Latin. @RobertSRoyal opines while Fr. Z rants.

You all know that I tend to bang on about Latin in our sacred liturgical worship.

Most of us belong to the Roman Catholic, Latin Church.  The Latin Church.

Never using or hearing our language of prayer and teaching affects (defects) our identity as Catholics.

“But Father! But Father!”, some of you libs are snorkeling, “You’re just trying to perpetuate the oppression of the marginalized through your outmoded patriarchal tools of… of… oppression!  It’s because of people like YOU that we have to put our guitars and tambourines down and sing the … the… that’s it … the Kyrie in Latin!  Why?  Because YOU HATE VATICAN II!”

You mean the Vatican II that required that our worship remain in Latin? That priests had to say their Office in Latin?  That pastors had to teach people how to respond speaking and singing in Latin?  THAT Vatican II?

Today at the increasingly valuable The Catholic ThingRobert Royal has a piece which concerns the recent fluctus in simpulo about the translation of the Lord’s Prayer.   In this insight piece he writes:

[…]

My far greater concern these days, however, is how much the English translations of prayers are sliding into what might be called a kind of emotional blur. [This is the age of sentimentality.] It happens at Mass. But I see it especially in Morning and Evening Prayer. You might not notice if you recite the Liturgy of the Hours in English. (I may be wrong about this, but I’m told there’s still no definitive translation.)  [I believe it’s in production.  Who knows when it will see the light of day.  But… do I care?  No, I do not.  Guess why.]

Most days, I read those two Hours in Latin (again, just for personal reasons). But I’ll use the English when I’m pressed for time. The Universalis app is a convenient way to consult them both.

Going back and forth often brings you up short, because the Latin tends to speak concretely about sin, redemption, and mercy in a strikingly vertical way, much needed, in my view, at a time when much of our lives – even our religious worship – is markedly horizontal.

That’s very evident, especially in Advent. If any time of year reminds us that God “comes down,” metaphorically speaking, to become one of us while remaining the eternal second person of the Trinity, it’s now.

[…]

This blog began as my place to archive the articles on the translations of prayers for Holy Mass.  Looking at the Latin and then seeing the poor excuse for the English that was foisted on the Church for so long, drove me to write the column “What Does The Prayer Really Say?” for many years at The Wanderer (bless them – give a gift subscription for Christmas).   As the weeks and months and years of the column piled on, we saw the systematic removal of concepts not just from the horrific English ICEL versions of the Novus Ordo prayers, but from the Latin even before the loons got their paws on the originals.

Change the way we pray and, over time, what we believe will change.   Lex orandi – Lex credendi.   It is inevitable.

After decades of dreck, no wonder we are in the diminished, enervated state we’re in.

And.. NO… hearing an Agnus Dei sung at Mass every other month doesn’t cut it.  Or, even better, having the Kyrie “in Latin” doesn’t do it either.  That one never gets old.

Thank be to God we now also have Summorum Pontificum in force to act as both a rudder and a sea anchor in these stormy identity waters into which our barque has been purposely led by the steersmen.

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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45 Responses to Latin. @RobertSRoyal opines while Fr. Z rants.

  1. Peter Ignotus says:

    I too pray the Office in Latin when I can, and in English when I’m pressed for time. My favorite is the difference between “nisi efficiamini sicut parvuli” and “unless you acquire the heart of a child”… a pretty weak rendering, and reminds me of that scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom…

  2. John Pomeroy says:

    The bit about the Kyrie would be funny except…

    My youngest (who is finishing up her college with a music degree and organ performance) has attended liturgical music conferences on the east coast for the past several summers. The conference in 2016 focused on Latin and the need for organists to know the ordinary parts of the Mass in Latin as well as English.

    Our daughter sings in the choir during the summer because the regular “musician” at our small parish plays the clavinova and has no need for someone to play the organ.

    At a practice one Wednesday, our daughter asked about the choir learning some Latin. One of the other singers (a woman in her mid to late 70s) informed her that VatII had “gotten rid of Latin in the Church.” The clavinovist then reminded our daughter that every so often they did sing the Kyrie and that was enough Latin for the choir.

