Friday, November 13, 2009

Latin Revival

I am a life-long Catholic. But I was born after the Second Vatican Council. The parish I attended was a small country church built in 1968 in a simple modern style, (not as ugly and uninviting as some) but the Masses held there were just as understated as the architecture. That is to say, they were bare-bones and contained only that which was necessary to make them "valid" but lacking any adornment or style. But occasionally a "style" (of sorts) was supplied by visitors to our parish, who brought with them some recent liturgical "invention" which we had to endure with groans and embarrassment, often averting our eyes from the carnage.

Our resident nun at the time (who, I am certain, looked forward to the day of Catholic priestesses and charismatic Masses filled with liturgical dance and new-age symbolism) led the way in this liturgical demolition derby, crashing her way into every component of the Mass and leaving the congregation wondering what was left that was sacred and untouchable. The people patiently endured these periodic displays of irreverence, but it was obvious that the simple farming community in which I lived was not going to respond to or embrace something so grotesque, masquerading as legitimate Catholic liturgy. As time went on the experimentation slowly stopped and something of a "normal" Mass settled in (which admittedly still lacked a distinctive "style," but at least the intrusions of "style" we had endured were worthy of elimination). Bland was better than heretical.

Needless to say, I was born into a time in Church history marked by liturgical abuses that confused the laity and robbed the faithful of many traditional Catholic devotions and prayers and spiritual beauty. The Mass itself was so badly misused that few of us in the pews knew for certain what the Divine Liturgy was even supposed to look like anymore. For decades that has been the state of affairs in many parishes across the country and around the world.

Recently though, there has been the beginnings of a revival within Catholicism, especially among the youth who (like me) never experienced the Mass in Latin or knew the Church before the confusion that followed Vatican II, that promises to bring a more traditional form back to the liturgy. There is a movement to re-establish traditional prayers and devotions like Eucharistic adoration and the Rosary, and to breathe new life into the Mass by restoring some of the old.

Now I am not suggesting that Vatican II was a mistake. As a valid Ecumenical Council approved by the pope and convened under the proper conditions for such a Council, Vatican II was guided by the Spirit and teaches with authority. But the implementation of the Council was often sloppy and unregulated. While the Council Fathers certainly taught correct doctrine, the changes that came about within the Church afterward did not always follow the letter of the law. My childhood experience of bizarre experimentations and invented rites bears witness to the fact that Vatican II was not implemented in a uniform way that preserved the integrity of what had come before. And my experience was not unique. Others endured the same sort of liturgical inventions, and far worse.

Now, as I am older, I realize that all of the liturgical "styles" that had been forced on us in my youth were all lacking in one thing – SUBSTANCE. Substance is the meat of the matter and should drive our determination of the value of liturgical style. To have substance means that a thing has "practical value" or "purpose" (as a dictionary will tell you). The liturgical "styles" that were in vogue in my childhood were literally invented out of thin air or borrowed from some new age spiritual movement that happened to be popular at the time. They were not natural outgrowths of Christian spirituality or handed down from saints and martyrs who could attest to their religious worth. Rather, these liturgical inventions were pieced together by self-appointed liturgical gurus who wanted nothing more than to shape the liturgy to their own desires. The "spirit" of Vatican II gave them the perfect cover for their radical experimentation. They cared nothing for the "substance" of true Catholic Tradition, they only sought to concoct the most unique, the most avante-garde of ceremonies.

But what escaped these liturgical abusers is that real substance, real worth in religious liturgy is found not in the cutting edge newness of experimental forms, but in the depth of spiritual Truth contained in the rites and prayers that have an historical connection to the movement of the Spirit that came before. Christianity is handed-on, not reinvented. Our liturgy (while it may change) must always have a connection to its past in order to remain valid and True. Discarding the old and replacing it with something radically different can never be a valid expression of true Catholic liturgy. Otherwise it becomes all "style" with no "substance."

My experience of the Mass from childhood was not all bad. The substance of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist remained through it all. And that gives us hope for the future of the liturgy. The new awakening of Tradition in the hearts and minds of the next generation of Catholics means that we have not lost the faith that was handed on to us.

In keeping with that spirit of awakening old traditions, I decided recently to learn some Latin prayers for personal use in my own prayer life. In 2005 Pope Benedict urged the lay faithful to memorize some of the basic Catholic prayers in the Church’s ecclesial language, so that common prayer could be had during international gatherings such as World Youth Day, and to keep us in touch with our historic liturgical roots. Along this same line, the recent Motu Proprio, Summorum Pontificum (issued in July 2007) allowed for the expanded use of the old Roman Rite Latin Mass throughout the world. Also the Church’s outreach to the Society of Saint Pius X (known for its hard-line traditionalist views that caused schism within the Church) shows a new openness and appreciation for Latin in the Church’s prayer life and a ought to encourage all Catholics to explore how Latin can be incorporated into their own experience of the faith.

With that in mind, I have posted below the Latin text for the Sign of the Cross and the Our Father. Together these formed the starting point in my exploration of Latin in my spiritual life. I hope other Catholics are encouraged to do likewise as the Church enters a new age of spiritual renewal...

SIGNUM CRUCIS (The Sign of the Cross)
In nomine Patris, et Filii,
In noh-mi-neh Pah-tris, et Fee-li-ee
et Spiritus Sanncti. Amen.
et Spee-ri-toos Sanc-tee Ah-men

Pater noster, qui es in caelis,
Pah-tair noh-stair kwee es in chay-lees;sanctificetur Nomen tuum.
song-tee-fee-chay-tour No-men too-um:
Adveniat regnum tuum
ahd-vay-nee-aht ren-yoom too-um
Fiat voluntas tua, sicut in caelo et in terra.
Fee-aht voh-loon-tahs too-ah seek-oot in chay-lo et in ter-rah
Panem nostrum quotidianum
Pah-nem noh-stroom kwo-ti-dee-ahn-oom
da nobis hodie,dah noh-bees oh-dee-ayet dimitte nobis debita nostra
et dee-mee-tay noh-bees day-bee-tah noh-strah,
sicut et nos dimittimus
sic-oot et nohs di-meet-tee-moos
debitoribus nostris.
de-bee-toh-ree-boos noh-strees
Et ne nos inducas in tentationem,et neh nohs in-doo-cahs in ten-tah-tsee-oh-nem
sed libera nos a malo
sed lee-bay-rah nohs ah mah-loh

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