“the hair-raising moment of the whole experience”

My musings continue about what is probably a myth that Latin worship is somehow too foreign or tooo haaard for parishes.

This came from a reader:

The following is from the blog of my son’s principal, Fr. Guillermo "Willie" García-Tuñón, SJ:
The Mass was beautifully prepared and sung. The young choir was fantastic and the rest of the student body sang like never before. This in particular was most impressive because after years of being at Belen Jesuit, the one thing that you can never get our [boys] to do is sing at Mass. Yet there they were, signing like nightingales, raising the Roca [the auditorium where schoolwide Mass is celebrated] roof with their song. And the best part, the most impressive, the hair-raising moment of the whole experience, was when they all sang the Salve Regina. Do you know what that is? Almost 800 Belen students singing a song to Mary in Latin! I was in a prayerful daze, elevated to the heavens, feeling as if I were being cuddled by the Virgin herself, nestled in her lap with the baby Jesus complaining that I was sitting in His spot.  The whole entry is here.

I want to point you back to my post-Notre Shame Debacle Liturgical-Political Manifesto:

We need to foster worship which stuns, which leaves the newcomer, long-time practicing Catholic, above all the fallen-away, simply thunder stuck.  Worship must at some point leave people speechless in awe.  We need language and music and gesture which in its beauty floods the mind with light even while it swells the heart to bursting.

The more people encounter mystery through liturgy, the more hollow will clang the false or incomplete messages of those who have strayed from the good path, either to the left or to the right.  

Our goal must be that which is good and beautiful because it is true, that which reflects what is of God, not man’s image merely.  Give us mystery, not fabrications smacking of the world, fallen and transitory.

Fathers, and you Reverend Bishops, if anything of alarm has sounded in your hearts and minds of late, rethink your approach to our worship.  Examine your approach with an eye on the signs of the times.  Take a new approach. 

The approach we have had least last few decades isn’t getting it done.  Really … it isn’t

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. TJerome says:

    What heartwarming news. This doesn’t surprise me a bit since I could sing the Salve Regina by heart in Latin by age 10 so I know clearly it isn’t beyond
    the ability of most high school students to do so. Perhaps we ought to be sending news like this to the Liturgy Committee of the USCCB so they can become
    better educated. Since Bishop Trautman is no longer chair, there’s a chance news like this would receive a fair and unbiased reception. Just a thought.

  2. dtb says:

    I was at a Baptist hospital fundraiser last Thanksgiving where the community children’s choir (ages 8-14) sang the ‘Gloria,’ the ‘Ave Maria’ and another hymn I didn’t recognize, in Latin. I doubt there were many Catholics in the choir or the audience. I might have been the only one (or one of very few) who understood the words, but everyone was taken away by the performance.

  3. Cath says:

    I had my Confirmation class come to a Holy Hour one Sunday afternoon a few years back and when asked what they like best they answered without hesitation the Latin. These are kids who have no exposure to Latin other than I taught them the Ave Maria (and I know very little Latin myself). They couldn’t explain why, they just loved it, it helped them realize this wasn’t like going to a game or a movie (I bet they understand what ineffable means). Sadly, when that priest moved away, so did any Latin and now we get negative comments on the new translation and how difficult it will be for us.

  4. TJerome says:

    Cath, “difficult” to a priest who’s little left-wing world is going up in smoke, is the more likely explanation for his hostility. Tom

  5. Cath says:

    Yeah, TJ, I know. But, I try to go by the “if you want a holy priest, pray for the one you have”. We pray for him at our family rosary and I do often on my own. That said, I have to do what is best spiritually for myself and my family and I actually go to daily Mass at another parish that has Adoration before Mass and we usually go on Sunday there also. I still teach CCD because these kids need someone.

  6. gloriainexcelsis says:

    We have the privilege of Vespers at 3pm on Sundays and I have stayed for Compline after 7pm High Mass on Holy Days. On Sunday, several from the choir and choristers (8-14 years old) remain after the 10:30am High Mass, so Sunday really is given over to God. One side of the church sings with the priest and 3 or 4 altar servers/schola members, who also remain most of the day, and the other side sings with the priest and 3 or 4 altar servers on their side of the aisle. These young people don’t miss a beat in the chant. I was clumsy the first couple of times at Compline; but if the kids can do it, so can just about anyone – and it is beautiful. Yes, they’ve been taught to read, even square notes, but that’s my point. It is not so difficult, is it?

  7. MargaretMN says:

    Heh. Only a Jesuit could be surprised by the beauty of Latin. Reminds me of the joke about the guy who asks a Franciscan priest if it would be OK to say a novena for a new BMW. Franciscan replies “What’s a BMW?” He goes to a Jesuit priest and asks the same question. The Jesuit replies, “What’s a novena?” [Be fair. There could be a generation gap. Many younger men in ministry haven’t been as fortunate as you to know more Latin liturgy.]