  3. Unwilling says:

    It will be and maybe already is necessary to change the reference text of the Latin for all public liturgies. The official texts really must be flexible and reflect the actual language of the Christian people in their own languages. Right now, the Latin only confuses what is clear in the vernaculars. Flexible authority. See?

  4. Aquinas Gal says:

    The trend of “softening” prayers even applies to Scripture–many difficult passages are omitted on purpose. Catholics haven’t been hearing them. I’ve been reading more of the bible lately, and it’s striking that God doesn’t act according to our modern sentiments.

  5. OCDFriar says:

    The revised LOTH, in accord with Liturgiam authenticam, cannot come soon enough, especially for the sake of religious who are bound to choir and do not have the option of praying using the Roman Breviary or the Latin LOTH. Alas, it is still three to four years away from being published.

    The silver lining is that the regular juxtaposition of hearing the obsolete ICEL collects during the Office and the revised translations at Mass is a frequent reminder of how awful the old translations are (and how far we’ve come).

  6. competent says:

    We all need to get back to Latin… clergy and laity. Let’s all learn it if we don’t know it already.

  7. Midwest St. Michael says:

    In a sermon last year our priest was speaking about Pope John XXIII and one of the reasons he called VII was so the faithful could hear Mass in the vernacular.

    He went on to mention how Pope Paul VI ratified this sentiment and it is why we have Holy Mass in the vernacular today.

    I kind of waited around after Mass as father was greeting folks. I shook his hand and said, in a humorous way, “Father, I have read the document on the Sacred Liturgy from Vatican II and it says that Latin is to be retained in the Mass.”

    He kind of shook my hand (not meeting my eye) and said (while walking away), “Well, it is allowed.” That was it. He did not want to go there.

    To be fair our priest is very solid and orthodox in the Faith. However, he was formed in the 70s and he has bought the “Spirit of VII” when it comes to the “out with the old and in with the new” mentality when it comes to Holy Mass. I have asked with all charity if he would insert some Latin into our Masses. He simply replies, “Well, we’ll have to see about that.”

    I’m still waiting. (along with many others in our parish)

    [On a side note he laments with a dear friend of mine about why our diocese cannot foster vocations to the priesthood. Go figure.]

    MSM

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  9. JabbaPapa says:

    Bene dictum, pater.

    Simplecem, non complexum, claritaterque semper.

  10. grumpyoldCatholic says:

    I was brought up in the beginnings of Vatican II and it was shoved down our throats. Being a teenager I thought that guitar Masses were very cool. Then came Mass on Saturday afternoon. Fast-forward to a few years ago I became an altar server at the traditional church here in town.I didn’t realize how much Vatican II destroyed . The old priest taught me quite a bit and I am still learning. I am trying to learn Latin but it’s slow going I bought this course and am trying it out . COURSE ON THE LIVING LATIN LANGUAGE, Second Edition, Emended and Enlarged, by Father Suitbert H. Siedl, of St. John of the Cross, O.C.D. I also see the difference in translations over the years. I am fortunate enough to have a few old missals here and a Douay Rhiems bible here that has Hadock comments. The newer stuff that is out there now seems to be watered down somewhat

  11. capchoirgirl says:

    I keep waiting for the “new translation” of the LOH……sigh. The current English one is just terrible. And my Latin is pretty limited. But I despair, especially when we have the new collects that just underscore how terrible the LOH translation is. And we won’t even talk about the butchering of some saints’ names….

  12. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    “The Kyrie in Latin”
    hehe

  13. smauggie says:

    The author Fr. Z excerpts from has got it wrong. The language of the Kyrie is Greek not Latin. [Yes. We know. o{]:¬) ]

  14. Fr.JP says:

    Apologies if this has already been mentioned, but I don’t see the problem as a vernacular issue, but a translation issue.

    Make the English translation good, just like the Latin translation (of the Scriptures) is good, [All translations are lacking.] and you have proper transmission of the text and its intent; and things are communicated…in order to be received… so as to be lived of…

    I support the use of Latin wholeheartedly, but the issue that Royal mentions can be fixed with a good translation, not only by returning to full use of the Latin. [Welllll… yes and no.]

