Leonardo"s Notebook by Mattheus Mei

I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.

Monday, April 21, 2008

A Practical Case for Latin

Amy Welborn, noted Catholic writer and catechist, wrote a very interesting piece for the NY Times coverage of the Papal Visit. It was as she admitted a continuation and deepening of discussion of the Pope's use of Latin as written by Fr. James Martin, SJ in his post Dominus Vobiscum. But her post eschewed the normal rhettoric and debate about the use of Latin away from the Traditionalist Vs. Modernizer's and I think offers an interesting, and practical call for furthering the use of Latin within the liturgy. It should therefore be noted and carefully considered in light of one of the theme's of Benedict's trip which is unity. Because I'm not sure how long the Times will keep the posts I'm going to reprint it below. Check it out!

Et Cum Spiritu Tuo

In case you’ve not been reading this blog all week…or in case you have and have just forgotten, Father Jim Martin entitled one of his liturgy-related posts, “Dominus Vobiscum.”
So obviously, this post is a response. Or perhaps more of an expansion.
Fr. Martin has written about Latin and vestments, pointing to Benedict’s sensibilities about both as expressions of a wider program. I agree but I want to dig a little deeper.
Latin. Older styles of vestments. Older vestments, period. Chant. The older form of the Mass.
The popular way of characterizing Benedict’s support of these elements in liturgy is some rather undefined attachment to “tradition,” leaving the impression that it’s all about taste, aesthetics or a fear of the news.
But that doesn’t even come close to what Benedict’s program is about.

As a Vatican II Baby (born in 1960, totally post-Vatican II formation), I can tell you that the religious sensibility of the time in which I was catechized was totally about the “new.” The Church had dispensed with all the nonsense of most of the past 2,000 years as culturally bound, confining accretions, and it was time to move on. Wasn’t that what Vatican II was all about?
(Actually no. If you read the documents, and most especially, read John XXIII’s motivations for calling a council, you see that the great hope was not that the Church would “adapt” to the times, but more that the Church would try to understand the times and interact more boldly with the world in order to bring the ancient faith in Christ more powerfully to it.)
You could write books about what happened next (and people have), but the gist of it all, I think, was that a whole lot of Catholics became convinced and were taught that everything that was “pre-Vatican II” was useless, pointless or even dangerous and we needed to start over, essentially, and create a new Church.
Benedict is all about saying: “Wait. Maybe not.”
The best and briefest synthesis of Benedict’s thinking on this can be found in the
letter accompanying his “Motu Proprio” loosening restrictions on the pre-Vatican II Mass (not the “Latin Mass” for the root text of even the post-Vatican II missal is Latin).
In it, he wrote: “What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful. It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place.”
There is a lot more to say about this — for example, practical reasons that every Catholic should be familiar with the Latin text of the Mass — why, in a multicultural church, should mixed congregations either have to be subject to the cultural imperialism of one ethnic group’s language (a k a English) or cut at the symbolism of the unity we share by using a number of different languages? Isn’t it more powerful to have all of praying in a shared, ancient language with a sacred resonance?
Yes, there is a lot more to say, but I’ll just wrap up by saying that although I am very supportive of the Pope’s action “freeing” the Extraordinary Form (pre-Vatican II Mass), that form of the Mass is not something I am entirely comfortable with or even, I admit “get.”
But I find myself, mostly because of what I’ve been reading of Benedict, resting less easy with my dismissal of that form of the Mass. Adherents of the Extraordinary Form like to call it the “Mass of the Ages” and pointedly ask critics, “It was good enough for most of the saints of the Catholic Church, isn’t it good enough for you?”
And I, as a fan of saints like St. Catherine of Siena and Theresa of Avila, women whom I revere not only for their faith but also for their more “modern” qualities of strength, independence and leadership … have to think twice. Can I separate these women so easily from their qualities I admire from the liturgical spirituality that nourished them?
I mean, if you think about it, wasn’t Jesus, well … “pre-Vatican II”?

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