Roman Concrete, the Roman Rite, and YOU

Roman_concreteThe ancient Romans really knew how to build.

They built the Roman Rite, after all.

The Roman Rite is a foundation of the West.

The Roman Rite reflects the Roman “Thing”, its genius.  The Roman genius is to be concrete, clear, concise.

Latin is a cement that holds the Roman Thing together.

I found a new analogy for the use of traditional Roman Rite and Latin in the Novus Ordo Missae celebrated ad orientem.

From the Beeb:

Researchers have unlocked the chemistry of Roman concrete which has resisted the elements for thousands of years.

Ancient sea walls built by the Romans used a concrete made from lime and volcanic ash to bind with rocks.

Now scientists have discovered that elements within the volcanic material reacted with sea water to strengthen the construction.

They believe the discovery could lead to more environmentally friendly building materials.

Unlike the modern concrete mixture which erodes over time, the Roman substance has long puzzled researchers.

Rather than eroding, particularly in the presence of sea water, the material seems to gain strength from the exposure.

In previous tests with samples from ancient Roman sea walls and harbours, researchers learned that the concrete contained a rare mineral called aluminium tobermorite.

They believe that this strengthening substance crystallised in the lime as the Roman mixture generated heat when exposed to sea water.

Researchers have now carried out a more detailed examination of the harbour samples using an electron microscope to map the distribution of elements. They also used two other techniques, X-ray micro-diffraction and Raman spectroscopy, to gain a deeper understanding of the chemistry at play.

This new study says the scientists found significant amounts of tobermorite growing through the fabric of the concrete, with a related, porous mineral called phillipsite.

The researchers say that the long-term exposure to sea water helped these crystals to keep on growing over time, reinforcing the concrete and preventing cracks from developing.

“Contrary to the principles of modern cement-based concrete,” said lead author Marie Jackson from the University of Utah, US, “the Romans created a rock-like concrete that thrives in open chemical exchange with seawater.”

“It’s a very rare occurrence in the Earth.”

The ancient mixture differs greatly from the current approach. Modern buildings are constructed with concrete based on Portland cement.

This involves heating and crushing a mixture of several ingredients including limestone, sandstone, ash, chalk, iron and clay. The fine material is then mixed with “aggregates”, such as rocks or sand, to build concrete structures.

The process of making cement has a heavy environmental penalty, being responsible for around 5% of global emissions of CO2.

So could the greater understanding of the ancient Roman mixture lead to greener building materials?


The Roman Rite, when respected and used properly, is a rock-solid, enduring structure within and upon which a firm and lofty Catholic identity can be raised heavenward.

Hard-identity Catholicism.

The 1983 Code of Canon Law, can. 249, requires – it doesn’t suggest or recommend or propose – that seminarians be very well trained in Latin: “lingua latina bene calleant“. NB: Not just calleant, says can. 249, but bene calleant. Calleo is “to be practised, to be wise by experience, to be skillful, versed in” or “to know by experience or practice, to know, have the knowledge of, understand”. We get the word “callused” from this verb. We develop calluses when we do something repeatedly. So, bene calleant is “let them be very well versed”. Review also Sacrosanctum Concilium 36 and Optatam totius 13, just to point to documents of Vatican II.

(HEY LIBS!  Vatican II, right?  But you reject Latin you HYPOCRITES because YOU HATE VATICAN II!)

C.S. Lewis in 1933 argued that the rejection of Latin and Greek as a basis of education, was part of a plot devised in Hell to subvert the Faith.

What does it mean for our identity as Catholics in the LATIN Church if we never hear our Latin language in our sacred liturgical worship?

The loss of Latin in our sacred worship has been devastating for our identity as Catholics and, therefore, our influence in the world.

It is as if Hell devised a plot to subvert the Faith.

In some places seminaries confer masters degrees or other sort of pontifical degrees. Imagine a department at a major university conferring a higher degree without the candidate demonstrating proficiency in the languages necessary for his field and research. Imagine someone is given a degree in, say, French literature but she doesn’t know any French. Can you imagine that? Try to get a degree in French literature by reading is solely in translation without the ability to read the original.

And another thing. Circling back to can. 249, which requires Latin, at every ordination someone must stand up and attest that the ordinand was properly trained, etc. But if the ordinand wasn’t given any Latin, as per can 249., can that public statement be true?

The loss of Latin in our sacred worship has devastated our identity as Catholics and, therefore, our influence in the world. The loss of Latin among our clergy has been devastating for our Catholic identity, for our clergy promotes knock on effects through the entire people of God.

