Tea With The Curate (PART II): “I don’t know Latin”

Tea With The Curate (PART II): “I don’t know Latin”

Today’s topic for tea with the curate is the Big One, the “Latin Mass.”

Written by Hilary White
8/19/17

I wrote the other day about my very first pastoral visit from a local priest. We had, as you may imagine, a lively and interesting discussion and I was very happy and grateful that he stopped by. But of course, as you do, I thought of a million better ways to say the things I was saying, all ten minutes after he was gone.

Fortunately we have the internet, and here is the first of a series on the basic topics and issues that separate Traditionalists from more “mainstream” Novus Ordo Catholics; an attempt to begin to dispel the confusion.

Today’s topic for tea with the curate is the Big One, the “Latin Mass.”

“I don’t know Latin.”

Just as he was leaving I decided on the spur of the moment to take a chance and straight up ask my friend the curate, “Can you please give us the traditional Mass?”

Having little time left, and obviously wanting to get to his next obligation, he gave me, with a smile, a rather silly answer, “I don’t know Latin.”

Of course, my first thought was, “Well that’s just dumb. No one was born knowing Latin. Not even the ancient Romans.”

I’m afraid I find quite a lot of people think this is a reasonable objection, and I can only think it is because Latin has a acquired a kind of cultural mystique that makes people think it’s difficult or impossible to learn. But this was a young fellow who I knew already spoke at least two languages very fluently, one of which was in fact a direct derivative of Latin.

By itself, despite whatever uses it is put to, Latin is really just a language like any other. Indeed, my single year of intensive Latin study showed me that it was a great deal easier to learn than the other languages I’d had a crack at, French and Japanese. Latin is actually pretty easy since its vocabulary is necessarily limited and its grammar uncomplicated by accretions and invasive words. A language that’s been “dead” for 1500 years or so hasn’t really had much chance to pick up new words. The language I know best picks up new words and phrases like my cat picks up burrs.

Imagine the pickle we’d be in if the universal language of the Church were Hungarian or Finnish! My Latin professor at Dalhousie always said, “Latin is easy; it’s English that’s hard.” And she was right; Latin is the proud inheritor of the legalistic Roman mind that made rules and expected them to be followed. With Latin, all you have to do is memorize the conjugation and declension paradigms and start growing the vocab. And what’s the best way to grow your vocabulary in a language? Obviously to use it regularly.

We didn’t have time to get much into the question, but I showed my friend my Monastic Diurnal that, as is normal for liturgical books used by the laity, has a vertically divided page with Latin on one side and a translation on the other. Daily use is what creates familiarity, and I’m at the point now where I don’t need to look much at the English side (which I find in the 1963 edition from Collegeville isn’t very accurate.) And that’s really after only 13 weeks of formal study in my whole life.

If you are, as perhaps my curate friend would be, interested in what popes have had to say about it, here is Pope John XXIII on why Latin is necessary for the Church. His main selling points were exactly that it was “immutable” and “universal” and “non-vernacular.” The Church “values especially the Greek and Latin languages in which wisdom itself is cloaked, as it were, in a vesture of gold.”

“She further requires her sacred ministers to use it, for by so doing they are the better able, wherever they may be, to acquaint themselves with the mind of the Holy See on any matter… Furthermore, the Church’s language must be not only universal but also immutable. Modern languages are liable to change, and no single one of them is superior to the others in authority. Thus if the truths of the Catholic Church were entrusted to an unspecified number of them, the meaning of these truths, varied as they are, would not be manifested to everyone with sufficient clarity and precision.”

“The Catholic Church has a dignity far surpassing that of every merely human society, for it was founded by Christ the Lord. It is altogether fitting, therefore, that the language it uses should be noble, majestic, and non-vernacular.”

Latin “is also a most effective bond, binding the Church of today with that of the past and of the future in wonderful continuity.” One of the gravest losses from the failure of priests to learn the language of the Church is the loss of theological and historical continuity. How easy it was for the revolutionaries to convince young men to abandon the Church of the past, once they had made it all but impossible for those young men to read the words of the Church of the past.

In this document, Pope John required that all seminarians become functional in Latin, merely to be functional as priests of the Catholic Church. As an excuse for not offering the Mass of the Ages, “I don’t know Latin,” is an especially facile one.

It’s not the same religion.

