Things to Come …

I’ve said little about the much rumored, speculated, and bally-hooed Motu Proprio that will allegedly free the Tridentine Mass and, if some rumors are to be believed, inaugurate the eschaton.

But this from CWN leads to a discussion on that page that I must draw attention to.

DV: Remember that even the very traditional-minded young priests coming out of the several good seminaries are unlikely to know Latin. I know one excellent young priest who would LOVE to say the Trid Mass — except that he does not know Latin! …

G: Whenever I have said that I and most Catholics don’t understand Latin so Trid Mass will be hard to hear or implement, folks on this site have told me to buy a Latin-English Missal, with Latin on one side and English on the other. Buy your priest one of these and write out the Latin for him phonetically. Then he’ll be good to go! If it’s apparently not important for us to understand Latin to attend the Trid Mass, maybe it’s not important for the priest to know Latin to say the Mass. …

S: Una Voce has teamed with FSSP to form an intensive study program designed to “re-train” priests in the TLM. …

C: There are many videos and books explaining how to offer the Traditional Mass. Get some for your priests.

So, there seem to be a lot of folks who think you don’t need to learn the language. Just be able to pronounce it. Just make the noises and go through the motions.

This reminded me of a time some years ago when I was speaking with someone who teaches Latin, and though he is on the more liberal side of things, he was happy when a younger, more conservative, priest came to him asking to learn Latin from him. So the older priest prepared, had Wheelock‘s open, and got into the first lesson with enthusiasm. The younger man, somewhat flummoxed, finally managed to say, “No, I don’t want to learn the language, with all that grammar and vocabulary. I just want to know how to pronounce it so I can celebrate mass in Latin.”

In a previous era, some Protestants referred to the mass as “mummery.” Seems like that could well apply to the situation some folks are so excited about.

mum·mer·y (mŭmə-rē)
n., pl. -ies.

  1. A performance by mummers.
  2. A pretentious or hypocritical show or ceremony.

[French mommerie, from Old French momer, to wear a mask, pantomime.]

20 thoughts on “Things to Come …

  1. St. John Vianney had a terrible, terrible time with the Latin language. To my understanding it is doubtful that he could have on-the-spot directly translated into French the Latin words of the Missal he used to celebrate Holy Mass in Ars. On the other hand, he no doubt knew the precise meaning of each and every prayer in that Missal (Lyonese Use, I think) based on the instruction he received in seminary.

    (And I’m sure the same was the case of countless holy priests across many centuries in the Western Church.)

  2. Being a pretty traditional guy myself, and thus running in pretty traditional circles, I think I always cause a stir when I say I don’t want a Latin Mass.

    “What? You like Novus Ordo!?”

    What I like is reverential liturgy that is not translated using soft-soap wimpy words. Oh, and I like to understand it.

    For any of you who want to have Latin Mass back on a wide scale, go to the Mass of a language that you don’t understand for the next two or three months. Go to an Eastern Catholic church with a liturgy in Old Slavonic. It’s beautiful. And you can’t understand a thing. Your mind will soon drift. You will begin flipping back in forth in your missalette. What’s he saying?

    Now go to that same liturgy in English. You will feel like you can breathe again.

    The Word is meant to be seen, tasted, and heard.

  3. I have embargoed myself on the MP story. Having heard or read about so many variations of the “free the Mass” story as it has developed through the past 20 years, I figured I might as well not waste words until the thing sees the light of day.

    Or should I replace “until” with “unless”? I’m not fully convinced that such a thing is being seriously contemplated.

  4. “So, there seem to be a lot of folks who think you don’t need to learn the language. Just be able to pronounce it. Just make the noises and go through the motions.”

    It reduces the liturgy to a performance in which the celebrant is like the opera singer who performs Verdi without knowing a word of Italian.

  5. Grant Gallicho links to this post over at Commonweal. I’m called a “snarky” “liberal” by one person who comments. :-)

  6. Yes Ben, but if you went to that Old Slavonic Mass every Sunday for several months you would understand it as most of the Mass does not change from week to week and you would gradually come to understand and love the meaning. By the way, attending the Tridentine Mass means that you would never not know what was going on ever again as no matter where you went in the world the Tridentine Mass would be the same. In these days of rapid and frequent world travel can you always be sure of finding a Mass in English everywhere you go?

  7. But not always the same. The readings differ from day to day, as do the propers, and there are the various liturgical celebrations for the major feasts which differ. Some Tridentine celebrations are quickly mumbled, some prayed deliberately with active participation of the faithful and choir (per St. Pius X’s plea).

  8. I’m not typically a fisker, but this comment is pretty typical of the pro-Latin reponses I get.

    most of the Mass does not change from week to week

    Percentage-wise, this is not true.

    you would gradually come to understand and love the meaning.