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  16. Grant M says:

    I was walking home one night about 7 pm, and from a nearby mosque I could hear a chant, probably the iqamah for the after-sunset azan. The chant ceased but through the open mike I could hear Arabic prayers being recited rapidly, sotto voce. Then more chanting. Now where have I heard that pattern before, I asked myself: Chant, sotto voce prayer and more chant, all in a special liturgical tongue. Well, the EF, of course, and that Byzantine Rite you saw on Youtube. But lots of places really. You know that imam is facing the qibla, together with his congregation. That’s how it’s done. All over the world the cleric faces the ark,the qibla, the image, the altar, the Deity together with the people, and alternately chants and whispers in the Ancient Tongue.

    Only Protestant ministers face the people and edify them in a language understood by all the people. And of course the NO church must follow the Protestant example. I think it’s in V2 somewhere. Trads have pointed out for years that the OF is protestantized. It’s a convincing thesis. Bear it in mind and everything begins to make sense: you can even predict what will become of certain proposed changes, whether in a liberal or conservative direction. You understand why your parish is not just indifferent but hostile to the use of Latin, and why ad orientem will simply never happen. You see why the whole atmosphere is determinedly prosaic and non-transcendental, with that vaguely 70’s feel. I just say “what would a low Anglican of a certain age find acceptable?”

    But please, after fifty years, enough of the vernacular! It lets vague, misleading, and erroneous translations and distortions get through. It cuts us off from our heritage of chant and poetry. It lets every charlatan and tinker cut, alter, improvise, ad lib, joke and insert creative extras, so that the liturgy is no longer a given, but every-one’s football. When I attend the Indonesian liturgy, it’s as if I’m gate-crashing someone else’s party. At the TLM, all of us, regardless of origin, stand equal before this timeless, universal liturgy. But you already know all this.

  17. chesterton63 says:

    I see a problem of faith.
    I suspect that the reason why translations are made more and more different from the original and more and more similar to the “Spirit of the World” is that some (many?) people in the Church believe that some parts of the Gospel will not be accepted by the pew, and so they need to be changed to make them more “polite”.
    Just to say one, it’s difficult to accept that souls may be lost forever.
    What would be the spiritual value of this endless sufferring that may not be redeemed?
    But as this is written (clear) in the Gospel, we would better accept it, even though we cannot fully understand it.
    Nonetheless, sometimes I wonder whether pope Francis still believes in Hell…

  18. Unwilling says:

    The ultimate authoritative text for theology is in the original (Hebrew/Aramaic and Greek). For liturgy (in the Latin Rite) the typica Latin texts. [Notwithstanding that some originals are certainly or probably translations, eg Sirach, Matthew.] Those originals are the patrimony of Christians. The authority of translations in modern vernaculars is by definition derivative. Translations cannot be authoritative above originals.. The best translations can only re-present the originals, which they do through an adaptive (culturally varying) filter.

  19. Unwilling says:

    As we say in Latin, “Amen!”

  20. PTK_70 says:

    On the topic of reclaiming our identity as Latin Church Catholics, may I make a brief comparison with a secular institution of higher learning? This university does not owe its stature to any kind of dazzling on-field football success…..its last national championship was in 1939. Rather, Texas A&M’s strength lies in its unapologetic embrace of its identity, together with its living traditions. So, anyway, there may be a lesson there for our Latin Church shepherds….

  21. KAS says:

    I am sad that my education was so lacking that I did not have Latin until college and was so bad at it in spite of my best effort that my professor asked me to drop because as he put it, “I see you are struggling hard to learn this but with your grades you are not going to be able to bring the grade up, and it gets harder from here. Please drop so this doesn’t hurt your GPA.” I wish that they had not changed the Mass but merely taken the beauty that was and put it into decent English. And even deficient as I am linguistically, I think most Masses should be in Latin, with a smaller number in the vernaculars. People say that nobody knows Latin, everyone will be lost– and I say, where the Masses have to be said in three or four vernacular versions– why not put everyone in the same boat and educate them into a common language?

