Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Bulletin item about the Holy Father's letter on the Eucharist...

Pope Benedict on the Eucharist. This past week, the holy father issued a long-awaited letter called Sacramentum Caritatis (Sacrament of Love). It is a lengthy meditation on the Eucharist. Parishioners may be interested to know he recommends some things we are already doing:

• Perpetual adoration of our Eucharistic Lord.
• Following the rubrics closely.
• Gregorian chant: “I desire, in accordance with the request advanced by the Synod Fathers, that Gregorian chant be suitably esteemed and employed as the chant proper to the Roman liturgy.”
• Latin: “the better-known prayers of the Church's tradition should be recited in Latin and, if possible, selections of Gregorian chant should be sung. Speaking more generally,* I ask that future priests…receive the preparation needed to understand and to celebrate Mass in Latin, and also to use Latin texts and execute Gregorian chant; nor should we forget that the faithful can be taught to recite the more common prayers in Latin, and also to sing parts of the liturgy to Gregorian chant.”

Some wonder why I asked you to learn some prayers in Latin. I reiterate: Vatican II said to do it; so did Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul II, and now Pope Benedict XVI. This is not “going back,” it’s continuing to embrace our tradition, rather than leaving it behind.

After I’ve read the holy father’s letter more closely, I will propose a way we can study it together. The successor of St. Peter is teaching us about the Mass; shall we not learn from him?
—Father Martin

* Update, 6 pm: A comment to this post highlights what I suspect will be the "hermeneutic of restriction" likely to be offered by those who don't like the idea of using Latin in the Mass: "oh, he was only talking about large, international gatherings." As I say in the comments, sure he did talk about them, but he's not only talking about that. That said, I decided I won't give anyone an easy target: so I edited the item for the bulletin, and hence, I likewise edited the post, above (deleted text is grey.)


Alan Carter said...

Fr. Martin,

As a way of balancing out the potential "backlash" some fear regarding the support for Latin in our mass and the use of chant, it might be worthwile to point out that the quote you reference - if I'm correct in identifying it from paragraph 62, is speaking specifically of (and I quote) "large-scale liturgies",. Specifically, the Holy Father clarifies that he's particularly speaking of "celebrations at international gatherings, which nowadays are held with greater frequency".

It may unduly raise the anxiety of those who are concerned by what they perceive as a potential 'retrograde' toward 'forced' usage of additional Latin to characterize the Holy Father's comments as having been directed toward our typical parish celebrations. Some might go so far as to say using the Pope's words to bolster the argument for Latin and chant in our typical parish mass is a mischaracterization.

Father Martin Fox said...


I don't quite agree with your reading of the paragraph in question. Unless I misunderstand your post, I think you are misreading the paragraph.

The paragraph is as follows. I will italicize the section I quoted; I will break up the paragraph for ease of reading it:

The Latin language

62. None of the above observations should cast doubt upon the importance of such large-scale liturgies. I am thinking here particularly of celebrations at international gatherings, which nowadays are held with greater frequency. The most should be made of these occasions.

In order to express more clearly the unity and universality of the Church, I wish to endorse the proposal made by the Synod of Bishops, in harmony with the directives of the Second Vatican Council, (182) that, with the exception of the readings, the homily and the prayer of the faithful, such liturgies could be celebrated in Latin.

Similarly, the better-known prayers (183) of the Church's tradition should be recited in Latin and, if possible, selections of Gregorian chant should be sung.

Speaking more generally, I ask that future priests, from their time in the seminary, receive the preparation needed to understand and to celebrate Mass in Latin, and also to use Latin texts and execute Gregorian chant; nor should we forget that the faithful can be taught to recite the more common prayers in Latin, and also to sing parts of the liturgy to Gregorian chant.

While it is true the paragraph speaks of large scale and international gatherings, it is not speaking exclusively of that; hence, it proceeds to say, similarly . . . and then follows what I quoted.

The statement, "the better known prayers . . . should be recited in Latin" would make no sense if it were referring back to the aforementioned international gatherings, since the pope's advice, in that context, was that nearly everything be done in Latin!

What's more, you have to read this in light of what the Council itself said, as the pope himself said, and insofar as he cites Sacrosanctum Concilium, paragraphs 36 and 54. They are paragraphs I have cited previously:

“Particular law remaining in force,
the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites”

"In Masses which are celebrated with the people, a suitable place may be allotted to their mother tongue. This is to apply in the first place to the readings and 'the common prayer,' but also, as local conditions may warrant, to those parts which pertain to the people, according to tho norm laid down in Art. 36 of this Constitution.

Nevertheless steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them." (Emphasis mine.)

Now, unless you are arguing the holy father is restricting what Sacrosanctum Concilium said -- of the faithful at large -- now merely to "international gatherings," I think the meaning here is to emphasize this section of Sacrosanctum Concilium, with particular attention to "large scale" liturgies.

