Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The return of Latin?

In the Church, i.e. Well, it's growing in popularity, according to this article in the Washington Times. Laudemus Dominum! (Via Dappled Things)

Here's an interesting thought:
When you worship God, you don't want to use something as common as street language, so you need to dress the language up," Father McAfee said. "It's like glossolalia -- speaking in tongues -- or it's like poetry and prose. The English Mass is prose, the Latin Mass is poetry. You need time to enter the words to understand their meaning.
"If a person's in love, and they have a choice between prose and a poem, they choose a poem. The liturgy is a love song between Christ and His church."
Amen to that!

[Though, I found this quote to be rather bizarre and anachronistic.
"Converts are very open to it. Again, they want the whole thing. At St. Catherine's [his former parish in Great Falls], I converted two Jews because of that Mass."
Granted, one should be generous in allowing for the fact that the reporter most likely messed this up completely, but still. Does anyone still talk like that? I converted x or y? I did? In modern evangelical circles one tends to readily acknowledge the Holy Spirit as the main mover and shaker. Anyway, I don't know if it's quaint, or reminiscent of the teaching of contempt that we've thankfully moved away from. And no, I'm not generally on the side that says that we've come to such a pass as to categorically reject the need for mission to the People of the Old Covenant. What way or form that mission might take, is, of course, a whole another topic. Cardinal Dulles offers a useful summary in a recent issue of First Things.]

6 comments:

pritcher said...

four thoughts:

1. amen.

2. a friend of mine, who was raised catholic but had drifted very very far from it by college used to pray the our father as "...thy shall be done..." i agree that with latin, like poetry, one needs "time to enter the words to understand their meaning." but one also needs to undersant their meaning to understand their meaning. i don't mean that as a categorical critique of latin, but to suggest this is another area where we the church must do a better job of teaching.

2. if the translation is faithful, then what makes the latin mass more poetic than english? presumably just the fact that it's in a different language? does that mean the latin mass started out as elevated prose and became poetry over time as languages changed around it? that seems odd to me.

3. but then, i'm more likely to write love prose anyways.

pritcher said...

5. i can count, really.

Gashwin said...

Yo Pritcher.

I'd agree with 2. As long as we don't make "understanding" the only criterion, and end up "flattening" the liturgy. There's much room for diversity (there's twenty-three rites in the Church Catholic, for instance, some of which emphasize the mysterious and the enigmatic a lot more than others).

As to 3. Well, I think the contention has been, for years (and I've come around to this view myself) that the translations we have are not stately enough, and besides aren't always faithful (Why on earth did the English vernacular get away with translating "Et cum spiritu tuo" as "Also with you" when every other language, apparently, stuck to the Latin? Or, what happened to the "mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa" in the Confiteor?"). One of the ideas that Cardinal Ratzinger has talked about, and that Liturgicam Authenticam does as well, is that the language of the liturgy should be perceived as somewhat different from just everyday speech. Something other than "civil service English" (in the memorable words of Audrey Fforbes-Hamilton from that delightful Britcom, "To the Manor Born") is needed. Elevated prose then, if not quite poetry. I am not of the opinion that the Mass should return to Latin (and certainly not of the opinion that the only solution is to revive the Tridentime Rite). The vernacular is quite alright, precisely because praying in one's own language is important (the Eastern Rites tend to follow this custom as well). However, a greater acknowledgement of the Latin heritage of what remains, still, the Latin rite? Well, sure!

And maybe, as the new GIRM suggests, we could actually all learn some prayers in the official language of the Church as well?

pritcher said...

your points about the "faithfulness" of the translation are well taken. both of the phrases you mention had always bugged me, actually, after coming back from two years of masses in spanish.

also, "we lift them up to the lord" or "it is right and necessary": which is more correct?

Gashwin said...

I think (this is off the cuff) it's "we have lifted them up to the Lord" and "it is meet and just" (or "it is right and just" (dignum et iustum).

There's also the case of "O Lord I am not worthy to receive you ... " when it should be "O Lord I'm not worthy that you enter under my roof" (think back to the Spanish ...)

Anyway, it's important to remember that one shouldn't lose sight of the law of charity in all these wranglings about the liturgy. That, unfortunately, seems to be the first casuality ...

St. Izzy said...

Working backwards a bit:

Third, on rightly translating the Latin: Gashwin has it. The response to "sursum corda" (which itself smacks more of a military command than anything else -- "hearts upward!") is "dignum et iustum est" (it [this] is right and just).

Another one that bugs me in the Agnus Dei and the Gloria: it's peccata mundi, the sins of the world (pl.), NOT sin (sg.). Sure, you can make an argument for collective / (pun fortuitous) mass nouns, but the same thing is available in the Latin.

There are other problems with the translation that I'd like to see rectified as well, but these are the ones that bug me the most.


Part B, on elevated prose: I would also like a more exalted mode of expression in the Mass. And I note that other religions have no problem making adherents learn a sacred language. I wouldn't mind a return to the Latin Mass (my Daily Roman Missal is bilingual), but I think that Papa Bene's request that we all learn a few key prayers in our Catholic language is a viable via media (my apologies to any Anglicans who feel I've just stolen and misused your phrase).



Item 1: on Latin and comprehension The one time I was privileged to be in Rome, I was able to go to Il Gesu and worship NOT because I could follow the language, but because the LITURGY carried me along. Still, it would have been nice at times to be saying the same thing in the same language as those in whose parish I was worshipping. And there's something to be said for sharing not only the same essential experience and expressing the same thoughts as millions of other Christians, but also observing the same forms and using the same words as our siblings spread across time and space. Very cool, in a spooky sort of way.

(Re-)learning a few key prayers and proclamations in Latin would us much more a church that is ONE (as well as holy, catholic, and apostolic).

Pax vobisum,
Izzy