I told my friend the curate that I believed that liturgy is the physical expression of theology (he agreed) and that the new rite is so radically different – both in its official rubrics and informally in the ways it is normally conducted – that it actually expresses a totally different, a divergent, theology, one that is not Catholic. In short, Novusordoism is, in fact, an entirely different religion, and this new thing, whatever we want to call it, is what the new rite expresses. Moreover, the new thing – plainly derived from the same ideology as Protestantism – is often actively hostile to Catholicism. (Which, I think, partly accounts for the hostility displayed towards Traditionalists by “conservative” novusordoists. They know, however subconsciously, that our refusal to accept their ideas is a rebuke, and no one likes to be corrected.)

Now of course, we have to qualify this. Not every priest who celebrates the new rite is not a Catholic, nor is every person who goes to the new rite. In fact, quite the opposite. I expect that anyone still showing up to Mass every week wants to be much more than merely nominally or culturally Catholic. The Faith survives – however doctrinally truncated – in quite a large portion of the novusordoist Church. And of course, most people who become priests want to be as Catholic as possible. (I do think the days of blatant heretics running seminaries are over, despite the current antics in the Vatican.)

I’m talking now about the intentions of the people who created and promulgated it, who forced it on an unsuspecting Church. The huge gaps in theology – all that material that has been deliberately omitted in seminaries – is reflected in a liturgy that has, literally, huge gaps.

I told my friend the curate, “Line up the two texts, the old and the new, so the equivalent parts match, and you will see it. Enormous sections of the Mass have simply been removed.” We know that the Mass was not the only victim of this liturgical memory-holing. Our friend Peter Kwasniewski recently wrote about the excising of the “difficult” parts of the Psalms from the Breviary. The new religion and the new Mass have followed Orwell’s dictum; if you want to make certain thoughts unthinkable, just don’t talk about them, and make sure no one else ever does either.

This is a generalization in a Church that has vast differences from place to place, and even from person to person. But this theological confusion, this chaos in which it is simply unwise to assume that the Catholic sitting next to you in the pew believes anything that you believe, is a product of the Novus Ordo, the “reform” of the liturgy. Liturgy is where most Catholics receive their weekly “dose” of the Faith. Corrupt the liturgy, and you will corrupt the people receiving it: “Lex orandi; lex credendi.” It is a function of the new religion to create this vast and appalling disorder, one that simply did not exist among ordinary Catholics before 1965. (And under this pope, of course, this confusion has grown exponentially worse.)

The confusion, the chaos and disorder in the Church would not have been possible without the abolition of the traditional liturgy and its replacement with the Mass of Endless Options that is the Novus Ordo. The Mass of Endless Options expresses a religion that resembles a child’s “choose-your-own-ending” novel; you can rewrite it to suit your preference. This “optionizing” of the Faith is completely antithetical to the philosophical principles that are the foundation of Catholic thought; that there is truth and untruth, and that you can’t pick for yourself which one it is. If you think Catholicism can be massaged to suit your preferences, that’s not the Catholicism that existed until 1965.

“Latin makes the Mass inaccessible.”

A few days ago someone else on Facebook posted a note to a Trad Mass group I belong to that said, in effect, “Latin makes the Mass inaccessible…” First, this is simply not plausible. If it really is just a matter of knowing the words, understanding what is going on at Mass has never been easier. I don’t even carry a book with me anymore; you can get the Mass translations on your phone.

This person also commented that she felt the style of worship among Traditionalists was “too formal,” having been taught that one is expected to address God “as a child would a parent.” This person went on to complain that all that Traddie stuff is “the medieval inventions of a European Latin speaking church” [sic] as opposed to the Novus Ordo which was presumably derived from the “early practice of the church.” (I know all the Traditionalists out there are already rolling their eyes.)

The idea of using Latin as a sacred language, set apart for expressing divine things, seems often to incite fury in such people. They become agitated and emotional, demanding to know why we are “trying to turn back the clock.” But it is not antiquarianism that upsets them, since they usually immediately start to decry the “later accretions” of the liturgy in the Middle Ages, that corrupted the “pure” liturgy of the “early Church.” There is not only a lack of logic here, but an essential dishonesty.

The fact is, they fear the use of a sacred language not because they don’t understand the words; they fear it because it is used for sacred, transcendent, supernatural purposes. The liturgy for which the Latin language is a symbol represents a kind of religion they find frightening, a spooky, “medieval” religion of miracles, of levitating saints and visiting angels – and of grave obligations and eternal consequences for sin.

It’s not Latin you find “inaccessible” but the transcendent Catholic religion.

People of course like the NO because they are familiar with it, and that’s fair enough. But the rest of this person’s objections reveal a much deeper rift in the Church’s self-understanding, in its theology, between Traditionalists and what I like to call for shorthand “Novusordoists.” Her objections, derived from her practice of the Novusordoist religion, were demonstrably anti-Catholic.