    Well, I might. Because I am a research nut, plus I like languages. But what about my 8 year-old niece? What about my dad?

    I’ve been going to the Mass my whole life, so I am pretty familiar with the words. My girlfriend is Vietnamese, so sometimes we go to Vietnamese Mass. I can follow along for the most part, but it’s really… really hard to pay attention.

    Again, like I said, really go to a Mass where you don’t understand the language for a few months. Try a Vietnamese one. It all works in theory to just “follow along in the missal” but actually try to do this for an extended period, then tell me how you feel about it.

    By the way, attending the Tridentine Mass means that you would never not know what was going on ever again

    That’s true of the Novus Ordo right now. It would also be true if we all celebrated Mass in Mongolian.

    In these days of rapid and frequent world travel can you always be sure of finding a Mass in English everywhere you go?

    Along with 99.9% of the world’s Catholics, I go to the same parish on most Sundays. I guess if I ever am elected King CEO of Corporate World I might worry more about trans-continential liturgical language conformity, but right now it’s just not an issue.

    Here’s the issue: Latin is the “language of the Church” by the historical accident that it was the first-century language of Rome. That’s all. It’s useful and good to know, if only for historical continuity, but it’s a tradition of men. The true language of the Church is the Word of God–and men must hear that.

  9. Dear Bill,

    Thank you for injecting the common sense into the discussion. I know that the Sacraments are ex opere operato, but I would like the priest to be fluent in the language so he know what he is saying. While this may grow, hearing a priest say the prayers poorly does not allow the faithful to exercise their office fully, consciously, and actively.

  10. Ben, Latin wasn’t even the language of the Church of Rome until the second or even third century. Prior to that, the Church throughout the empire spoke Greek. And Latin only became the language of the Western Church, never the East. Just a quibble (for the sake of my Eastern Christian friends).

  11. Ben, Latin wasn’t even the language of the Church of Rome until the second or even third century.

    Ah, well in that case I shall out-tradition the traditionalists: FREE THE GREEK MASS NOW!

  12. +J.M.J+

    in 2005-2006, I attended an Indult Latin Mass celebrated by a priest who was still learning the language and rubrics. He got help every Sunday from an adult altar boy (altar man? I guess I’ll say acolyte, though I don’t know if he possessed that minor order) who clearly knew the Tridentine Rite better than the priest did. Unfortunately, the priest’s shortcomings were pretty obvious; he occasionally stammered part of a prayer or the acolyte had to whisper brief instructions for where he should walk or stand next. I let it slide since I understood that he was still learning (he had made that clear from the start) but it was still a bit distracting at times. I’m not used to priests in the Pauline Mass getting corrected by an altar boy!

    Now, I’m pretty sure this priest knew some Latin, or was at least learning the language. So I don’t even want to think about what a priest entirely new to the Tridentine Mass, who doesn’t even understand Latin, would do to it! Traditionalists who think that would be okay might be in for a less-than-pleasant surprise if they ever actually attend a Latin Mass celebrated by such a priest! Especially considering how many trads tend to be perfectionists when it comes to liturgy – you can’t reasonably expect perfection from an amateur. It’s much better that the priest be fully trained first, including fluency in Latin.

    In Jesu et Maria,

  13. In the couple of Tridentine Masses I’ve attended, I could not hear (and I think the rubrics require that most of the congregation not hear) what the priest was saying at the altar. I doubt it was, but could have been for all I know, as bad as some pre-conciliar Masses (so I’ve been told) wherein the priest mumble “wordy-wordy-wordy — Hoc est enim corpus meum — wordy,” etc. I’ve also attended many a Novus Ordo Latin Mass where the priest had not the complete facility with the language for which one would hope, and the experience was excruciating. The main attraction to the Tridentine Mass seems to be that it is not, and presumably cannot become, a clown liturgy, or any such abomination. I guess when the TLM is bad, its not that bad, but when the NO is bad, its awful.

  14. As an interested “reform of the reform”-er, let me begin by…agreeing with Bill’s narrow point:

    There’s something not quite right with celebrating a Latin mass if, as a priest, you don’t know any Latin. You may not need to be Fr. Reginald Foster, but a rough working knowledge of the language would be a good idea.

    And yet we’re left with the reality that at least *some* Latin is mandated to remain in the mass – the Council called for it (Sacrosanctum Concilium #38 and 54) as have repeated papal and synodal documents since them, most recently this month’s apostolic exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis. Would it really be the end of the world – really, now, would it – if some minimal Latin was worked back into Novus Ordo masses, such as say the Sanctus, the Agnus Dei, the Kyrie (which is, well, greek, to be sure), and perhaps a couple of the responses (“et cum spiritu tuo”)? That would still leave vast territory in the vernacular, and highly comprehensible to the great unwashed (even if vernacular masses don’t seem to be doing much for proper understanding of what is going on at mass, thanks in no small part to widespread poor catachesis). And we can say that perhaps setting aside the contentious issue of the accuracy and falicity of translations, which is still being haggled over at ICEL.

