Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Latin as a Veil

What's our infatuation with Latin? (We, I mean traditional Catholics) Isn't the vernacular better? Afterall, doesn't language intend to communicate and if it doesn't communicate then is it even doing its job? Are there any purposes to language other than direct transmission of facts and ideas?

In explaining the Tridentine Mass, Charlotte's own Father Reid gave an excellent explanation of the use of Latin and he nailed it on the head. There is a reason why Vatican II insisted that Latin is still preferred liturgically, especially for the mass propers and that all the faithful should know them in Latin. The recent document from the USCCB on music reaffirmed this specifically asking bishops and priests to teach the faithful to chant the missa primitiva which everyone should know. They won't of course.

But why such aversion to Latin? And why is it that it is usually the liberals who don't like it? It isn't the case that liberals usually dislike any other language, say French, while conservatives or traditionalists like it. What is it about Latin?

It has nothing to do with Latin really. None of this does. It has to do with orientation of worship. Space will not suffice to dive into horizontal versus vertical liturgy here, but I want to return to Father Reid's point on Latin.

Father Reid explained that there was a time when you would ordinarily find Christian Churches following in the footsteps of the temple cult (the Eucharistic cult being the fulfillment of) by literally drawing a curtain during the Consecration to protect the sacred mysteries from vulgar eyes. A liberal of course, sees no need for this curtain and would have seen no need for the Temple curtain either. A liberal doesn't believe in vulgarity (not practically anyway).

He explained that Latin acts as a veil in this way. The temple curtain wasn't meant as an affront to the people of God, it was an affirmation that the God they worshiped was so incomprehensibly holy, that they dare not defile His sacredness by approaching with the filth of their sinful lifestyles. Even their righteousness was as "filthy rags" before Him. In this way Latin acts as a buffer between the vulgarity of the world and the heavenly mysteries of the mass. The veil doesn't insult the people, removing the veil insults the mystery. If removing the veil insults the mystery, how much more insulted are they who celebrate it?

When we dumb down the liturgy to make it more accessible, we make it appear less worthy to access! If the mysteries and the divine liturgy is something that can be compromised to the level of a flip flop service, how mysterious is it anyhow? How beautiful is it? Is this life changing power? Is this what you keep calling Heaven on earth? Why does Heaven on Earth look so much like Earth on Earth? In short, if you treat the liturgy with irreverence, how worthy of reverence is it? Your actions speak louder than words.

And the irony is that those who fail to see a need for a veil are those who need the veil the most! They are the exact ones the veil was erected for! The more worthy you think you are of walking into God's living room and chatting with Him, the less worthy you are of such a thing. It is the tax collector who beats his breast and begs God's forgiveness who is found to be justified not the Pharisee who thinks he's already worthy of speaking with God as a buddy.

Then should it be any surprise that the ones who are so opposed to the veil are generally the same ones systematically opposed to Church doctrine? They are pro-abortion, pro women's ordination, pro-contraception etc... and yet they see no need for any buffer between them and God! The ones who affirm the need for the veil, (the traditionalists), are the ones who submit to Church teaching. They reject homosexual behavior, they reject contraception, they are not "pro-choice" and they are obedient to the Bride of Christ. Yet they see a need for a veil, not for others, not for the liberals; for themselves.

But in fact, those who do not see the need for the veil between them and God may not really believe God is there to begin with. Who needs a buffer or veil between you and plain bread?

19 comments:

Rene'e said...

In Baltimore we are blessed to have a cardinal who was involved in Vatican II. William Cardinal Keeler. I attended a Mass two weeks ago and had the privilege to hear him speak. In his short message he told us that one of the reasons they (Vatican II council ) had decided to change the language in the Mass to the native languages of the countries, was in regards to Communism.

Cardinal Keeler said that the council realized that in some communist countries, Mass was the only opportunity the Church had to speak to the laity. They wanted to be sure that each person understood each word that was said.. This was and is extremely important to the Church. They wanted to be certain that each person attending appreciated the words spoken in the Liturgy , and the Holy significance of the Mass.