  22. Antonin says:

    The issue is not only translation and I tend to agree with Fr. JP. For example, take the concept of “sinner” as when rendered in the biblical texts that Jesus was criticized as eating and being with “sinners”. We tend to think of a sinner as someone who commits a sin and then recognizes that, confesses, with a sense of resolve. If that is what is meant by “sinner”, even the Pharisees understood that. What “sinner” meant in biblical times was someone who had ZERO intent of even changing their sinful behavior – and it was with these people that Jesus associated. Jesus was able to call them out of that life and it was to these people that Jesus was sent.

    So it is true that we are all sinners and many of the sins we commit, we are not aware of until convicted of so by the Holy Spirit – compunction – and that is a grace and a gift but does not feel good (to say the least!!) when one experiences it. And that is why we need the loving mercy of our Lord.

  23. Fr.JP says:

    Fr Z, :-) forive me if I am barking up the wrong tree…

    Yes, anyone who speaks more than their mother tongue knows that translations are never perfect (lacking as you say), and sometimes there is more than one good way to translate a phrase or sentence. And there can be legitimate disagreement about two faithful translations. That’s clear.

    But I’m sure we all agree that there are better translations than others as recent liturgical history shows. The Vulgate has been respected by the Church as a trusted translation into Latin of the original languages. [Which Vulgate?] In recent times the RSV has been considered as one of the better English translations of the Scriptures, mostly. [“mostly”… which reminds me of the second, Aliens, movie.]

    This attests to the possibility of a translation that works. Otherwise how else do the local peoples access the Word of God?

    Further, in most of the Latin Mass communities that I have been associated with, about 90-95% of the people do not understand much of the Latin at all, but whilst following the prayers in Latin, only receive their meaning by looking at the English translation in their people’s Missal. [“only receiving their meaning by”… yes. And, for the most part, these hand missal translations are good.]

    So that clearly shows us that we need a translation into the vernacular which has as much fidelity to the Latin and the original texts and their meanings, as possible, in order to give the people access to those truths. [Yes.]

    Just having the Latin will not help those people at all. They need a good translation of the Latin in their Missal. [Who said that there shouldn’t be translations available?]

  24. Mike says:

    You mean the Vatican II that was hijacked from the get-go (like this decade’s “Synods on the Family”)?

    You mean the Vatican II whose Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy contains loopholes big enough for Hannibal to march an army of elephants through (as his 20th-century namesake, Bugnini, proceeded to do in the ‘Spirit of Vatican II’)?

    The narrative that Poor Old Vatican II Is Just Misunderstood has long since grown stale.

  25. PTK_70 says:

    @Mike….Is it too much to ask that you address our genial host with a little respect?

    (BTW….As for Archbishop Bugnini, please elaborate what he did to the Roman liturgy without the approbation of Bl Pope Paul VI. Bugnini as boogieman is the narrative that’s grown stale.)

  26. Grant M says:

    “You mean the Vatican II whose Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy contains loopholes big enough for Hannibal to march an army of elephants through (as his 20th-century namesake, Bugnini, proceeded to do in the ‘Spirit of Vatican II’)?”

    Those of you from an Eastern Orthodox background will be well acquainted with the Third Book of Maccabees, and will have had ample occasion to meditate on the prospect of being trampled by 500 drunken elephants.

    Which I think is an apt metaphor for the liturgical experience of many, these past fifty years.

  27. Henry Edwards says:

    PTK: “As for Archbishop Bugnini, please elaborate what he did to the Roman liturgy without the approbation of Bl Pope Paul VI.”

    In his memoirs Fr. Louis Bouyer–who was both close to Pope Paul VI and a member of Msgr. Bugnini’s consilium–relates an anecdote that other sources suggested was a general pattern. He had asked Pope Paul why he’d approved a certain change in the liturgy. Pope Paul replied that Msgr. Bugnini had told him that the concilium had unanimously insisted on it. Fr. Bouyer informed the pope that a majority of the concilium was dubious about it, but Msgr. Bugnini had told them that the pope insisted on it.

  28. robtbrown says:

    Fr.JP says:

    Apologies if this has already been mentioned, but I don’t see the problem as a vernacular issue, but a translation issue.

    Translations can vary in quality. The word vernacular, however, means “local”. The point of using Latin liturgy is that Latin transcends a particular Time and Place, thus gives people a sense of the Universal.