    But in the end I think the question of Latin is a red herring, and I think deep down Bill knows it is. Granted that most TLM indult attendees are more educated and Latinized than your average bear, how many could really sight-read the Aeneid – or even the Summa – in Latin? Which is another way of saying that many TLM attendees are seeking out these masses not because of unrepressed manias for classicism, but because indult masses, properly done, clearly provide something(s) which most novus ordo masses do not. In a word: reverence. In another: mystery. In another: verticality. In another: Beauty. In another: a clearly defined and orthodox theology.

    Assuming ICEL can come out with a decent translation, the problem – the real motivation of the Pope’s impending motu proprio – is the slapdash, loose and theologically impoverished nature of the Pauline missal. To restore chant, celebration ad orientem, traditional postures for prayer and reception, and vestments, and other rubrics is part of the problem, but it goes even deeper than that. There is a real theological shift in the prayers which diminishes the sense of sin, which is markedly anthropecentric and egalitarian, and diminishes the reality of sacrifice. Lauren Pristas of Caldwell College has done some remarkable work comparing the collects of the propers in recent extended articles in the Thomist and Nova et Vetera – worth a look if you want some vivid illustrations of what I’m talking about.

    In other words, “liberating” the classic Roman Rite may not result in droves of lay Catholics attending or priests feverishly brushing up on their Wheelock. But if by its greater legitimacy and accessibility, the motu proprio gives a new impetus to restoring more continuity withthe tradition to the normative missal, to reform it back along lines clearly envisioned by the Council and spoken of so eloquently by the Holy Father, I’d say it’s all to the good.

    And overdue.

  15. I go to operas in languages I don’t understand. They move me, no problem. These days, there’s surtitles, which makes it even easier. And if I go to see the same opera several times in a row (for example, if you attend rehearsals), I pick up more and more of the language.

    Like many millions of younger Americans, I watch a lot of anime, either with subtitles or scripts, or “raw” and without such crutches. You don’t have to know the language to follow along. And again, the more you watch, the more you pick up. But when I first became an anime fan, I didn’t know a word of Japanese. There wasn’t an admission test.

    It’s even more fun to watch a dub of an American show in Spanish. Improves your Spanish vocabulary no end, and you usually get a slightly alternate storyline in the bargain.

    People listen to German heavy metal and punk. They make online game attack plans with people from places they can’t pronounce or find on a map. They watch Bollywood musicals hinged on customs they don’t know. They love before they understand, and they work to understand because they love.

    So you expect us to be intimidated by a one hour presentation, in a foreign language using cognates most English speakers will recognize, that uses the exact same phrases every week? When we’re allowed to bring a side-by-side translation with us?

    Geez, how provincial do you think people are?

    Of course it’s _better_ to understand. And of course the priest should have settled down to learn Latin. But if the seminary didn’t teach him Latin and Greek before he got ordained to say Mass, people can hardly complain if he takes enthusiastic stabs at it in those other languages which are his to use by right, even before he knows what he’s doing.

    And to be honest, the Latin grammar in the Mass isn’t as tough to master, probably, as some of the tonguetwisters involved. Classical Latin is soooo much easier to say.

  16. Ben makes the common mistake of thinking that since he understands the language of the mass, he understands the mass. I would venture to say in general that Catholics today have less an understanding of the mass than when it was celebrated all in Latin – at least that is what the attendance numbers would suggest.

    I’ve been to masses in Spanish, do not know the language and have no particular facility for language, and yet had little trouble knowing what’s going on. That’s because most of what’s being said is fixed from week to week. (I followed the readings in a missalette.) It’s a red herring to say that the Latin masses immediately closes off all meaning to the people in the pew. Having someone speak at you through a microphone for 45 minutes straight does not necessarily lead to greater understanding since the mass does not consist of words (though you might think so from the way it’s usually celebrated today).

  17. I have attended Mass in Thai, Italian, French, German, Danish and Spanish. Should I have not attended Mass because I couldn’t find it in my native tongue?

    While I knew what was happening I did find myself wishing for a universal language for the Mass.

    I attend the Tridentine Mass and have found *in my experience* that I know and understand what is happening in that Mass much more than in the Pauline Mass that I grew up with.

    Sure, I took 4 years of Latin and that might put me a bit ahead of the game – but that doesn’t mean I know Latin. Rather, I read the Missal and I put the effort in to understand the Mass. Something that the Pauline Mass never asked of me… to make any effort at all to participate in the Mass.

    I love the complexity of the Tridentine Mass and the fact that I can read and learn more and more about it. Reading in the Missal the translations of the prayers, the prayers in Latin or the explanation of what is occurring (something I NEVER had for the Pauline Mass).

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