Tim A. Troutman said...

In the Latin liturgy, the homily is still given in the vernacular so I don't really follow his point.

The irony is that by opening the mysteries up, people understand them less. By speaking in plain vernacular, people comprehend less of the true meaning of the liturgy.

The typical Catholic has the religious education level of a child. They cant quote any Scripture, they aren't even familiar with it (even though it's right in front of their face constantly).

Now I'm not bashing vernacular usage (it would be ironic to do so consider I'm using it to bash with). I'm just pointing out the importance of a veil of some kind.

Rene'e said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rene'e said...

Yes, we are speaking of two different points.

I spoke of the language context of the Latin Mass, because I know many pre vatican II catholics have told me the entire Latin mass was spoke in Latin except for the homily, some think that the Latin language itself had significant spiritual meaning, especially during the Consecration of the Host. This is also an important issue with some people, along with the other changes.

The homily was not the most important concern of the council, it was hearing the Word of God during the readings, and understanding the supernatural element of the mass.

Renee

Rene'e said...

The typical Catholic has the religious education level of a child. They cant quote any Scripture, they aren't even familiar with it (even though it's right in front of their face constantly).

Yes this is true. But...it is not the Church's fault.

The Church believes parents are the primary educators of the Faith to their children.

As a cradle catholic, I attended religious education from first grade through eight grade,which was the responsibility of the Church and my parents to see that I did. Alot of the extensive theology and doctrine of Catholicism can not be understood properly by most kids during these years.

After confirmation,it became my parents and my own responsibility to further educate myself, including reading the Bible as it is for all catholics.

If Catholics are uneducated, it is because of thier parents and themselves, not the Church.

Tim A. Troutman said...

Renee, I agree with you. Unfortunately, the Church almost always gets the blame for their lack of education. But you're right, the parents have the duty to teach and the people themselves have the duty to learn (especially as they get older).

It is interesting that communism played a role in switching to the vernacular.

Rene'e said...

By the way...

Your children will be extemely blessed and fortunate for having you as a father. I am sure they will know thier Faith well.

I personally, as a parent, did not uphold my responsibility in that department,and so, I am left with regrets.


:)

Renee

Tim A. Troutman said...

I am quickly learning that parenting is no easy task. It really scares me to know that I am charged with raising another human person.

Tim A. Troutman said...

The other ironic thing about this conflict is that those who now say "keep the vernacular" are the ones closest to communism, the liberals!

If the vernacular was instituted as a way to deal with communism, how come the pseudo communists are so happy about it?

I guarantee you without any doubt whatsoever, that the communist
leaders in China, Vietnam etc.. would MUCH rather you celebrate a kumbaya vernacular McMass than a Latin one. Why? Communists have absolutely no problem using religion as "the opiate of the masses", they'll toss you a bone as long as you behave. The problem with a high, reverent vertical liturgy is that the people will inevitably see something that is more powerful and that transcends
the communist regime. They don't want you to see that. They want you to talk about God as if He's on your level (because they think He is). They don't want you to hold great high sacred mysteries as if there are metaphysical truths which surpass and govern the physical world. They want you to hold hands
and have emotional emptiness in your worship service.

I don't know if the communist leaders themselves could articulate this, but I know their father, Satan could. Satan knows what he's doing.

Phil Snider said...

I should start by noting that I don't have a problem with a Latin mass (I am, after all, a Latin teacher, so have a vested interest :), provided that some instruction into the meaning of the mass and/or a facing translation is provided.

