Spirituality for Today – December 2011 – Volume 16, Issue 5

The Language of Worship

By Rev. Raymond Petrucci

Introibo ad altare Dei. Yes, "I go to the altar of God." and pray in the ancient language of the Church… Latin. This we did until that day in 1965 when it all changed. The very thought that change was possible or even appropriate in the rock solid liturgy of the Church seemed anathema. But change it did. English replaced the Latin and a new order of worship was instituted. Vatican II had struck and many of us did not like it. Why tamper with the Mass? What was wrong with the beauty and mystery of the Latin language? Although I must acknowledge that when, as an altar server, I noticed a number of the congregation saying the Rosary and, once, a man doing the Stations of the Cross during Mass, maybe some in the congregation had misplaced the solemnity of the celebration.

There was a time when the study of Classical Languages – Latin and Greek – was a mainstay in the curriculum of American and Western European education. Those defining principles of democracy and the republic found their expression in the native tongues of those who populated the ancient Greek and Roman world. Daniel Walker Howe, Professor of American History Emeritus at Oxford University and UCLA, in his article Classical Education in America for the Wilson Quarterly (Spring 2011) laments, "The study of ancient Greek and Latin long ago vanished from most American classrooms, and with it has gone a special understanding of the values and virtues prized by Western civilization." He goes on to say, "I did not myself enjoy the benefit of a classical education, though I studied Greek for a while as a gateway to the New Testament. But in learning about the history of classical education in the United States, I have come to respect many of the ideals for which it has so long stood, to believe that they transcend the limitations of time and place, and to hope for their perpetuation. The neglect of classics in our educational curriculum has been a loss for our civilization. It is not simply the ancient languages themselves but the spirit in which they are studied that has value for students today."

Pope Benedict XVI has blessed the use of the Latin Mass where support of the faithful indicated its use and the parish obtained the approval of the local bishop. The use of the Tridentine Liturgy is narrow in scope, but the entire Church is initiating the use of a new translation of the Mass this Advent. The revised English text has the flavor of the past Latin text of the Mass. An effort to capture the meaning of the ancient language used in the early celebration of the Eucharist within the new English text is apparent. Admittedly, a genuine catechesis is necessary to address certain ambiguities in the translation. We who were raised with the Latin Mass will notice a number of direct translations from the Latin into English and also the familiar cadence of the Latin liturgy.

Many in the past asked the reason for the change from Latin into English. Many, now, may be asking about the reason for this change. Why does the language of worship change? There is a hope that a translation closer to the ancient Latin will restore a feeling of transcendence and of unity within the Church throughout the world. There are those who question the wisdom of that statement. The future will tell. And liturgists admit that years or decades from now, a revised translation of our new liturgy could take place. Personally, I am curious to discover how this current generation of the faithful will react to the new translation.

I do hope that the Church finds its liturgy enriched by this new translation and that the people of God are brought closer to the divine mystery celebrated upon the altar.

Let us worship God... with solemn air.
–Robert Burns

We, at Clemons Productions, wish you and your loved ones a most blessed Advent and Christmas.