First, why do we imagine that accessibility is some kind of positive for liturgy? Why should we expect the Mass to be “accessible” at all? What does that word even mean? I think it means that the traditional Mass is not oriented towards man, towards easy, earthly, understandable things. It doesn’t make you comfortable. The Novus Ordo liturgy reflects essentially naturalistic ideas, both in its original text and in the various gestural “accretions” it has acquired as normative in the last 50 years. Naturalism is an easy religion to like. It’s supernaturalism that’s scary.

I responded to this person that hers were essentially Protestant ideas. Protestantism holds that the benefits of worship are essentially naturalistic. The weekly worship is a communitarian exercise devoid of any transformative power in itself. Protestantism does not believe in the idea of sanctification; grace does no more than cover our sins, like “snow over a dungheap”. The notion that the Mass has the power to convey grace, and that this is the means by which we are radically changed, or “divinized” as the Eastern churches put it, is one foreign to a naturalistic mind. There is nothing transcendent about the Protestant theology, and whatever changes in character or behaviour you manage as a Christian are entirely self-generated – there is no supernatural holiness in the Protestant universe. But this is not the Catholic Faith.

The adoption of these ideas by the men who created the Novus Ordo (yes, they not only admitted but boasted of it) is the reason for the “chummification” of the Mass – all the hand-holding and hand-shaking, the removal of altar rails, the reception of Holy Communion in the hand, given out by “lay Eucharistic ministers,” the cramming of as many laymen, in street clothes, onto the sanctuary as possible, the guitars and folk songs. The message must be the opposite of the Catholic message, that there is nothing transcendent, nothing supernatural going on here at all.

I don’t know a great deal about it, but it seems to me that mainline Protestantism has gone one of two ways; it’s worship services are either a show like a Broadway musical or a show like a late night talk show. But either way, it’s a show intended to be consumed by an audience. And this is the model that the modern Novus Ordo Church has taken for both its liturgy and its theology.

Latin is universal

The complaint fails to look at the good of the larger Church. You, personally, may not understand Latin, (right now) and it may seem intimidating to you (at first). But the truth is, it is the imposition of hundreds of vernacular languages in the liturgy that has divided the Church into hundreds of little closed enclaves. You are an Italian Catholic, or a Polish Catholic or a Korean Catholic, and there can be very little movement between these communities because, simply, of the language barrier.

It is also the way in which a great deal of outright harm has been done to the Faith, through the deliberate use of ambiguous or even outright falsified translations. It is Latin that preserves the accuracy of what is being conveyed, the most important information any human being will ever hear.

There is an analogy in the natural sciences. Take botany. A while ago on a botany FB group someone was complaining about the use of the Latin botanical names for plants. (The guy actually said, “I don’t know Latin.”) But the use of Latin names for plants is precisely because they are understood by everyone. A common name for a plant could be anything in all the languages describing it. If there were no common language, botany could not function as an international science, or even at a local level.

The same principle works in theology, where Latin terms for things are extremely precise. Everyone knows exactly and without doubt what you mean when you use the correct Latin theological terms for the concepts. A huge problem has been created in the Church – and not just in liturgy – by the general abandonment of training in Latin for priests. It has allowed terminology to become a matter of personal preference and opinion.

“It’s too formal.”

Another objection to the Latin liturgy comes from the same prejudice against and fear of “formality” since Latin is now a sacred, formal language in which only holy things are ever said. You have to learn Latin deliberately, and it is only ever used for sacred things (outside the life sciences). It is not the language of every day conversations, or of business or any ordinary, earthly thing. It requires effort and concentration, where we have been taught that the Mass must be “entertaining” and as easy and fun as watching television or visiting friends.

The desire of the revolutionaries in the Church in the early 20th century was, in a nutshell, to de-sacralise the Church, to remove from it everything that was specifically and uniquely oriented towards the sacred, the transcendent, (and the universal.) Religion had to be forced to be, essentially, profane, ordinary, work-a-day and most importantly not transcendent.

The craze for informality, guitars, puppets, rock bands, balloons, felt banners et al, are especially popular in the west where the philosophical errors of Egalitarianism have become suffused into the culture, especially since the 1960s. Under this paradigm, God could be your imaginary friend, your chum that you spoke to in the same language and in the same tone and manner as you spoke to the kid packing your bag in the supermarket. But he could not be the Pantocrator, the King of the Universe, the Ancient of Days, the Just Judge, the almighty and everlasting father, the Prince of Peace.

