Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Why have Mass in Latin?

There are some who wonder why we are doing this—
why have Mass in Latin?

I’d like to offer these reasons.

First, because people have requested it.

Understanding not everyone cares for this,
it is important to point out many people want it.
For me, as your pastor, my approach has been
that if someone requests something legitimate,
on what basis would I refuse that request?

Now, some do not think Mass in Latin is legitimate.

Someone said: “I disagree with
the introduction of Latin to the Mass in any way.”
But there is a misunderstanding there:
Latin is not being “introduced to the Mass”—
the Mass is already in Latin!

So another reason to do this might simply be
to correct this misunderstanding.
Someone might think I’m doing something “naughty.”
Not at all!
If you went to a Cinco de Mayo festival,
would you be surprised to hear Spanish?
If you visited a synagogue, would you think it strange
to hear them pray in Hebrew?

A third reason to do this is
because this helps remind us who we are.

We are Roman Catholics—
we belong to the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church.

Many don’t realize that not all Catholics are Roman.
In Iraq, there are Chaldean Catholics;
in Lebanon, Maronite Catholics;
in Eastern Europe, Byzantine Rite Catholics.

This may surprise you, but it’s not that Latin is important.

What’s important is being connected
with our own heritage and identity.

I am not sure, but I wonder if some
of our fellow Catholics think of themselves
as “mere” Catholics—instead of particularly “Roman.”

In one respect, they are right: being Catholic—
that is, embracing the whole of the Faith
as the Apostles have handed it down—is the main thing.

But the Church, like our incarnate Lord himself,
has never existed in a generic fashion.
The Son of God, in coming to earth,
did not come as a generic everyman;
he became a particular man—
born into a particular nation, at a particular time.
We can only speculate about
all the reasons He chose this.
But it is part of what did happen, all the same.

In the same way, the Church—
in the century after Pentecost—
was conceived and formed in many particular cultures,
and these cultures are intricately woven into
the identity each particular Church.
Our Roman Church is but one of the many sister Churches
that make up the One, Catholic Church.

Of course, it might have been otherwise,
just as Our Lord might have chosen to be born,
not in Palestine as a Jew, but perhaps in Europe,
or Africa, or North America.
It could have happened that way, but it didn’t.

Another reason to do this is it opens the door
to experiencing some beauty that we would miss out on,
if we exclude everything involving Latin.

How can you sing Salve Regina unless you sing it in Latin?

There is a cadence, and a haunting beauty,
to the prayers of Mass that is only experienced in the Latin.
That’s not to say we must do it that way all the time,
but it is a reason to do it
some of the time.

Finally, this represents a different way of praying.

Now many people find it hard to pray
in an unfamiliar language.
I understand, because I am one of them.
When I first offered Mass in Latin, it felt strange to me.

I can’t say that I prefer it.
This is the first time I’ve done this,
so I apologize in advance
if I mispronounce anything, or stumble.

So why do it?

Because there is an experience here
that you discover once you get past the strangeness.

Many people find they pray better and more fruitfully,
precisely because they aren’t using their own, usual language.

Such folks have a contemplative part of themselves,
and they want and need to “sink down” into their prayer.
For them, prayers are offered in their own,
familiar language actually distract them from prayer, rather than helping.

It makes sense. Different things “speak” to us.
For some, it’s ideas, intellectual concepts;
for others, it’s art; others, music or movement.

This is the genius of Catholic spirituality,
something for everyone.

So, I understand this isn’t for everyone.
It is offered for those who will find it fruitful.
Until today, this option was not available,
anywhere around here, for some 40 years!

We provide Mass at nursing homes;
we provide Mass occasionally for
we have “low” and “high” Masses,
we have Mass for our Sisters of Charity,
school Masses, graduation Masses, and so it goes.
Surely there is room for one Mass, one time a month,
on a weekday, that meets this need?

I aim to do this for a year, to see how it goes.
If it meets a need, if it draws more people, that’s good isn’t it?


Anonymous said...

We are in our first week of homeschooling. We have included Latin (God help us all!). After much belly aching and whinning on the part of my kids (12, 10 and 3) they were surprised to read in their Science book (Zoology; Apologia series) that the reason Latin is used to classify animals is that it is constant and doesnt change, unlike our Enlish language!
It was the little help that I needed to reinforce the importance of Latin and why we SHOULD use it in the Liturgy.
Now, having said that, I have used the term Latin Mass in a collective way and need to identify Tridentine and the others.

It is still awesome that you are doing this.
It is also amazing how our 3 yo waits and wants to start the prayers by saying "Oremus".

Thanks father.

Anonymous said...


Due to travel, this weekend I attended Mass in an historic church in a large city in the U.S. According to their literature, it is one of the oldest parishes in the state and the beautiful building and stained glass windows attest to it. All I could think of was how much more beautiful it must have been before the tabernacle was moved and the sanctuary was changed.

In addition, the music was very modern and they sang the Gloria and some of the other responses in English, but with tunes that were unfamiliar to me and with the words changed some from the spoken text -- extra refrains, etc. I was wishing for the Greek Kyrie and the Sanctus and Gloria in Latin. Not many people seemed to be singing along with the cantor, so I assume that many others who came to the Mass from nearby hotels didn't know the tunes either. Also, some knelt at times that others stood. Latin is preferable to Babel and it is the language of the Church which should unify us no matter what our vernacular language may be.

How fortunate your parishioners are that you are doing this for them.

(Oh - FYI - the brief homily was excellent!)

CPT Tom said...

Fr Fox,

As always an excellent post. I admit that I am collecting your posts for use by my parish efforts to bring a more traditional mass to the parish. I have been lacking the ability to explain how it can be that Latin is in anyway relevant. You've again provided elegant reasoning and examples. They certainly have improved my understanding of things. God bless you and your parish on your progress into Latin and tradition.