    Also: Latin liturgy haa a “multiplier effect”. The Latin programs in Catholic schools were there because of the liturgy. The liberals understood well that vernacularizing the liturgy would dry up the teaching of Latin in Catholic schools. After some years no one would know Latin, and that would provide a convenient excuse not to restore Latin liturgy.

  29. Grant M says:

    “(Fr. Bouyer ) had asked Pope Paul why he’d approved a certain change in the liturgy. Pope Paul replied that Msgr. Bugnini had told him that the concilium had unanimously insisted on it. Fr. Bouyer informed the pope that a majority of the concilium was dubious about it, but Msgr. Bugnini had told them that the pope insisted on it.”

    Hmm…so is that how Annibale got his pickled pachyderms into Rome?

  30. Antonin says:

    @Rotbrown – Latin liturgy is that Latin transcends a particular Time and Place, thus gives people a sense of the Universal.

    Universal?? As early as the 900’s Cyril and Methodius translated the Greek into the Slavonic languages.

    The point is that Latin is not some kind of supra – language – it was also localized in particular time and place. And the Universal Church has always understood that universality was not dependent upon language but faith

  31. Sword40 says:

    I try not to worry about what the liturgy has become as I have left the N.O. fold. I now attend an FSSP parish exclusively. My two years of Latin in High school (1956-58) has come back fairly well. I had a little trouble switching from classical to ecclesial Latin, but it’s getting better with use and some study.

  32. Chris in Maryland 2 says:

    The contemporary Church is choosing stupidity and amnesia.

    We have friends who are Jewish and they send their son to Henrew School, and guess what he is required to study there -Hebrew!

    They love their culture and are determined to preserve it. I increasingly conclude that the Spirit of V2 faction hates Catholic culture and exists to suffocate it.

    Having suffered through the 50+ years of the Spirit of V2 “make-over,” I can say that the worship we have now is often abysmal, and the NO project has failed and is increasingly failing to fulfill Sacrosanctum Consilium – it has answered to a different authority.

  33. JabbaPapa says:

    robtbrown :

    Translations can vary in quality. The word vernacular, however, means “local”. The point of using Latin liturgy is that Latin transcends a particular Time and Place, thus gives people a sense of the Universal.

    hmmmm, the title of my Latin Bible is Biblia Sacra Vulgata, and one perfectly valid literal translation of that title would be : “The Holy Books rendered into the vernacular”. (Another one I like is — “The Sacred Texts : A Popular Edition”)

    The Latin verb vulgare means exactly “to render into the common tongue”.

    The Vulgate is a Bible translation into the vernacular, just as the Septuagint is the Torah translated into the vernacular, and the New Testament was written in one.

    All are precious of course, not excluding their potential for universality, as are the Greek and the Latin Liturgies. But one should remain careful to try and both fully appreciate the excellent qualities of our Catholic Latin, whilst trying not to romanticise one’s love of the language overmuch, IMO.

  34. robtbrown says:

    Antonin,

    1. When Latin began to be the lingua franca of the Church, it was the language of Empire (of commerce and government), not the vernacular. If a similar thing would have happened in the 1960’s, Latin would have been replaced by English as the official language (incl liturgy) of the Church–incl S America and Europe.

    2. Cyril and Methodius were missionaries. Theirs was a different situation than the Latin Church had after VatII.

    3. Only the faith is universal? How about 2 + 2 + 4? Or that murder and theft are against the natural law?

  35. Imrahil says:

    Further, in most of the Latin Mass communities that I have been associated with, about 90-95% of the people do not understand much of the Latin at all, but whilst following the prayers in Latin, only receive their meaning by looking at the English translation in their people’s Missal.

    In fact, I often do so by looking at the Latin words in my Missal, for I understand them.

    But I usually do not understand what the priest is singing (except when I read along what is being sung). Maybe it is the singing. We once had a celebrant – an American, by the way – who made the unusual choice of singing the rest, but merely reading the Epistle. I was amazed by his perfect and altogether not-English pronunciation of the Latin and I think I understood the Epistle which was Latin at more ease than the sermon which was German.