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But take a look at the great classical works of Catholic art from the high Middle Ages down to the early 20th century. Look at the icons of the Eastern Church, the Pantocrator. No one in those depictions is sitting around in sweats and flipflops having a coffee and a good old jaw with God.

The Catholic Church reflects the universal realities; there is hierarchy in the universe, there is a hierarchy of truths in everything from mathematics and physics to theology to liturgy. God is not your pal, “Abba” never meant “Daddy,” and the early Church never held hands or shook tambourines at Mass. If you read the saints, particularly the mystics like St. Teresa of Avila or John of the Cross – the ones who conversed directly with Christ – you will find absolutely no trace of this unseemly and improper familiarity. Teresa referred to Christ in nearly all her writing as “His Majesty.”

“It’s not about meeee!!”

But I think the objection to “formality” is deeper than this. I think it is a cover for a different objection. A formal worship of God points the liturgical camera outward and upward. The traditional Mass is not about me. So when someone from the Novus Ordo paradigm comes to it, he feels himself no longer the centre of attention, and I think this is an even bigger problem for priests.

In the Novus Ordo, the priest usually stands and sits behind the altar, as if it is a table or a desk, where all eyes are on him. He is facing the congregation, and literally, physically turning his back on God in the tabernacle behind him. In Italy they actually usually have the “presider’s chair” behind the altar directly in the middle so that whenever the priest sits in it he’s the talk show host and we’re the celebrity guests. The microphone is always on the altar, often dead centre. In many parishes, the priest likes to preach not from the ambo but front and centre behind the altar. There can be little doubt, when you attend a normal Novus Ordo Mass in Italy who the congregation has really come to see.

Every one of the physical, visual cues of the Novus Ordo are that we are not there to talk to God at all, but to each other. The priest addresses us, not God, who is often literally shunted to one side and “reserved” in some little chapel somewhere. Those weirdos who like “private devotion” to the Eucharist can go there, later. They can go and have a moment alone with the Almighty, through Whom and for Whom all things were made. But only after we’re done talking.

“The Mass is the Mass is the Mass…”

People like to say, “The Mass is the Mass…” implying that as long as the Eucharist is confected, or as long as it comes with a Vatican stamp, it is all the same, but this is patently not true. There is a common error of conflating the Mass with the Holy Eucharist. The Holy Eucharist – if validly confected – is the Holy Eucharist. It can’t be less Christ, body, blood soul and divinity. But the Mass, the actions, words and gestures surrounding the Holy Eucharist can be and indeed has been entirely changed. So, the question must be, what effects have those changes brought about in us and in the world? We can answer the question, which is “better,” by asking what the Mass is supposed to do and then comparing that with what it has actually done.

A useful line of thought could be to consider the dispositions of the person in the pew. Does the Novus Ordo create the dispositions in the congregant to receive and benefit from the grace being offered by a validly confected Eucharist? Does it produce the sanctification it is supposed to effect? Does its naturalistic, communitarian theological starting point create a disposition that allows grace to work on the person’s soul to sanctification? Other than make us feel good, what is all the clapping and hand-shaking supposed to do, anyway? And how is that different from what we used to think the Mass is supposed to do to us?

And in the larger sense, how has this new thing – described by no less a person than Cardinal Ratzinger as a “banal fabrication” created by a committee for frankly-admitted sacrilegious purposes and through a systematic programme of lies and manipulations – affected the world?

The question is simple: what are the fruits? Has the new Mass created a revival of the Catholic Faith and practice? Has there been a mass flood of converts from other Christian confessions into the Church? Has there been an enormous jump in vocations to the priesthood and religious life since 1965? Has it strengthened the other sacraments; is marriage a stronger institution in the Church and the world now after 50 years of the New Mass? Are more people than ever going to confession? Are Catholics leading the world in their opposition to grave sins like contraception, abortion and homosexual activity? Has there been a flourishing of Catholic theological scholarship? Have Catholic universities been bastions of the Faith? Have laws of nations seen a surge in moral rectitude since the new Mass was imposed on the Catholic world? All of these things are what one would have expected if the New Mass had created such a great improvement in the quantity of grace being poured out onto the world.

Where are the saints it has created? Where are the mass movements of grace, conversions, vocations, the strengthening of the moral and social fabric of nations, the cessation of wars and oppression? Grace isn’t about whether you feel good. It’s the most Real thing there is, and if there were a lot more of it since the creation of the new Mass, what would you think the world should look like today, 50 years later?

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