CHANGES AT MASSES. Last week I announced some changes in the way we offer
Mass at St. Raymond’s, and I promised to give more detailed explanations of my reasons
for the changes in the coming weeks. So, let me begin by explaining the addition of more
Latin. Why am I adding the “Sanctus” to all Masses where we normally would sing the
“Holy, Holy, Holy,” and adding other Latin prayers to the 8:45 Mass? The reason is
simple: this is what the Church wants us to do.
In 1963, when the bishops at the Second Vatican Council (“Vatican II”) issued
their instructions on the reform of the liturgy, they did not, as most people think, forbid or
otherwise discourage the use of Latin at Mass. In fact, the opposite is true: they decreed
that while the vernacular (e.g., English) could be allowed for few parts of the Mass, Latin
would remain the language of the Mass:
“The use of the Latin language…is to be preserved in the Latin rites…A
suitable place may be allotted to the vernacular in Masses…. Nevertheless,
care must be taken to ensure that the faithful may also be able to say or sing
together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to
them.” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 36 and 34, December 4, 1963).
Seeing that the Council’s instruction was largely being ignored, in 1974 Pope Paul
VI sent all the bishops of the world a booklet of the Latin chants of Mass parts that
clearly “pertain” to the faithful, and encouraged the bishops to put them to use.
“This was done in response to a desire which the Holy Father had frequently
expressed, that all the faithful should know at least some Latin Gregorian chants, such
as, for example, the “Gloria”, the “Credo”, the “Sanctus”, and the “Agnus Dei”.
…[W]hen the faithful gather together for prayer … their unity finds particularly apt and
even sensible expression through the use of Latin Gregorian chant.” (Voluntati
Obsequens, Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship, 1974).
Sadly, these instructions continued to be ignored. So, in revising the Roman
Missal in 2000, Pope St. John Paul II added a specific norm, or law, to it:
“….no Catholic would now deny the lawfulness and efficacy of a sacred rite
celebrated in Latin… Gregorian chant should hold a privileged place…It is desirable that
they [the faithful] know how to sing at least some parts of the Ordinary of the Mass in
Latin…” (2000 General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 12 and 41).
Pope Benedict XVI was well known for advocacy of Latin at Mass, and while
Pope Francis has not spoken much about the liturgy, the man he placed in charge of the
liturgy of the whole church, Cardinal Robert Sarah, is very vocal about using Latin at the
Even so, why does the Church want us to use Latin?
A Dramatic Sign of Communion. At the Last Supper, as He instituted the
Eucharist, Jesus repeatedly prayed for unity between Him, His Father, His apostles and
all His disciples. And the Eucharist He gave us that night expresses and brings about this
unity/communion: that’s why we call It “Holy Communion.”
The Mass continuously and unceasingly reflects and expresses this communion.
On any given Sunday, at Masses throughout the world all Catholics see the same types of
vestments, say the same prayers, read the same readings, and kneel, sit and stand at the
same times. All this expresses our communion, and not just with Catholics today, but also
with all those Catholics who lived over the last 15 centuries, including almost all the
great saints we love and cherish, and so many of our beloved ancestors. Because they
also used the same vestments, prayers and gestures we do.
Strange though, that in the midst of all this “sameness” we nevertheless speak
different languages. But that’s not the way it was for so many centuries: wherever you
were in the world, you could go to Mass and speak the same language as at your home
parish. Latin is a sign of the same unity and communion that permeates the rest of the
Mass, a fundamental sign because it is the most important way we communicate with
each other. In short, Latin is a dramatic expression of Eucharistic Communion.
A Dramatic Sign of the Sacred Mysteries. Even so, while Latin is the “common
language” of most of Catholicism, it is not the language in everyday use. But because of
that, Latin helps remind us that the Mass is not an everyday event, but rather an eternal
mystery defying time and space. Latin, especially as the language of centuries and
centuries of Masses offered by so many saints, has the ability to lift us out of the
“everyday” and the “today,” into eternity, past, present and future without end. To take us
out of the mundanity of the world, and move us to the sacredness of heaven. And so, for
example, it makes great sense to sing the song of the angels in heaven (Isaiah 6:3 and
Revelation 4:8), “Holy, Holy, Holy…,” in the sacred language of so many saints,
“Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus…”
It is true that our unfamiliarity with Latin can be perceived by some as a sort of
barrier that hides the liturgy. To the extent that is true, the “hiddenness” need not be a bad
thing. Think about it: because of the radical Holiness of God, only Moses was allowed to
go into the Tent of the Lord, and only the priest was allowed to go into the Holy of Holies
in the Temple. While most of the Mass is not hidden from the people, some aspects of
“hiddenness” are still very important to our experience of the Sacred at Mass. Most
importantly, Our Lord Himself is, in a certain sense, hidden from us under the veil of the
appearance of bread. This hiddenness also is found in the silent prayers, and even in the
chanting of the choir, wherein the sacred is hidden, but not to be kept from us, but to
draw us into it. The “veil” acts not so much to hide what is holy, but to “set it apart.” It
draws our attention to what is apparently hidden, and enables us to see, hear and say
something beyond what we would normally do. So that through faith, we can pierce the
veils of appearances, silence and chant, and truly see, speak to and hear from the Lord.
And pierce the veil of Latin and join the Church throughout the world and throughout the
centuries in singing the praises of the Most High God.
Our Seminarian. This is Mike Nugent’s last Sunday with us, as he takes a few weeks off
before returning to St. Charles’ Seminary in Philadelphia at the end of the month. He’s
been a big help these last few weeks, and I think he’s learned a lot as well. I thank him
for his dedication, and promise him that we will all keep him in our prayers as he goes
forward to the priesthood.
Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles