Most of us faithful, globally, do not speak Latin either. It’s not a bad thing; it’s reflective of how human cultures change.
Recently, Pope Francis spoke to liturgists in Rome. Of course Catholic media covered it, and the headline that I read was Pope Invokes ‘Magisterial Authority’ to Declare Liturgy Changes ‘Irreversible’. Thankfully I haven’t seen this explode into a ‘he said/she said’ like some of Pope Francis’ other exchanges have been reduced to, but I thought it important to reflect a bit on our expectations of our Church. The Church is not saying that tradition from Vatican II and before will be thrown out the window like the way I’d like to throw my computer out the window (sometimes). She recognises that culture and expressions of faith can change whilst maintaining the core of our salvific beliefs. So, without further ado, let’s explore a few things that our Church is — as opposed to what we might think she is.
First, she is human.
The Church only exists through its members, who are a part of a global fraternity. In conjunction with being a part of God’s family, we also share different cultural norms, languages, and peculiarities. While we are asked to become more like Jesus, we are not so much conformed but transformed. This means we maintain who we are while becoming something else as well.
Perhaps this is obvious, but when we become Christian, we do not suddenly stop speaking our native languages and speak only Aramaic as Jesus spoke (we do not have evidence to suggest he spoke Latin). No, we retain that human inclination to culture and speak in our own language. God can work miracles to overcome this (as seen at Pentecost), but it was never expected that we would all speak Aramaic in the end.
The Church is human. Therefore, language is also a part of the Church. While Latin has a rich history to be treasured, it is not appropriate to believe that our ultimate worship of our God (in the Mass) can only be expressed in one language. A language that, we remember, the early Church did not necessarily speak either. It is not ‘doing away’ with a tradition, but recognition that our salvation does not come through the language spoken at Mass.
Second, the Church is required to worship her Lord, which requires participation from the faithful.
It is not in line with our teachings that we be passive in our faith. Ever. I remember stories from elders about how they would recite the rosary instead of pay attention at Mass because it was all foreign to them. The choir sang the responses in a language that was familiar but not understood. The Scripture was proclaimed but not in a language that would teach the stories to the people. The bells at the elevation of the Eucharist were not primarily used to remind us of the divinity before us, but to alert the people to look up from their private devotions and pay attention to this one part. This was done because they could not understand nor necessarily see what was happening on the altar.
I remember a time when Queen Elizabeth II came to my town, a small logging community of about 70,000 people. The historic occasion took place near the public library outside, which had an upper balcony and viewed the area where the address would take place. I had managed to weasel my way up there and stake out a place at the edge that had as decent a view one could hope for as a plain citizen.
However, due to the distance, the crowds, and the bad speaker system, though I was physically there my experience was actually minimal. Even in my “good” proximity, when my senses were denied the experience, my mind wandered. It drifted. Important as the occasion was, since the access to being fully engaged was denied to me, I was not mentally present to the historic event. I hate to say it, but the boredom of senselessness drives one to something else that will engage the senses, hence how devotionals became common practice during the Mass.
Our faith is meant to be tangible to the faithful; the smells and bells are supposed to be for the satisfaction of our material need to worship God with our whole being. And believe it or not, auditory (language) and sight (facing the people) are two that changed in order for just that – to be more in communion with worship of our Lord. When the liturgy was reoriented so that the priest faced the people, so that all could see more clearly the miracle at work, participation could increase (alongside the change from Latin to vernacular as well).
Third, doctrine can change; dogmas do not.
When we speak of dogmas, it is important to know that these are the things we must believe in order for our salvation. They are crucial. Doctrine, on the other hand, are teachings that reflect our faith in God according to what we know. It is not good practice to believe that doctrine are dogmas, which is the mistake the Pharisees made, and for which Jesus harped on them. In the face of rubrics, Jesus weighed each against whether or not it was a stumbling block to salvation. Dogmas are defined to help us navigate and see the essential; doctrine provides the beauty and depth and framework to how those dogmas affect our lives.
What does this mean? Ultimately, if you’re able to experience the Latin Mass, embrace it, it is a wonderful and living part of our heritage. If you don’t have any inclination toward it, you are no more a sinner than anyone else who attends a Mass of any type. Both are full expressions of our faith, but we also can’t go back and live in an attitude of constant nostalgia for things before us. This nostalgia can prevent us from embracing and participating in the gift we have here and now before us. We have a great many different liturgies in our Catholic faith (just think — we also have the Eastern Rites!); all of them express in a different way the unity in diversity that we share in our love for Christ Jesus.
Jesus didn’t speak Latin. You don’t need to either, but if you want, the option is there.
Do you have a preference for a specific liturgy?
Copyright 2017 Jane Korvemaker