Each year – in fact more than once each year – a serious problem for our enervated Catholic identity rises to the surface to demand our attention.
The lack of Latin in the Latin Church.
I am sure that there are those who would just as soon jettison every Latin aspect of our lives as Latin Church Catholics, thus making us into something else. What, exactly? Who knows. We’d be adrift in every shifting currents and shoals of the world’s ways, conformed precisely to what Paul warned the Romans about: “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind…” (Romans 12:2).
If we are going to call ourselves Roman Catholics, Catholics of the Latin Church, then we need Latin.
The chorus of clerical lament rises now around my toes, moving upward, ever upward in a swirl of complaints and excuses. “It’s toooo haaard… I have too much to dooooo… People aren’t asking fooooor it…. I’m too ooooold to change… I’d don’t liiiiike it….”
B as in B. S as in S.
This is important. If you are without Latin, you are someone else’s puppet when it comes to all the Church’s liturgical texts and the Church’s law and the Church’s doctrine. For your Cult, Code and Creed, you are enslaved to translations, which do not provide the riches of the original content.
This is particularly important in the realm of our sacred liturgical worship. Change how we pray and we change what we believe, and, hence, how we live.
Losing Latin was a terrible blow to our identity and we have not recovered from it. We’ve just learned how to limp and shuffle with our broken limbs and now we think that shuffling is normal.
A couple things strike me around this time of year.
First, there is the matter of ordinations to the priesthood. During the rite of ordination, someone stands up and attests before God and man that the ordinands are properly formed. However, 1983 CIC can. 249 requires – it does not suggest – that all those to be ordained be very well skilled in Latin. But they aren’t. So, the person making the attestation is not telling the truth, at least on that point. A small point? NO! It’s not a small point. Language is central to who we are in every sphere of life. So, language is important in the Church.
What would one think of a doctoral student of, say, French literature who never learned French? What would one think of a intern of, say, medicine who never learned basic anatomical terminology? What would one think of a, say, electrician who never mastered the basics of volts, watts, ohms, joules, amps? Furthermore, what would one say of those schools that gave them diplomas and advanced them?
Must we settle for mediocrity?
Another thing that strikes me at this time of year is the sight and sound of the Easter Urbi et Orbi Blessing. At Easter, the Roman Pontiff shows up on the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, gives a little talk and then imparts, with an indulgence, a blessing on the city and on the world. Nice. This is an old custom. It is intended for the whole world. So, the Roman Pontiff uses the Church’s official language: Latin.
But the Roman Pontiff, in front of the whole world, blows the Latin, even though he has a book in front of him. Fr. Hunwicke pointed this out. He sings:
Benedictio Dei Omnipotentis, Patris, et Filius, et Spiritus Sanctus, descendat super vos et maneat semper.
To one who has a bit of a Latin ear, that simply screams.
This is a big deal. There’s nothing good about this.
And, yes, I have met clerics who seem vaunt their ignorance of Latin, cavalierly brushing it aside as if it were a nit on their mauve cardigans. Imagine, being proud of being poorly trained and being lazy.
Priests are ordained for sacrifice, which means sacred liturgical worship. That’s our primary activity as priests. We are, first and foremost, liturgical. That means being the best executors of our rites that we can be, not settling for the half-assed or the easy. There is nothing easy about sacred liturgy. It takes effort because everything that we are trying to accomplish through it and obtain from it is hard. We need our worship to be hard. We need it to require something from us, real effort, lest we run the risk of being liturgical parasites.
Fathers, we need you to work on Latin. Yes, it’s going to be hard. What about this thing we are in is easy? Don’t we want more?
Yesterday, I posted an amazing line from a sermon for Easter by Gregory the Great:
[A]mánti semel aspexísse non súfficit: quia vis amóris intentiónem multíplicat inquisitiónis.
For one who loves one glance is not enough: for the force of love greatly increases love’s longing.
When you love, you want more not less. When you love you go the extra distance, you make the hard call, you put in all your effort and even makes sacrifices.