Further, are you arguing that the reason the pope wants priests trained in offering Mass in Latin, and in use of Gregorian chant, is merely for concelebrating at "large scale" and "international" gatherings? Is that, likewise, why the faithful are to be taught prayers in Latin, and chant -- for those occasions when they participate in "large scale" and "international" gatherings?

Are you kidding me?

So I don't agree that I am mischaracterizing the pope's words one bit.

Father Martin Fox said...

(Sorry, the second quote from Sacrosanctum Concilium is paragraph 54...)

Anonymous said...

Latin and Gregorian chant are part of our Catholic tradition and as such should never have been taken away in the first place.
When the liturgy was watered down and made available to variations (some absolutely dreadful) it demeaned the Mass and made it relative to the times we live in which are too often ugly, cheap, and pathetic (I think of Masses featuring clowns, or the one where schoolchildren had manufactured large floruescent yellow smiley faces on sheets of paper and pasted them up throughout the sanctuary to show that Mass is happy time. . .)
Let us dignify and glorify the liturgy with the gifts of our ancient tradition.


Anonymous said...

Fr. Fox,

After you have "studied" it, will you find ways to implement the Holy Father's directives? I'm afraid that if you do, you will be one of a handful that does. Nonetheless I hope you do.

Lenten peace to you.


Gerald said...

Fr. Martin,

I agree with you with regards to Latin and Gregorian Chant not limited to international gatherings. Only a few seminarians or priests or laity will be able to attend such international gatherings. If the Holy Father "suggests" that seminarians, priests, and the laity study Latin without having the chance to use it only until attending international/large scale liturgies, then it will just go into waste. I think, reading between the lines, the Holy Father is saying to use Latin at the parish Sunday Mass level as a preparation for these large-scale/international liturgies.

Alan Carter said...

Fr. Martin,

Thank you for sharing your reading of this paragraph. My tone is often too "harsh" perhaps. I'm not against Latin in the mass, and I love Gregorian chant.

Working with the worship committee in our parish, I'm also aware that there are many on both sides of this issue 'reacting' to what they perceive will be 'used' in this document to drive change in a direction that makes them uncomfortable. And, even in just the few days since the release of the document, there are folks already who are suggesting two opposing views based on the same text, including many who are saying, "We should limit the vernacular to just the readings & the homily." It appeases many fears, and perhaps calms many emotions, to put it all in the context in which it was offered.

I very much appreciate your response, because it provides reference to other documents that help wade through the issue.

I'm interested in your thoughts... it seems that its a matter of finding the 'right balance'. Perhaps the post-Councilar trend moved too far from 'abandoning' the rich liturgical heritage? And if so, is the effort now to strike a balance of reclaiming some of that heritage without returning to pre-Councilar 'Latin-only' mindsets?

Anyway - thank you again for your comments. They help to instruct my reading and understanding. After all, I'm just a student of this stuff for right now. And I have a lot to learn.

Dad29 said...

alan c., there are also directives which encourage use of Latin at Cathedrals and/or other large parishes in downtown sectors for the benefit of international travelers. (Those directives are not in the current letter, and I don't have the specific citations easily available.)

Father Martin Fox said...


No problem. When I saw your post, without any inference about your own motives or purpose, it became clear to me the kind of argument someone could make -- which I posted as an update to the origianl post, after I responded to you. So your question was timely.

This morning, I did a quick survey of magisterial documents touching on this subject, from the Council forward (this is easy when you have the Internet and search engines). I will post my work eventually, but I prepared it, primarily, as a "backgrounder" for this whole subject.

What you find is from Sacrosanctum Concilium forward, an expectation that Latin would be part of the liturgy of the Church, at the local parish; and then you find efforts, from Rome, to be sure that happens. For example, Pope Paul VI issued a booklet of Gregorian chant, for all Catholics, to serve as the bare minimum that ought to be familiar and in use, "in small churches." I.e., it's not just for cathedrals.

Then you have Pope John Paul II, in Redemptionis Sacramentum pointing out that no priest needs permission to offer Mass in Latin, it's always an option, except for those Masses ecclesiastical authority directs are to be in the vernacular. I.e., a bishop could say, "I want this Mass in the vernacular," or, "I want so many Masses per week, or per city, in the vernacular." Of course, that doesn't really make sense when virtually all Masses are in the vernacular!

And then you have the latest document, which as I say, calls for both the use of Latin in special gatherings -- such as international ones -- and also generally. As I read the holy father, he's calling for more extensive Latin use for the former, but is far less specific about the latter; his language acknowledges the present reality: that few Catholics know much Latin, so he sets the goal of learning, and using, "some."

Only someone who reads this in total isolation from Vatican II and documents since, can see this restrictively. The Church consistently (since VII) presupposes the use of at least some Latin, and where that may be lacking, urges more attention.

What people latch onto is the fact that the Church is not terribly directive: i.e., the Church could say, "one Mass a week in Latin," or, this prayer in Latin during Advent, this one during Ordinary Time," etc. Then folks say, "see, we don't have to."

Matt@Seminary said...