  8. An American Mother says:

    Look, if a convert who has sung Anglican chant with pointing all her life can switch gears and learn Gregorian notation, neumes and all, at the age of 48, this is not rocket science!

    I did have a decent undergraduate education in Latin and Greek, but as far as singing in Latin is concerned, I had to unlearn classical (and legal) pronunciation and learn the Italianate, which is much more difficult than just learning something for the first time.

    Our choir sang at the Greek Orthodox church recently, and I discovered that my Homeric Greek pronunciation doesn’t go either!

  9. Henry Edwards says:

    We have a Missa Cantata every Sunday, and it’s not unusual for a newcomer – one who hasn’t attended a TLM recently or ever – to mention afterwards having been blown away by its stunning beauty in both sight and sound. But this past Sunday we honored the memory and prayed for the soul of a former choir member who had taken ill and died unexpectedly. Half of the choir consisted of young elementary school girls. As always they sang effortlessly (in Latin, of course) both the ordinary (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus Dei) and all the propers (introit, gradual, etc). But at Holy Communion they sang a special arrangement of Franck’s Panis Angelicus that the deceased had requested but, sadly, in his final illness was not able to return to hear. The high voices of the young girls echoing the tenor soloist were so moving that -– although our choir’s standard repertoire includes the usual Panis Angelicus — when the ushers assembled for the second collection, one was so choked up that we had to wait a moment (and I had to brush a tear of my own).

  10. ssoldie says:

    As I have said before, we have the High Mass every other Sunday at Flensburg, Mn and you would think the angels of heaven were singing, beautiful, most beautiful, and at low mass this wonderful choir sings also. We are so very blessed.

  11. Dear MargaretMN,

    I do not know how much experience with real Jesuits you actually have, but your expression, “Only a Jesuit could be surprised by the beauty of Latin,” suggests a very limited one.

    I read Latin as well as I read English: I learned to love Latin from Jesuits; I learned to think in Latin at a Jesuit High School; I learned to think well in Latin at two Jeuit universities.

    The first Mass entirely in Latin at which I assisted was offered especially for me – by a Jesuit.

    I have known many Jesuits, who are as unenthusiastic about traditional worship as they are zealous for the Gospel.

    Some of these have risked their lives and at least one has given his for Christ.

    Several say Mass for communities desirous of traditional worship – and many of those Jesuits do so not out of sympathy, and sometimes against antipathy: always, they act out of a sense of priestly duty.

    No one who knows and loves the Company is unaware of their pains and struggles.

    Do not paint all Jesuits with the same brush, and please, please do not cast aspersions on an Order that has born such great fruit gor the Gospel.


  12. TJerome says:

    Christ Altieri, Good thoughts, good reminder. Unfortunately, the looney ones get the press not the orthodox ones. Tom

  13. momoften says:

    I have the privilege of having children sing in a youth choir and listening to it, yes, it does sound heavenly with the youth, but the best part is the children LOVE the music, and sing it outside of Mass with great affection. The thing people are missing here, is that the youth are learning this GREAT music and developing a great affection for it. THAT is what is really awesome about it. I love listening to my teenage boys practice chant for mass….and they love singing it…There is something more about the sacred music to sing that they love….

  14. TJerome: The “orthodox” Jesuits get good press here!

  15. worm says:

    Too late, you got me started on Gregorian chant and the Salve Regina. I’m one of the ones who voted for Mass in the vernacular, but more important to me personally would be the return of Gregorian chant for the Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei regardless of the language used. (Second would be ad orientem worship and only third would be vernacular on my list).

    As for the Salve, I remember the day I went to vespers at the chapel of a small group of Oratorians. At the end, the fathers began singing Salve Regina. It all came back from grade school. I had not sung it (or heard it sung) in over ten years, but I just started singing right along. It wasn’t until one of the fathers approached me afterwards asking where I had learned it, that I came to understand that this was not standard Catholic school fare for Our Lady of Guadalupe or May Crownings in the 80s. Unfortunately, I haven’t really heard it since. I do bring it out every once in a while when I put my boys to bed and they ask for a song (Mom often sings them a song at bedtime).

  16. capchoirgirl says:

    Nothing better than singing the Salve Regina. It’s my favorite part of the day when I sing it at Night Prayer. Just beautiful.

  17. Henry Edwards says:

    MargaretMN: Reminds me of the joke about the guy who asks a Franciscan priest if it would be OK to say a novena for a new BMW. Franciscan replies “What’s a BMW?” He goes to a Jesuit priest and asks the same question. The Jesuit replies, “What’s a novena?”

    ROFL! Thanks, I needed that. Anybody who doesn’t see the affection for both orders in this howler needs to …. well, lighten up and have a good laugh.