BUT, two points.
First, part of the Protestant critique of the Latin mass way back in the Middle Ages was that the instruction I noted above wasn't done and very few worshippers actually knew what the heck they were worshipping. In fact, many clergy were not sufficiently clear about it either. This is why I'm a little leary about the veil argument because I think it matters very much how thick that veil is. Given enough instruction and learning, that veil can be quite translucent and the aura of mystery can be retained, if we wish (mind you, I think catholics can manage mystery in a whole lot of other ways too). Yet, my worry is that this work isn't done and the Mass becomes vaguely magical where priests do something behind that linguistic curtain, but God only knows what. The ensuing guessing is what worries me because then superstition and non-Christian elements sneak their way in and the Latin rite becomes a magical incantation, not worship.

I'm not saying this is inevitable, but it is worrying.

Second, Tim, really, do we have to resort to the equation of liberals to communists? That is so 1950s and is rather passe now. There are many conservatives who question the Latin mass on the grounds that I'm outlining, but would agree with you theologically otherwise. Come now, a little charity here.

Peace,
Phil

andrew preslar said...

Formerly Anglican and much in love with the 1928 BCP, I think that the real tragedy of the NO is not the vernacular per se, but the unfaithful English translation of the Latin text of the new form of the Mass. Such has often, and rightly, been called 'banal.' The setting of the Mass is not a classroom. It is the Throne Room.
The kind and style of language appropriate to the former is simply out of place in the latter.

The irony is that while everyone with a 3rd grade reading level understands perfectly the letter of the New Mass, the Spirit of the Liturgy has become obscured.

As for the Middle Ages, I submit to you that the hoi polloi did know what they were worshipping: the Blessed Sacrament. And that certainly changed in those lands, such as England, which introduced liturgy in the vernacular.

Phil Snider said...

Andrew;

The reports of the Reformers suggest otherwise. Okay, now you can dismiss them as biased and polemical, but even the Council of Trent recognized problems with the education of laity and clergy.

Peace,
Phil

Joseph said...

I just thought I'd re-post this comment.

The irony is that while everyone with a 3rd grade reading level understands perfectly the letter of the New Mass, the Spirit of the Liturgy has become obscured.

In other words, current evidence suggests that Mass in the vernacular isn't having the effect that Phil Snider is suggesting it should. There are many Catholics that vehemently defend the Mass in the vernacular. They understand every word of every prayer, every word of every Scripture reading, etc., yet it seems that they cannot comprehend any of it. I've yet to meet a Catholic who attends a Mass in Latin (Novus Ordo or 1962 Mass) that believes that abortion, contraception, and the act of homosexuality are not sins. On the other hand, those Catholics that ridicule Latin for similar reasons as described by Phil Snider are often the same ones making use of contraception, see nothing wrong with being "pro-choice", and would like to see the Church become more open to homosexuality and women in the priesthood.

I'm not against Mass in the vernacular, I just don't agree with the arguments (like the one posted by Phil) posed by those who are against the Mass in Latin. Evidence clearly shows the contrary.

Forgive me, Andrew, for expounding on your comment. I think it went over Phil's head and needed some clarification.

Phil Snider said...

Joseph;

I think you've missed my main point. I'm not saying that the Latin Mass shouldn't be done, but rather it should only be done in setting either where there is a legitimate expectation that most of the congregation knows what is going on or where there is an aid such as a facing translation. That would neatly deal with my concern over intelligability and allow for the mystery of the Latin Mass.

Frankly, I'm puzzled over how this is becoming a debate in which the mystery of the Latin (which isn't even the language Jesus taught in) is opposed to intelligibility of the rite. Sure, we can have intelligibility without being stupid or 'dumbed down'. The two aren't mutually exclusive and I wonder why I'm getting this impression that some of you are thinking they are. Surely, we can do both.

Also, consider what happens when intelligibility is not considered. One of two things will happen to a rite which is unintelligible. First, it will be considered magic as in a spell. If we think the prayers are efficacious, but we don't understand them, then we are thinking we can manipulate God or matter into doing what we want by methods that can only be called magic. Now, today, this isn't as serious an issue as it has been in history ,but it is a concern.