As a society we have largely lost the "sense of the sacred." Perhaps returning a bit of Latin to the Mass will remind us all that there is a Divine Mystery and miracle in every Mass. If people had a better understanding of what was really going on, not only would they embrace a little bit of Latin, they might also teach their kids to behave, turn off their cell phones, show up on time for Mass, and not leave right after Communion. I think the Holy Father is taking seriously a "reform of the reform". Some in the church went off the rails in misinterpretinng the Second Vatican Council, and I think the Holy Father, like his predecessors, is trying to preserve the liturgy as the sacred event it is intended to be.

Tim said...

After I’ve read the holy father’s letter more closely, I will propose a way we can study it together.

Fr. Fox

When I first read these lines I thought you were talking about learning the prayers in latin together via the web. Rereading it I'm not sure if that's what you meant but I would love to find a source for learning these prayers in latin so I might eventually use them. Do you know of any sources? Online or dead tree?

Thanks for your time and your efforts to catechize with the new media.

Father Martin Fox said...


That is part of what I will put in the parish bulletin this weekend, so the "we" refers to the two parishes and me. My intent is to arrange a series of talks/study sessions.

As to learning prayers; I think if you use a search engine, you can easily find a treasury of Catholic prayer online, in Latin: not only those familiar, but not used in the Mass (Hail Mary, Glory Be, Angelus, Salve Regina, etc.), but also the prayers of the Mass itself.

Amy Welborn said...

Thanks for this , Father. I am currently writing a pamphlet for OSV on the Exhortation, and they have already attempted to gut my mention of the Latin and chant business, saying, "Oh, this is for the laity, not for priests." Knowing that you thought it important enough to put in your bulletin helps me as I prepare for this little battle. Grrr.

Anonymous said...

Not all parishioners need be catecised, as we oldies who remember preVaticanII liturgies will be back into the protocol in the blink of an eye. Perhaps that will make the task of reorienting seem less gargantuan? Annie

Puff the Magic Dragon said...

Father, 2 questions

1) What's the difference between a Motu Proprio and an Apostolic Exhortation?

Does an Exhortation become Canon Law or is it just another way of saying: "Please, please, please, it would be a realy good thing if you did this, but you are not obligated to follow this."

If the latter, then alot of priests, who want to ignore it are going to, like my pastor.

Eileen said...

Dear Father:

I have said it before, but I truly wish we either had you as our parish priest or a priest who thought as you do. God bless you for educating your parishioners so well on matters of our faith. I always look forward to reading your blog.

Father Martin Fox said...


You're welcome.

You are smart enough to think of this, but, just on the off chance you didn't...

If I were you, I'd touch on the Latin issue in terms of how it would affect the laity...

Also, if it helps: tell those folks at OSV that one of the selling points of their materials is that they are reliably orthodox, and they get the whole story...

Tim said...

As to learning prayers; I think if you use a search engine, you can easily find a treasury of Catholic prayer online, in Latin...

Just after posting my last comment I thought to myself 'Doh, I'll just Google for them' and found a great listing at EWTN.

Now the only problem is getting the pronunciation correct. My son's choir director has a great way to teach the boys the pronounciation of the Latin in the hymns they sing. I wish he'd give a class on the prayers in Latin.

Until he does, here is a link to at least one site that covers pronunciaion that might be helpful to others as well.

David said...

I'm going to throw out something that needs to be considered. But first I will digress and vent that so many of the worst abuses would disappear if the priest just followed the rubrics. I've been around and about in lots of different parishes recently and the cringe moments are always when the priest strays from the rubrics. Arrgh.

Anyway, on topic, to really reintroduce Latin in a substantial and serious way is going to cost money.

Real dollars because if Rome wants to educate all its priests in a substantial use of Latin they will need Latin teachers.

Furthermore, I am as in favor of bringing back more Latin as the next guy, but I want to understand at the level I understand the vernacular of what is being said in the Mass. That is not easy or fast. Obviously the simple chants can be translated easily, but the longer prayers will take more effort.

I am also not keen on following along in a book like the old missals. I don't follow along now. I feel completely distant from the Mass when I read it rather than experience it. So I guess the real challenge is to reinvigorate the teaching of Latin.

This will be made even harder because even those of us who took Latin in Catholic schools over the last twenty years or so, learned only classical Latin. There was no discussion of church latin to speak of and the pronunciation was the flat style of classical Latin rather than the more Italian-style of pre-Vat II Catholic Latin.

I actually think that if Rome wants to bring back Latin as the dominant universal language of the Church, they may want to look at how the Jewish community has transformed Hebrew over the last century or so. It needs to be a living breathing language that people really work with rather incantantional non-sense in which the sounds become more important than the words themselves.

This is a long way of saying, I hope to hear a lot more Latin at church in the days to come.

Paul said...

Great stuff, Fr. Fox,

I look forward to the day when I might see such an announcement in our bulletin.

I'll continue to pray for you in your valiant efforts.

Anonymous said...

So Fr., will Latin start to be taught at Piqua Catholic School? This would be a great way for the next generation to follow what the Pope has in store for the church!