Benedict XVI’s Summorum Pontificum – 7 July is the 10th anniversary of the release of the text – was more than just an Emancipation Proclamation for priests and lay people who want the traditional Roman Rite.  It is a far more expansive gift.Roman

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Father you write, “C.S. Lewis in 1933 argued that the rejection of Latin and Greek as a basis of education, was part of a plot devised in Hell to subvert the Faith.”

    Over the past months I have been editing the English edition of de Rancé’s “On the Sanctity and the Duties of the Monastic State.” Checking and correcting his references has me in and out of Migne’s Patrologia Latina all day long, and I have to say I am stupefied and in mourning over the vast amount of inspired erudition that is now inaccessible to most Catholics. For a better account, see the article on Migne in Wikipedia, but essentially he assembled all the available writings of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church from the very beginning of the Church and published them in a series of volumes.

    It is amazing to me, stupefying really, that there could be 223 volumes in the Patrologia Latina, 163 in the Patrologia Graeca, whose very existence is simply unknown even to most well educated Catholics. A Protestant Pastor in the 1800’s, Philip Schaff, produced something like a fourteen volume set of these works in English translation. There is more, the odd volume here and there, but on the whole they remain locked away in Latin and Greek, our theological and spiritual patrimony.

    There are a great many treasures here, many perspectives utterly foreign to our age, the lack of which is completely killing us, overthrowing monasteries, stifling vocations, subverting the faith but good. . . . . We are dying of a species of Religious/cultural/theological Alzheimer’s.

    Of the course, the day may come when we recover the Latin language, but in the meantime it seems utterly amazing to me, astonishing, unconscionable that no one has undertaken to render this wisdom in the vernacular languages, not the Vatican, not the Benedictines, not the Jesuits.

    Amazingly, though, all of these volumes are online for the nonce. For example, see for the Patrologia Latina volumes for the Patrologia Graeca Volumes

    It you access the files ending in “goog” it will bring up the volume in a book format with accompanying search engine. Generally the Patrologia Graeca provides an accompanying column in Latin

    For a megasite listing all these volumes and more in a variety of formats, e.g. by author, by book, etc see and look under Migne.

  2. iamlucky13 says:

    Unimportant trivia related to the analogy, but the differences between Roman concrete and Portland cement concrete have been under occasional study for a few decades. A variety of modern concretes usually referred to as geopolymers is related to Roman concrete.

    Although the Romans were providentially provided with significant ash deposits that helped them develop their concrete, as we learned how to make strictly lime-based cements, concretes based on that process became pretty much universal due to worldwide availability of the ingredients, low cost, and consistent properties.

    Thus, concrete became a cheap, banal commodity, no longer a material favored for the best construction. Perhaps the analogy continues here? It has only been in looking back at how concrete has changed over time that we’ve realized the raw materials taken for granted in Roman times had their own underappreciated benefits.

    The Romans also had a process for building with the concrete of mixing it up in a very thick, clay-like consistency, stacking it like bricks, and pounding on it with mallets to eliminate gaps. This also is similar to the modern technique called roller-compacted concrete. It was labor intensive, but the extra work ensured the best structure.

  3. jameeka says:

    Very good analogy, Father Z.

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  5. oldconvert says:

    Sorry, Father, but there already institutions (in the UK anyway) awarding HIGHER degrees to students of Classical Studies who know neither Latin nor Greek. I’m afraid the genie is out of the bottle on that one.

  6. vetusta ecclesia says:

    Bugnini, in his self-serving apologia, remarks that the loss of Latin was particularly felt in countries which had experienced a reformation. But he fails to go further and draw any conclusions therefrom. I am hearing ad nauseam my from “Catholics” that our liturgy and the Anglicans’ is the same.

  7. Mike says:

    Roman Concrete: Make Brutalism Great Again!

    [While this horrifying sentence is itself a contradiction in terms, it’s really clever.]

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  8. PTK_70 says:

    I’d rather like to see a well-made documentary or docudrama on the “making” of the Roman Rite. Something which highlights the influence of the Roman “genius” on the Rite, the influence of Benedictine monasteries, how music, art and architecture developed in concert with the Rite and then the influence of the Rite itself on the formation of Europe. This great Rite, which surely has influenced history, itself has a history…..I’d like to see it.

  9. Filipino Catholic says:

    Note that a key component of the cement used in Roman concrete was pozzolana / volcanic ash — which can be taken as a type of the proper Catholic attitude about one’s mortality (q.v. Ash Wednesday’s repeated injunction).

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