By far the most serious worry I have when intelligibility isn't considered is that the rite becomes entertainment. That is, some people will come to see a Latin Mass 'performed'. I think we all agree that this kind of passive watching without participation is the opposite of what we want, but it does happen. I recall an incident a parish in my city which has an excellent choir. Easter was coming and the priest was getting a little tired of fielding calls about the choir. At last, when a caller asked about the choir performing, he said "Yes, and Jesus will be there too.". We are such an entertainment driven culture, I can't see how we can escape this.

That said, I take Joseph's point that many of those who support the Latin mass are quite theologicaly literate. They also tend to be conservative (as no liberal would set foot in there), but the question is whether they are theologically literate and conservative BECAUSE of the Latin rite or because they like the Latin rite because they are conservative. I rather suspect that latter.

Look, folks, let me repeat. I'm NOT saying don't do the Latin Mass. I'm saying do it in such a way that people will understand it. Is that really that hard?

Peace,
Phil

Joseph said...

Phil,

"...[The Latin Mass] should only be done in setting either where there is a legitimate expectation that most of the congregation knows what is going on or where there is an aid such as a facing translation. That would neatly deal with my concern over intelligability and allow for the mystery of the Latin Mass. "

Check. That currently exists in one of two ways. Latin Mass facing translations are at the door as you walk in where the Latin Mass is said or one can obtain a copy of the 1962 Missal and bring it to Mass with them, which also has facing translations.

"...I'm puzzled over how this is becoming a debate in which the mystery of the Latin (which isn't even the language Jesus taught in) is opposed to intelligibility of the rite."

Should I give you a chance to retract this one? Seriously. Has anyone made the claim that we "must" assist at Mass in Latin because Our Lord taught in Latin? What Protestants lovingingly call the Roman Catholic Church is actually the Latin rite of the Catholic Church. It is the Latin rite. It is the tradition of the Latin rite to use Latin in the Liturgy. Though, the vernacular has been allowed (which it always was for homilies and even for readings at the ambo by the priest), Latin was never supposed to be abrogated.

"Sure, we can have intelligibility without being stupid or 'dumbed down'. The two aren't mutually exclusive and I wonder why I'm getting this impression that some of you are thinking they are."

I agree that the two aren't mutually exclusive. You don't need to reflect on this one any longer. I think you are getting this impression because you seem to be linking "vernacular" with "liturgical abuses" in our conversation. They are only related insofar as those who propogate and defend liturgical abuses are always violently in defense of Mass in the vernacular. Those individuals are making it more of a language issue than the traditionalists (a quick visit to any of their blogs and you'll see what I mean). Like I said, vernacular, to some degree was used in the pre-conciliar Mass already.

"One of two things will happen to a rite which is unintelligible. First, it will be considered magic as in a spell. If we think the prayers are efficacious, but we don't understand them, then we are thinking we can manipulate God or matter into doing what we want by methods that can only be called magic. Now, today, this isn't as serious an issue as it has been in history ,but it is a concern."

Currently, the concern is that those who adhere to the liturgical abuses no longer believe in the Mystery (that would be a better description than 'magic', which is offensive) that is taking place. From my understanding, it was the anti-Catholics who actually coined the phrase "Hocus Pocus" as a mockery of the words of consecration. That would mean that the idea that Catholics believed in 'magic' was mainly propogated by those outside of the Church. That doesn't concern me.

The Eucharist is a Mystery, and it should always be believed as such. Removing the veil, in the sense that Tim's priest (and hence Tim) is speaking of, is the equivalent of taking the Mystery out of the Mystery... which reduces it to the level of man. It is precisely a Mystery because our senses cannot perceive It. The priest who consecrates the Bread has been given that power from Christ. He's not a magician, it is not him who 'changes' the bread into the Body of Our Lord. Those who wish to consider him a 'magician' or the consecration 'magic' are either Catholics who have not been catechised properly or non-Catholics. That is sad, but it does not reflect the Faith of the Church.