  36. robtbrown says:

    JabbaP,

    There were Latin translations of Scripture before Jerome’s that weren’t referred to as the Vulgate. Most translated the OT from the Septuagint, and some were piecemeal.

    J was commissioned by the Pope to produce a Latin Bible for Common (vulgatus) use.

  37. Antonin says:

    Rot brown

    The rationale for use of other languages was not from just a missionary point of view -it also had to do with enculturation – in fact that enculturation became known as a “rite”.

    And English is now indeed the lingua Franca of the world but that does not mean non English speaking countries should have an English mass

  38. JabbaPapa says:

    robtbrown :

    There were Latin translations of Scripture before Jerome’s that weren’t referred to as the Vulgate

    I have some familiarity with the so-called Vetus Latina translations from my Late Latin course at University — and ? (they’re generally just less professionally produced poorer quality ones, which occasionally betray the source texts)

    To say that “the language of Empire” was not “the vernacular” is quite inaccurate — was not English the language of the British Empire, and is it not a vernacular ? You might be confusing the state of affairs during mediaeval attempts to restore the Empire, when Latin had fragmented into multiple local Romance tongues, for the situation of the language in Antiquity.

  39. JabbaPapa says:

    How about 2 + 2 = 4?/i> (corrected)

    That’s not actually universal — not only in Base 3, 2 + 2 = 11, but less petulantly & trivially, in statistics and stock management and in any system where imprecise quantities must for these or those reasons be rendered as whole numbers, no, 2+2 does not always equal 4.

    2 tons of rice sent from here and 2 tons sent from there do not always end up as 4 tons received at the destination.

    Pure mathematics is wonderful — but one should avoid the mistake of confusing it with reality, certainly not with “universal truth” !!

  40. JabbaPapa says:

    missed a in my last post Father — could you please possibly correct it ?

  41. robtbrown says:

    JabbaPapa,

    1. You merely confirmed my point about the use of the word “Vulgate”, which was not applied to the Latin used previous to Jerome’s work.

    2. Every language (exc Esperanto) is or has been the vernacular for someone. English is the vernacular for those, e.g., in the US, England, and Australia. On the other hand, it’s not the vernacular for Continental Europeans or S Americans. My point is that at the beginning of the 3rd century, when Latin began to replace Greek as the language of the Church, Latin wasn’t the vernacular throughout the Empire.

    3. Numbers of differing bases represent position rather than quantity. For some years I worked in software using hexadecimal binary systems (4 bit, 6 bit, or 8 bit bytes) . Often it was necessary to read a hexadecimal core dump, row after row of numbers that represent other numbers or even letters. It was an experience like no other.

  42. JabbaPapa says:

    robtbrown :

    Numbers of differing bases represent position rather than quantity

    I think you must have missed the point that my “petulant & trivial” Base 3 thing was basically just a deliberately silly joke.

  43. JabbaPapa says:

    robtbrown :

    at the beginning of the 3rd century, when Latin began to replace Greek as the language of the Church

    An ahistorical claim, given that

    1) both the Eastern and Western Church, Greek and Latin, were the Church

    2) sundry theories that the Roman Church used Greek to evangelise the Romans are highly dubious and suspect, regardless of the presence of Greek-speaking Christians in Rome

    3) Your “at the beginning of the 3rd century” is itself based on wrongful assumptions of the 19th & 20th Centuries that have been seriously called into question by the scholarship of the 1990s onwards

    4) And as for “at the beginning of the 3rd century … Latin wasn’t the vernacular throughout the Empire”, that’s like saying that “Flemish isn’t the vernacular throughout Belgium” — in other words, irrelevant to the fact that Latin was, as Flemish is, a vernacular.

    Maybe the basic OED 2nd Edition 2009 definition of “vernacular” will help : adj. “1.A.1 That writes, uses, or speaks the native or indigenous language of a country or district.

    Even though technically I think the definition is flawed, so that it should be “a native or ..” rather than “the native or …”.

  44. acardnal says:

    JabbaPapa wrote, “The Vulgate is a Bible translation into the vernacular, just as the Septuagint is the Torah. “

    Be advised, the Septuagint includes many more books of scripture than just the Torah!

  45. JabbaPapa says:

    Thank you for your informative caveat, acardnal