Saturday, July 31, 2010

What's to fear?

I'm sure I'm not alone on this one. Can we  come to the honest conclusion that the whole question of Latin and understanding it is all a bit of a 'red herring' used by those who prefer not to use the traditional rites? After Summorum Pontificum came into effect there was talk in some quarters of giving potential  EF celebrants a qualifying test in Latin comprehension serving as an easy way out for those who really didn't want to celebrate them and also for those who didn't want them to celebrate. So far I haven't seen a test paper. It might be something to do with the few in authority who could set such a paper.

There is little connection between Latin literacy and the desire to celebrate the EF. Several of the Latinists used by the Holy See to translate official documents have, shall we say, no love of the traditional rites and certainly have no intention to celebrate them. It would seem in some seminaries, where dead languages are still taught, Latin instructors have been chosen partially because they do not celebrate using a 1962 missal. (Any earlier edition, of course, would be quite 'beyond the pale'). But isn't all of this actually a smokescreen for a greater malaise- that of a general unwillingness to participate in the full tradition of the Church and all that demands of the individual? So what could be the fears?

(1) I haven't got the Latin to celebrate the rites.
Not a new problem. Before Vatican II quite a few clergy had been dispensed from the office. In the questionnaires before the Council one notable Archbishop suggested a vernacular office for his clergy. Fear not- help is available. There are enough courses, on line, residential, and otherwise to bring even the most average up to basic competence.
(2) I haven't got the time to learn the ceremonial.
Again there are numerous user friendly guides which take you through step by step. There are priests who will privately help in this direction. A first 'practical' lesson often is in another priest's study using what ever happens to be at hand to indicate the chalice and paten.
(3) It would divide the faithful.
The faithful are divided already. If you've got a vocal group of the faithful opposing the innovation of a single traditional Mass into the parish schedule they're in serious need of personal catechesis.
(4) If  I do I won't be 'preferred'.
One commenter emphasised this problem recently and unfortunately it seems to be true. But then again, what is more important in the long term? Best to walk carefully here. The abuse of false allegiance and obedience is a factor in clerical life.
(5) I've got enough to do as it is.
This can be understood as the load on parish priests these days is probably greater than any other time in history. Even where there has been wise employment of people for administrative tasks and catechetical and other duties the supervision of all this remains the responsibility of the pastor. Perhaps this could be added to the list of things for continuing diocesan formation of the clergy instead of the regular seminars on Fairtrade, the Enemagram, or whatever the fad of the moment is.

There can be little doubt that for some the prospect of providing the traditional rites, for those requesting them, is a real problem. I suspect, however, that behind this there really is a greater problem in the majority of cases - an unwillingness to abandon a 'salad bar' approach to the faith and fully accept the teachings of the Church. The traditional rites present to the celebrant and faithful alike the faith in an unambiguous way. That really is the crisis point. This is not socially integral nor popular. It is not comfortable. It is challenging and life changing. It demands putting one's self to the side -  not something that world we live in can countenance.


  1. I think the saddest part of this, Father, is that Latin was dropped from seminary studies (both Minor and Major seminaries) years ago. I recall the eye-opening experience it was for me when I first started studying Latin (and Greek - but to a lesser extent) in Secondary School in Ireland in the 1950s. We had five solid years of both Latin and Greek. It was a revelation that so many English words ‘came from Latin’ and it was exciting to discover more and more of them – an excitement shared by many of my companions, whether destined for the priesthood or not. It was just considered part of a well-rounded education. And if some merely had - as Johnson snidely commented on Shakespeare - “little Latin and less Greek”, it was a base to build upon and even a little went a long way.

    It is a further frustration to know that Vatican II did not abolish Latin. On the contrary, it advocated for its retention – something the ‘Spirit of Vat II’ people would rather not admit. Like so many things that the Council never mandated (altars versus populum, elimination of altar rails, removal of statues, etc.), Latin was one more casualty effected by those who ‘interpreted the mind’ of the Council according to their own thinking and not that of the Council Fathers.

    The other casualty of course was the Latin Mass itself. I expect to those who have never experienced it, it appears complex and full of minute details which are hard to master. Decades ago any altar boy worth his salt could have gone through the motions of celebrating Mass – without missing too many steps - so familiar would he have been with the rubrics! And he would have learned the responses by heart already in Primary School - long before he began to study Latin.

    It is easy to make excuses when we don’t have the will to do something. Practice makes perfect - but we must first want to practice…

  2. What about the fear of Opus Dei to the traditional mass? Do they not know anything about their founder?

  3. Very good point Hestor. Apparently, St. Jose Maria Escriva broke down in tears when he said his first novus ordo, and returned to saying the Tridentine Latin Mass for the remainder of his life. Have any Opus Dei members written about this?


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