  18. An American Mother says:

    I used to sing the “Salve Regina” to my daughter when she was a baby.

    She could sing it all by age 6. And her girls’ summer camp in North Carolina sang it when they visited the local retirement home (there’s a heavily Catholic presence in that camp, they draw a large number of girls from LA – that’s Louisiana — or Lower Alabama). The retirees loved it. Nothing sweeter than clear children’s voices.

  19. Subvet says:

    Just how many people who love Latin actually know it? Here’s an exercise for those claiming the superiority of it, without consulting any other source than your own knowledge of the language translate this prayer;
    Bless us O Lord,
    And these Thy gifts,
    Which we are about to receive,
    From Thy bounty
    Through Christ our Lord. Amen

    A children’s prayer taught in Catholic schools for mealtime should be cake for advocates of Latin. Unless all they’re really doing is making noise they don’t understand.

    When I pray I believe the Lord deserves enough respect that I fully realize what I’m saying to Him.

  20. TJerome says:

    Subvet, that’s rather petty of you. But here goes:

    Benedic Domine,
    nos et haec tua dona
    quae de tua largitate sumus sumpturi
    per Christum Dominum Nostrum. Amen.

    Father Z, please feel free to correct my Latin

  21. jmgarciajr says:

    In fairness, I think the important thing to take away from this bit of news is not that “only a Jesuit could be surprised by the beauty of Latin” but, rather that it was this same Jesuit who had 800 boys sing the Salve Regina in Latin, furthermore that he was moved not by the Latin, but by the fact these 800 boys were singing it with zeal.

    Just my 2¢.

  22. An American Mother says:

    subvet, that’s not only petty but unfair.

    It is far easier to translate FROM a non-native language into ones native tongue than the other way around. In order to translate from English into another language, one needs to know not only the vocabulary but how to form the structure and grammar – and in this case, a rather difficult verb form (one of the conditionals?) which I can’t for the life of me remember.

    I’ve still got most of the necessary vocabulary, although the grammar has departed – benedicere, nos, hic/haec/hoc, Dominus/e, donum/a, bonitas, and so forth. But if you gave it to me in Latin, I could remember most of the grammar and intuit the rest because I would be seeing it in context.

    Besides, nobody forces you to go to Mass without a missal with the English on the facing page. In fact, I’ve got one on my iPhone right now.

  23. TonyLayne says:

    It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve even been exposed to chant. But in high school chorus I had the pleasant opportunity to sing Pinkham’s “Christmas Cantata”, Handel’s “Dona nobis pacem”, Gabrieli’s “O magnum mysterium” and Mozart’s Requiem. It’s almost impossible to express the cultural wealth piled up through the use of Latin in classical music, even if the settings weren’t always liturgically appropriate.

  24. Subvet says:

    TJerome, please explain how it’s unfair. I’m trying to make the point that many of those who extol the EO because of it’s Latin use really have no idea of what they’re saying without a translation in front of them. IMO, (and it’s only my opinion), prayer should require a degree of reverence not found in parroting phrases of a foreign language.

    I normally keep mum on the topic, far be it from me to express my judgment on another’s worship of the Almighty. I’ve plenty to atone for on my own and need to find greater reverence for God in my own life.

    But lately at too many sites (not just this one) there is an almost kneejerk reflex towards denigrating the OF Mass. That form is how I and many others worship God and if someone is poormouthing it then by extension they’re poormouthing many devout Catholics whose main “failing” in the eyes of the smug is this preference.

    So while you’re quite capable of rendering a simple childhood prayer into the language (I certainly can’t, and genuinely admire you for it) many of the promoters of the EO will be stumped.

  25. Subvet says:

    American Mother you’re making my point when you state, “… nobody forces you to go to Mass without a missal with the English on the facing page. In fact, I’ve got one on my iPhone right now.” Without a translation porvided by someone else you would be lost in a language you don’t understand.

    If that is how you choose to worship, fine. As I said in my reply to TJerome I’ve normally kept my mouth shut about how someone else prefers to worship the Lord. It’s none of my business.

    What IS my business is defending the form in which I worship. As I stated to TJerome, the reflex of condemning an authorized form of adoration is spreading, for that reason we’re now having this exchange.

    Like it or not, the OF is accepted by Rome. Like it or not, any Catholic who prefers it over the EO is just as acceptable in the eyes of the Almighty as one who prefers the EO. Using the anonymity afforded by the internet to mouth the petty prejudices one may have only proves a small mind, not devotion to God.

    If there IS a problem with EITHER form that problem should be addressed and quickly corrected. The OF may have a higher percentage of abuses, I’ll not argue that. It’s still relatively new in usage (40 some odd years is small change to a Church thats existed for over 2000 years). Because of it’s relative novelty it is understandable it will have problems at first. Understandable but not acceptable, as I’ve already said any problems should be speedily corrected.

