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Veritatis Splendor

"Keep your eyes fixed upon Jesus, who inspires and perfects our faith" --Hebrews 12:2

Pope Benedict XVI before our Lord

And only where God is seen does life truly begin. Only when we meet the living God in Christ do we know what life is. We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution.
Each of us is the result of a thought of God.
Each of us is willed,
each of us is loved,
each of us is necessary.
There is nothing more beautiful than to be surprised by the Gospel, by the encounter with Christ. There is nothing more beautiful than to know Him and to speak to others of our friendship with Him.
~Pope Benedict XVI, Homily April 24th, 2005

Monday, June 11, 2007

Understanding does NOT equal comprehension

Once upon a time folks thought it would help the laity to "participate more fully and meaningfully" if they were to envision the Mass as a kind of conversation between them and Christ, or if they were to envision the Congregation, including the priest, as "gathered around" the alter, or if they were to envision the Mass as a kind of "banquet", with Christ as the "presider". In short, "participation" is like any other shibboleth: I can make it jibe with just about anything. Hearing the Mass in the vernacular enables you to "participate" more because you can understand what's happening? On the contrary, it give you opportunity to question the truth of every word you hear, thus destroying whatever "participation" you thought you had. Hearing the Mass in the vernacular enables you to "participate" more because you can understand what's happening? On the contrary, hearing it in Latin forces you to "participate" even more, because you have to be very alert to every little thing that is happening in order to know where you are in the Mass and what's going on. Hearing the Mass in the vernacular enables you to "participate" more because you can understand what's happening? Hearing it in Latin makes you part of a greater multitude of saints stretching back from today to the second century, when Latin was already itself the "vernacular", the "vulgate" or language of the vulgus (Latin for "crowd"). By participating along with this great multitude of faith and tradition by becoming one with them in language you "participate" in a much more important and meaningful way than merely by "understanding" the language in words for your own, private purposes. Our faith is one of symbols, indeed, we ourselves are imagines Dei, images of God; the use of Latin is far more symbolic than the vernacular could ever be in this sense.

I like An Examined Life more and more and more... These are EXACTLY the same points that I made recently when I happened to mention that I go to a Mass in Latin once in awhile and someone else happened to go off on me over it. I would only add one more thing - those who feel that they just can't "participate" if Mass is in Latin, the question to then ask them is: What did Fr. say this morning at the opening prayer? Or at the offertory? Or at the preface? Or at the closing prayer? Or even what the homily was, which has pretty much always been in the vernacular. "Knowing" the language DOES NOT mean that there is any better comprehension (ie, authentic participation) present. Instead, "knowing" the language can be a crutch that allows us to simply let the words glide right over us, and we presume that we don't have to prepare ourselves for the day's Mass any more.

In the "bad old days" right before Vatican II, Catholics used their missal to prepare themselves for the Mass of the day. In today's "bad new days", Catholics should use their missal to prepare themselves, but too many now just show up and hear words in one ear and out the other with less comprehension than their elders did when the Mass was only in that mysterious Latin language.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

While I'm happy that our Holy Father will likely be liberalizing the use if the Tridentine Mass, I will still go much more often to a Mass in my vernacular. I don't agree with the statement that was quoted that hearing the Mass in my own language causes me to question everything. For me, hearing the Mass in a language I can understand allows me to appreciate what is truly happening that much more. I think that is just the point of the Holy Father's likely liberalization of the usage of the Tridentine, that some people will respond much better to a Mass in their vernacular, and some to a Mass in the Latin, which certainly adds another level of the mysterious.

And as for questioning, I am happy when I question what goes on, because when I question with faith, with a trust in God and a trust in the Church, I find myself coming to a more profound understanding. And that can't be bad. There are some, like our beloved Little Flower, who seem to never question (which of course we find she did just that, at the end of her life); but there are others, like Augustine, whose entire lives are lived as a question, and in that they find a deeper, more intimate knowledge of God. I'm thankful for both types.

June 12, 2007 12:04 AM  
Blogger Adoro te Devote said...


A baby-boomer went off on me over the mention of Latin last winter. I could not BELIEVE the hostility, when all I said was that I thought my parish should have a Latin mass sometime. (We are actually working on it, too, but don't look for it any time soon. The first step is to get Latin added to the existing Mass.)

June 12, 2007 6:18 AM  
Blogger mgibson said...

Michael - thanks for the comment. I agree with you basically, I am not one looking for a blanket return to all Latin or the Traditional rite. However, I would disagree (if you are speaking in "total" terms, totally vernacular or totally Latin) with your statement that people "respond" better with one or the other. All other things being equal, I think it is a given that having a liturgy that is more sacred in its feel (less secular - of which the vernacular will always be, even the Latin was when it was the vulgate) will always provoke a different response than one in which everything is a conversation. Some may not "like" it, the same way some do not like having to read in college, but even those who don't like "any Latin", I've discovered, usually in the end point to one personal reason - they just want to show up, they don't want to invest any time into worship, just punch the clock.

There's no turning back the clock of course, nor am I in favor of doing so. I am in favor of a more organic development of the Mass, and I believe one step of this development is to incorporate a lot of Latin into the typical Mass. This is what is done at the papal liturgies these days typically - the changing parts (the propers) are often done in the vernacular, while the central aspects of the Mass that are unchanging are done in Latin. This provides a good mix, I believe, so that all of us can "actually participate" (actuosa participatio) in the sacred mysteries.

Which leads me to your next point :) Some questioning is, of course, necessary and good - otherwise we never would have ended up with the wording of our Creed or the deeper understanding of the mysteries of salvation. The key is having both, as you said, "a trust in God and a trust in the Church", and in this day and age, particularly a trust in the latter, as trusting in God's instrument is essential to our authentic trust in God. What was that line of Augustine's, faith seeking understanding? However, questioning is not for everyone, nor should we necessarily "shove" our questions off on others who haven't had the same questions yet. I think a lot of the problems in the past few decades has been a faulty catechesis model that encourages people to question and then *gives* them questions (without answers - it's like a "choose your own adventure" story!). As you say, we need both the simple holy folk and those who are honestly in hot pursuit of the Truth of God and His Church. We do indeed have great saints of both kinds!

June 12, 2007 6:55 AM  

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