Monday, July 14, 2008

Latin -- I just didn't get it

Okay, so based on the descriptions I'd read on various Catholic blogs, and studying the theology of the liturgy, I'd reached the conclusion that the best Mass for me to attend would be an ordinary form (yclept "Novus Ordo") Mass, in Latin, with the priest facing with the people ("ad orientem").

A little research revealed that there was such a Mass on Sundays within about 1/2 hour from my home. So, on a recent Sunday I attended. I didn't bring the wife and kids, since I didn't think a 4-year-old would tolerate it very well, and my wife didn't seem to have any interest.

First thing to note -- despite the summer weather, everyone was dressed modestly. This is nice, but not really different from my home parish, which holds ordinary form Masses in English on Sundays. There were noticeably more mantillas than I'm used to, but this wasn't a surprise.

The priest entered, and I noted he was wearing one of those "fiddleback" chasubles. I realize this is a matter of aesthetics, but the fiddleback looks to me like a short scapular. This has two effects: implying that the priest is a religious, even when diocesan; also, since it's short, it looks like he's heading out to work in the fields wearing a tapestry, rather than preparing to celebrate liturgy.

Enough fashion. This particular Mass was most disappointing because of the mannerisms of the priest. This priest delivered everything, whether Greek, Latin, or English, in a kind of bored sing-song that seemed to imply nothing other than "all right, let's get this over with." I don't know anything about this priest, but he's not the only reverend who could really use a quick tour with Toastmasters.

There didn't seem to be much rhyme or reason to which prayers were in Latin, and which were in English. Okay, I understand why you say the propers in English, since no-one in the congregation (even this priest, I suspect) knows enough Latin to do an on-the-fly translation like Fr. Z. The strange thing to me was that the commons were either in Latin or English without any discernible pattern. The paternoster in Latin makes sense, but then the "Deliver us" in English. Isn't that part of the same prayer? The congregation seemed puzzled how to answer. "For the Kingdom..." came out in English.

Personally, I'd prefer that the creed be left in the vernacular, since I think it's important for people to be reminded in their own language what it is they are professing, but I acknowledge arguments for putting it in Latin.

In fact, after attending this Mass, I'm kind of inclined to give up on Mass in Latin any time in the future. I just don't get the appeal. I'd rather know what it is I am saying, and what is being said. It engages my mind much more in the moment. I don't begrudge anyone their Latin Masses, but I think I'll take a pass.

Let me put in a plug for the altar boys. These guys have been very well taught. The thurifer especially knew his stuff, and did a great job with the incense. I'd say the team of 6 altar boys was probably the most well-rehearsed I'd seen in a long time.

So, here's one thing I really liked. Ad Orientem. Once you've seen this, you'll never want to go back to "versus populum." So much of the Eucharistic prayer, and the actions of the priest, just make so much more sense when the priest is offering up the Eucharist to the Lord, rather than to the congregation. (I'm exaggerating to make a point.) It's clear when the priest turns to the people and invites them to participate, that this is exactly what he is doing. Also, the elevation of the species turns into a great high-point of the Mass (especially with that incense!) rather than just a momentary gesture.

I hope that Ad Orientem takes off throughout Christendom. That's really the way to go to Mass. Latin -- take it or leave it. I'll leave it, thanks.

I hear there is an extraordinary form Mass about 20 minutes away on Wednesday mornings. I'll see if I can get to it some time soon. Based on this experience, I'm not anticipating liking it much, but I'm willing to give it a try.

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At 12:00 PM, Anonymous Just Some Guy said...

Mr. Esperu,

Look, man, you've gotta give Latin more of a chance than this. In all honesty, how much of a background in Latin do you have? If you have no Latin, it'll be hard at first. But you'll come to "get it" if you make the effort.

And this isn't just about bettering ourselves through hard linguistic exercises. This is about fidelity to our traditions as Roman Catholics. Have you seen or heard what Vatican II has to say about Latin?

"[T]he use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites." Sacrosanctum Concilium 36.1.

"[S]teps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them." Sacrosanctum Concilium 54. They're talking about you and me, the ordinary folk.

Are you fan of John XXIII? A great guy. He wrote a whole Apostolic Constitution basically extolling how great and important Latin is: Veterum Sapientia. Check it out.

Give Latin a real chance. You'll be rewarded.

At 12:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you are going to attend an Extraordinary Form Latin Mass, take a little time to get hold of a missal and study it BEFORE you go. You will get much more out of the Mass. Don't worry about when to sit, stand, kneel. Just do what everyone else does and don't try to bury you head in the missal. Just watch and experience and use the silence to pray and contemplate the mystery interiorly. This is something that is sorely lacking in the modern Mass.

Good Luck.

At 1:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Have you attended the Liturgy of St. John Chrysotom?

At 11:03 PM, Anonymous Brian said...

Hey, there:

When I first attended a Latin Novus Ordo, I had the exact same reaction: "What's the point?" I was trying to impress a girl, and this was the Mass she attended, so I stuck with it.

Round about the sixth or seventh time, things began to click (much like a song you don't get at first but then can't stop singing after a while). I saw the beauty, I saw the reverence, I saw the connection, and I "got it."

Since all you've ever known is the vernacular, the Latin will be strange at first. Give it more of a shot, though, and then you'll be hooked, especially with the extraordinary form. I greatly prefer it now.

Pax Dominum tecum!


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