"By far the most serious worry I have when intelligibility isn't considered is that the rite becomes entertainment. That is, some people will come to see a Latin Mass 'performed'. I think we all agree that this kind of passive watching without participation is the opposite of what we want, but it does happen. I recall an incident a parish in my city which has an excellent choir. Easter was coming and the priest was getting a little tired of fielding calls about the choir. At last, when a caller asked about the choir performing, he said "Yes, and Jesus will be there too.". We are such an entertainment driven culture, I can't see how we can escape this."

There will always be entertainment seekers, that can't be helped. There is also a difference between passive watching and actually participating. There will those who have no desire to enter into the Mystery that is unfolding, but there will also be those who will actively learn and desire to take part in the prayer of the Church. If people were made perfectly holy by Mass or any service in the vernacular, in Latin, in Martian, there would never be any heresies, schisms, etc.

The example you give is one of your Episcopalian place of worship. Interesting that there was that much interest in the entertainment factor at a vernacular service, though. Also, if vernacular services were the secret to unity, then why is the Anglican church going through such struggles right now? Obviously, language has little to do with whether one is going to see something as entertainment or not. That would be the disposition of the individual. Just like it is the individual who make the decision to depart from True teaching. We all have free-will.

"They also tend to be conservative (as no liberal would set foot in there), but the question is whether they are theologically literate and conservative BECAUSE of the Latin rite or because they like the Latin rite because they are conservative. I rather suspect that latter.

I agree that it is the latter as well, of course. No one has stated that it is the Latin Mass that "makes" one conservative. I think that the argument can be made that a Mass done correctly, either in Latin or in the vernacular, acts as a great tool for catechesis, so, in that way, it can aid in properly forming the conscience of those who assist. In that sense, yes, one is likely to take a conservative approach because of their assistance at Mass. That one of the major implications in Tim's post, but not the only one. The opposite (assisting at a vernacular Mass that is rife with liturgical abuse) is true as well, one's conscience can be malformed by assisting at a McMe Mass. And it isn't a coincidence that the McMe Masses in question are all in the vernacular and performed by liturgists who absolutely oppose Latin for the very reason that it brings the Mystery back to the Eucharist.

Phil, to conclude, after going through this last excercise, I think we agree more than we disagree. In fact, I don't think we disagree at all.

God bless you, brother.

Tim A. Troutman said...

Just got back in town - great discussion fellas.

I'm not going to respond to everything since Joseph & Andrew pretty much said everything that needed to be said. But on the communist/liberal equation, first I said pseudo-communist not communist. Next, if it was partially true in 1950 it's full blown objective fact by now. And finally, if "charity" involves me denying the parallel agenda of what is now called "liberalism" and communism, then count me completely out of the charity game. I have no intention whatsoever of candy coating the evils of liberalism.

Who are the liberation theologists? Conservatives or liberals? is liberation theology Marxist or isn't it? Do liberals want more religion or less of it? How about the communists? Do liberals want reverent mass or irreverent mass? What about the communists? Do liberals vote for small government, strong on morality candidates or lax on morality, big government re-distribute the wealth candidates?

While moderate liberals may shun the labels of communism or Marxism, most of their institutions of higher learning openly ascribe to it. Thus, I don't retract the association for a second. If there's a legitimate reason why I shouldn't associate it (I mean something stronger than the insinuation that the association went out of style when my father was in diapers) then I'm all ears.

I'm sort of a metaphysical conspiracy theorist of sorts - must be my fundamentalist roots. You see, I think there is a spirit out there working his hardest to destroy everything good and to make war against the race of men. I think Marxism, liberalism, liberation theology, feminism, socialism and yes even abuses at a vernacular Novus Ordo mass are all tools in his arsenal. (Note, by speaking ill of all these I am not endorsing or saying that there's anything inherently good about democracy or capitalism anymore than I'm saying there's something good about male chauvinism when I speak ill of feminism. I'll leave these for another discussion).

