NOVEMBER 25th, 2018
Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
“For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.”
Latin and the Liturgy (Part 2)
(Continued from article last week…)
The use of Latin in the liturgy has long been esteemed in the Church, and it shows the universality of the Church.
Additionally, it is common that people should worship in a sacred language. This has been true about the Jews, who worship in Hebrew, although very few people speak Hebrew. Even at the time of Jesus, everyone spoke Aramaic or Greek, yet Hebrew was used in worship.
Latin has the power to inspire us to mystery and beauty. Consider the singing of the Ave Maria after Communion. Most people don’t know the exact words (though they may know it is the Hail Mary), but they are inspired by the beauty of the song. It has the power to lift our minds and hearts to God. So too, when praying in Latin, we may not know every word we are saying, but we know the parts of the Mass, and know, for example, when we sing “Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Dominus Deus Sabaoth” we are singing “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts”, because that’s the same time we sing that prayer every Sunday. There is a certain sense of mystery and awe in using a sacred language. Just as the Mass itself is set apart from the rest of our busy lives, so Latin is set apart and adds to the wonder and mystery of this great event.
In fact, St. Theresa of Avila, who prayed the breviary in Latin with her community, received a special grace to suddenly understand everything she was praying in Latin. And she later commented that it did not in fact help her prayer, because she already was raising her mind and heart to God fully in her prayer of the breviary, even though it was in Latin and she didn’t understand everything she prayed. Rather, her heart was encountering God in love and awe and mystery, not just in known words.
Latin helps form our identity as Catholics. It reminds us that our faith is over 2000 years old, and that we stand in continuity with countless saints and martyrs that have worshiped together for thousands of years in one common language: Latin. It reminds us that our faith is not isolated to one local area or one time period in history. Down through the ages, our Roman Catholic faith has had a constant living tradition bound by one common language. That’s pretty amazing when think about it.
The Church has a beautiful liturgical treasury. We need to rediscover it, learn it, and embrace it. As Pope Benedict XVI suggested, we should teach the faithful to “sing parts of the liturgy to Gregorian chant” (Sacramentum Caritatis 62).
Hearing Latin during mass should give us strength and give us pride to be Catholic. It should enliven us and help us remember that we have been “set apart” for God, to be holy. And it should remind us of the faith we share with all our brothers and sisters in Christ around the entire world.
During the four weeks of Advent, which begin next weekend, we will be singing the Mass parts in Latin – The Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy), Mysterium Fidei (Memorial Acclamation), and Agnus Dei (Lamb of God). We are already familiar with the tune because it is the same as the English version we are currently doing. I look forward to this special addition to the liturgy for the season of Advent.
You are in my daily prayers.
God bless you,