Tuesday, August 7, 2007

On Being Vulgar

I used to teach in the RCIA program, and was trained as a Chemist in college (although I had enough units of Theology and Philosophy through the original St. Ignatius Institute at USF to have qualified for a minor in those subjects anywhere else). So I have the (some might say bad) habit to try and look at any subject from as many angles as possible. That does not mean I am a relativist. There has to be an objective reality before one can have a discussion on any subject. One of the greatest disservices done to Einstein was to take relativity out of the physics lab and to apply it to everything else.

Whoops! Got lost there for moment. What I meant to say is that I like to look at things from ail sides, like taking a die to see that each face is numbered differently. Now many Catholic blogs have been discussing the Pope’s allowing greater access to the “Latin Mass”. I, for myself, prefer participating in the vernacular, in the vulgar tongue. While I love the language contained in the tradition (the Papal “we”, “Pope So-and-so of happy memory“, etc.); I have no facility for languages and so have no desire to learn Latin. Those coming into the Church through the RCIA program have enough difficulties (inadequate preparation from bad RCIA programs, pressure from family and friends, etc.) learning the “big-“T” Tradition without having to handle the minor small-”t” traditions (there are some important small-”t” traditions which border on being big-”T” traditions like the celibate priesthood) but I digress again.

It was a bad decision by many bishops to remove access to the Latin Mass, no doubt. Many were alienated because the means by which they were able to commune with God was taken from them. In addition, many, in the name of reform, went far beyond what was outlined by Vatican II (like substituting Jonathan Livingston Seagull for the Scripture; beautiful prose but not God’s Canon according to the community of the Church).

I take a historical (or maybe hysterical) point-of-view. The Last Supper was probably in Hebrew and Aramaic, and there are Catholic rites, which still use those languages. As the Church got more international, the languages of Egyptian (probably used by St. Augustine), and Koine Greek (the commonest language and the language of commerce at the time of St. Paul through to the end of the Roman Empire) became the language of liturgy. Latin became the language to know when Catholicism came out of the Catacombs and entered the courts of the nobility. I have not researched this, but I suspect the purists of the time bemoaned the loss of the Greek (in fact, the term vulgar came into the vocabulary at this time, which is why the official translation of the Bible is called the Vulgate). Latin remained a common tongue in Europe and the America’s until the Second World War (at least among the educated classes). After that, due to end of colonialism, the growth of commerce, and the Internet, English is becoming the common tongue.

Who knows, maybe in the far, far, FAR future someone will be bemoaning, in Esperanto, the loss of English as liturgical language


Ma Beck said...

If you have no desire to learn Latin, don't learn it.
No one is going to force you to an extraordinary Mass.
That doesn't mean I should be be forced to an ordinary one.
This is NOT about Latin.

Adrienne said...

GREAT post. I think there are folks out there who believe that a Latin Mass (or Tridentine Mass) will cure all ills.

I like Latin but, having spent some 6 or so years of "quality" time in the SSPX (it was scary), my views towards all this hoopla have changed considerably