But they are also awkward by nature and difficult to plan and execute. Might there also be a place of the ordinary language of our liturgy, Latin, as a sign of unity?

Of course, Summorum pontificum is not about the supposed "restoration" of Latin at all, but about liberalizing the use of the Roman rite as it was before 1970, which used to require special permission.


Anonymous said...

For many years I have been going to a Sunday mass with the ordinary in Latin and the propers in English which uses the current missal. However, I have also gone several times to the celebration of the mass according to the missal of Bl. John XXIII, since your fellow Capuchin the Archbishop of Denver has made the older form of the roman rite available here for many years. I agree that this is not just about Latin. I think there are sevearl other factors that lead people to have a love and attachment to the older form of the mass.

1) When the priest celebrates mass facing the high altar (ad orientem) the assembly have more of a sense that he is leading them in prayer, rather than when the priest faces the people across the altar, where the sense is that he is presiding over their prayer.

2) The fact that the Roman Cannon (eucharistic Prayer I) is recited by the priest sotto vocce enhances the sense of mystery and awe, as do some of the complicted rubrics like how the priest must hold his fingers between the elevation and his communion.

3) the older form of the Roman Rite contains more of the psalms.

4) recieving communion on the tounge and on your knees is a powerful sign of reverence in westen culture.

5) the older calendar has seasons of Epiphany, Septugesima and Pentecost that have been replaced by Ordinary Time in the new calendar.

6) This is a big one-some if it is the Latin-the English translation of the newer form of the Roman Rite is deficient in several areas. It is a great joy that this problem is being worked out by the bishops and the Vatican right now.

All that being said. I still prefer the newer form of the mass, mostly because I like the new lectionary. More scripture is a good thing.

Pia said...

i prefer to understand what is going on. How can latin unite if no one understands it? As an Italian speaker and language degree holder, I might be able to figure out some of what is being said, but the nuances would go beyond me. In our parish, our pastor tore down the altar rails (they were marble) because the liturgy said there should be no obstacles between the priest and the people. The tabernacle was moved to a chapel on the left hand side of the church. Where should the priest say it then?
What I mean to say is that many architectural changes were made to modernize church layouts, but now I think a mass in latin, in our community would only create confusion.
I remember the latin rite, and how much more we were on our knees...I used to get fainting spells as a child when it would go on for so long. I am not at all nostalgic.

Charles of New Haven said...

anonymous: thoughtful and informative as always. Thanks a lot.

Pia: I agree with you part of the way. First of all I agree that nostalgia is not something to indulge or to follow. It's the root of fascism, it's been said. Second, I agree that some of the (positive) architectural developments since the most recent reform of the liturgy would make the proper celebration of the 1962 Mass awkward at best and impossible at worst. So it shouldn't be forced. On the question of the unity of ministers and people, I find the issues complicated, and hope to write about it soon.

Charles of New Haven said...

Oh, and thank you too, Pia. God bless.

Lisa, sfo said...

>> Pia said: "i prefer to understand what is going on. How can latin unite if no one understands it?"

Latin can indeed unite those for whom it's a second language: I have yet to see a 1962 Roman Missal that didn't have side-by-side translations of Latin/English/whatever the local language was. After awhile, you do pick up on the meaning of what's being said.

Also, an anecdote comes to mind in relation to this: While attending daily Mass on vacation a few years ago, our celebrant was an Italian-speaking priest who was just learning English. As such, he frequently switched from Italian to English during Mass.

At the end of the first Mass he celebrated with us, he apologized for his "bad English" (which was pretty darn good for someone who'd only started learning it 4 months prior).

One of the Mass-goers replied, "That's OK, Father. The Mass is the Mass. We can follow along."

And we did. :-)