When I consider all these tools in his arsenal, it never surprises me in the least to see that when one ascribes to one of them, he/she inevitable embraces some or all of the rest (and other things). Thats what I meant when I pointed out the irony of supposedly using vernacular masses as a way to deal with communism. It is consistently those who would lean towards communism to begin with who are most in favor of the vernacular.

StBasil said...

The fact of the matter is the "smoke of Satan" seems to have entered the Church around the time of the 2nd Vatican Council. Sad but true.

As for the argument that people who attend the traditional Latin Mass are clueless as to what is going on - if they are it is their own fault. They have a Roman Missal, or they should, to follow along. It's not as if they sit there listening to Latin wishing, hoping that someone would come let them know what it all means. No, they follow the translation in the English. Over time, a short time, they get very used to the prayers and it becomes second nature. I found this fact out myself when I switched from Novus Ordo to the TLM.

Also, generally the readings of Sacred Scripture and the homily are in the vernacular - not just the homily.

There is also more to the TLM, and the problems with the Novus Ordo, than just the Latin/vernacular issue. The Novus Ordo's prayers are watered down and at times just plain erroneous (such as the words of institution which are supposed to be Our Lord's exact words from the Gospels, where He said "for many" and not "for all"). In addition the creativity of the Novus Ordo that has allowed so many abuses is wrong. The prayers of the traditional liturgy are strong, clear and poignant. The prayers of the Novus Ordo are weak at best, leading to a weakening of faith among Catholics. There is less mystery, less reverence and less solemnity in the Novus Ordo. There are many issues here.

I've heard a million and one excuses for the Council: we wanted to fight anti-Semitism, we wanted to fight Communism, we didn't want to make X or Y or Z mad. What is seldom heard is: we wanted to make the Faith plainly known, we wanted to uphold the traditional teachings of the Church, we wanted to strengthen the Church's members.

Our Lord is victorious however. So too will be His Church.

Pax Christi tecum.

Tom said...

I am one who supports putting the Old Rite in a sacred vernacular something like the Knott Missal or Anglican Missal. Maybe the new Anglican provision will allow that.

However, I'd also defend the entirely Latin Mass we had for 1800 years even without facing-page translation. People dont need to know exactly what's going on. They didnt for centuries. There were plenty of Saints.

In the East, an Iconostasis blocks a lot of the liturgy from VIEW even. That's the point. To feel alienated. To feel confused. To feel utter incomprehension. Because we can never comprehend God. Because sin utterly alienates us. And yet, He dies for us, He comes from that inaccesible place and Communes with is.

It is meaningless on the surface to us, but the point is to FIND meaning. Like a baby who listens to parents speaking a language he doesnt know. But that's how you learn. To accept it anyway. I'm not talking about learning Latin, of course, but about learning what the liturgy is teaching by sheer immersion. To just pray. To pray a facing page translation is good. But to pray your rosary is also good. It's about the presence of the Unknown Ritual that is important, not taking the wizard out from behind his curtain and finding out he's just a man.

Tom said...

I am one who supports putting the Old Rite in a sacred vernacular something like the Knott Missal or Anglican Missal. Maybe the new Anglican provision will allow that.

However, I'd also defend the entirely Latin Mass we had for 1800 years even without facing-page translation. People dont need to know exactly what's going on. They didnt for centuries. There were plenty of Saints.

In the East, an Iconostasis blocks a lot of the liturgy from VIEW even. That's the point. To feel alienated. To feel confused. To feel utter incomprehension. Because we can never comprehend God. Because sin utterly alienates us. And yet, He dies for us, He comes from that inaccesible place and Communes with is.

It is meaningless on the surface to us, but the point is to FIND meaning. Like a baby who listens to parents speaking a language he doesnt know. But that's how you learn. To accept it anyway. I'm not talking about learning Latin, of course, but about learning what the liturgy is teaching by sheer immersion. To just pray. To pray a facing page translation is good. But to pray your rosary is also good. It's about the presence of the Unknown Ritual that is important, not taking the wizard out from behind his curtain and finding out he's just a man.