    In closing I’ll pose some questions to the more militant proponents of the EO, “How dare you criticize my worship of God? How dare you set yourself against the Magisterium of the Church with your routine contempt of an accepted form of worship? How dare you play at being God Himself?”

  26. An American Mother says:

    Look, you’re barking up the wrong tree here, I’m no “militant” proponent of the EF. I would prefer the Anglican Use Rite with a good admixture of Latin, myself, but that wasn’t an option in the poll!

    As a matter of fact I attend a very nice, reverent, orthodox OF parish, and when we were asked to write about the role of the liturgy in our conversion, I noted specifically that I do not attend the FSSP parish (which is actually 1.2 miles closer to our house than our parish) because I love our priests and our parish, and also because I think the Latin needs to spread beyond a single parish in this Archdiocese.

    We chant the Ordinary of the Mass in Latin (and Greek) every First Sunday. Our younger priests are adding Latin to the Mass as they go. I think we’ll eventually end up with a Latin OF at the choir service. That’s what I’d like to see — both forms, side by side. They will nourish each other, I do believe.

    As far as my competence in Latin, my teachers did their best (2 years of Latin in high school, 2 in college – 3 years of Classical Greek in college. That’s in addition to 10 years of German, 1 year of Scots Gaelic, and 1 semester of Old Norse.) I can still read my Horace and my Caesar. I am rusty so I am no longer able to translate unfamiliar prayers from English to Latin. But, as I noted, you do not need to do that in the Mass. It’s an entirely different issue to translate and/or understand familiar prayers back the other way.

    I was chanting in Latin at age 6 (in a “nosebleed high” Episcopal Church). When I was young and living at home, whenever our family travelled in the Caribbean, we always went to Catholic Mass when an Anglican church was unavailable. I knew most of the old Latin Mass by heart from all our travels, I’m a bit out of form but have no trouble following along when we do attend the EF. I know all the Marian antiphons and the entire Ordinary in the OF by heart.

    I don’t use the missal, don’t need it, I was just pointing out that it is readily available to those who are unfamiliar with the Latin, while they learn it as they go. If you go every Sunday, you pick it up quickly. Repetitio mater memoriae, and all that.

  27. Henry Edwards says:


    I’ve read through the posts in this thread, and was unable to find any criticism of the ordinary form of the Latin rite.

    Given the vigor of your reaction, it might be of interest in know what you were referring to. Another thread, another site?

  28. TJerome says:

    subvet, please take a deep breath, read Sacrosanctum Concilium in terms of what it says about the use of Latin, and then come back to us. Tom

  29. Henry Edwards says:

    American Mother,

    Wow, I’m really bowled over by your linguistic experience. I myself feel a need to glance at the Liturgy of the Hours in English as I pray the Liturgia Horarum in Latin daily. Whereas, when I attend OF Mass (several times weekly) I take an OF Latin-English missal to follow the Latin as I hear the English, to know what the English is supposed to say.

    Everyone here at WDTPRS knows about the orations in English, but the 80 Latin prefaces in the OF may be even less well served by their English translations. So it’s great sport to anticipate which preface the celebrant will use–for instance, there are 6 possibilities for an ordinary daily Mass (not a feast or commemoration) in ordinary time–will use in order to flip to the appropriate Latin-English facing pages quickly enough to see what it’s supposed to say.

  30. An American Mother says:

    Like I said, I only know the Ordinary and the Antiphons by heart. I certainly don’t know all the propers, or the Book of Hours! I don’t even know those in English.

    If I went to the EF Mass on any sort of a regular basis, I’d be wearing the book out. I still have my old L-E Missal that I hauled around as a child, and you’re right, you have to do a good deal of flipping back and forth. But I was able to manage fairly well when I attended the EF.

    But this is not rocket science, and any reasonably well-educated person can learn to follow along with the EF. (It’s a general feeling in my family that my undergraduate education was something of a waste of time. One can’t earn a living with a smattering of various languages, although I suppose I could have taught German. But I did enjoy myself, very much, and language work is never really wasted. You can always use it for something.)

  31. joan ellen says:

    I like both the OF and EF forms, the EF more, especially because I love the Latin. Since the OF is offered mostly in English and not in Latin, as at EWTN, I was frustrated.

    I went from participating in the OF in English, to participating interiorly and being silent, to recently deciding to make some business card size OF Latin Mass Cards…joined with a little safety pin or yarn in a punched hole…since I yet need help sheets. These cards have: In nomine Patris…, Et cum Spiritu tuo, the Kyrie, Sursum Corda, Sanctus, Gloria, Credo, Pater Noster, Agnus Dei, and Domine, non sum dignus… I softly say the Latin while I also concentrate on where the others are in the English. It blends, and also helps me to know the Latin/English translation better.

    My Pastor says that I can give them to others as long as they ask for them.

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