At Crisis there is an entry by Anne Maloney, a Philosophy prof at – or all places – the College of St. Catherine in St Paul, Minnesota. Let’s just say that Saint Kate’s has been really weird for a really long time, so I am a bit gobsmacked that I find that she teaches there: she clearly has her head screwed on in the right direction.
She writes about her experience of having being in Italy for a time and how exposure to Mass Italian (rather than the English she was used to) changed her view of Mass in Latin.
Pondering all this in my pew while the priest prayed in rapid Italian to the “Signore,” I wondered if I was going to change my mind and join the Catholics who militate for the re-instatement of Latin in the Mass, either the Extraordinary Form or the Novus Ordo. My first reaction to that possibility was “Well, no, of course not. Were we to return to the complete and permanent use of Latin, what comforted me in Italy would challenge me back home. The Mass in Latin would be less foreign to me in Italy, but far more foreign to me in the States. The Latin Mass was one big reason that Catholics who lived in the 1950s were seen by the larger culture, including the non-Catholic Christian culture, as odd, strange, a bit creepy. Certainly I did not want to go back to that, did I?”
Maybe I should. Maybe we all should. Pope Francis urges us not to think of Mass as something odd. [Fail.] Yet the Catholic Mass is, in fact, quite odd. [Pass.] It is about something weird, strange, even (for some) a bit creepy. We eat God. We eat him because he asked us to do so. We believe that an event that occurred over two thousand years ago is being re-enacted—not symbolically, REALLY re-enacted, right in front of our noses. It might not be such a bad idea to be reminded by the strangeness of the language that something strange—wonderfully, salvifically strange, but strange nonetheless—is happening.
As I often point out in sermons, it is wrong-headed to try to make Mass simpler, immediately understandable. There is nothing easy about Mass. During Mass the divine and the human are mysteriously brought together. How is that easy?
Going on… she writes about teaching on Descartes, modern philosophy.
What has this to do with the Latin Mass? Plenty. Descartes is telling people, in their native language, that they can “do” philosophy as well as anyone in the Academy. No one need be alienated from the world of ideas. Nothing strange, or difficult, or humbling going on here. No need for humility. No need to feel “less than” anyone else. Everyone can play. In the same way, the vernacular Mass encourages the faithful to think of transubstantiation as no big deal. We are all just getting together and celebrating our warm and fuzzy—our accessible to everyone—faith.
Language is powerful, and it can be used to include or to exclude. Mass in the vernacular is inclusive. Philosophy in the vernacular is inclusive. But both end up making people feel “included” who share no salient characteristic other than their own smugness regarding their grasp of the reality at hand. College students believe themselves, with no training in logic or philosophy, to be as capable as anyone else intellectually. Contemporary Catholics pat themselves on their backs for being the “most educated Catholics” in history, and are astonished to be told that they often don’t actually know what they are talking about.
Am I advocating for the complete reintroduction of Latin in the Mass? I don’t think so. Am I advocating a return to Latin in the universities and thus limiting certain ideas to Latin readers? I don’t think so. What, then?
If we are to maintain the humility that is the necessary condition of worship and of learning, we have to find a way to remind ourselves that the liturgy is an act of sacrifice and worship, not a get-together to feel good about our faith. It may well be that a return to Latin would remind us all that what is going on at Mass is something not of this world, something much more profound than anything else happening in our lives. If we do not (and I do not think we will) witness a complete return to Latin in the liturgy, then we have to find another way to communicate this truth in as many parishes as possible. It is not going to be easy.
We need widespread use of Latin in our worship. This will have the benefit of reopening the great treasury of sacred music which was slammed shut in the name of Vatican II.
We need widespread use of the older, traditional form of Holy Mass.
We need the reintroduction of ad orientem worship.
We need to foster again reception of Communion on the tongue while kneeling.
We need silence and beauty in our churches.
We need, in short, the hard elements – and the spaces between them – which prepare us for an encounter with Mystery and which help us to deal with our “daily winter”, timor mortis, fear of death. We go to Mass to help us to die well. If Mass doesn’t prepare us for death, something is wrong.