Friday, June 01, 2012

FIUV PP on Latin

Today I am publishing a new Position Paper, Latin as a Litugical Language, over on Rorate Caeli. This is number 7.

Among the interesting things uncovered in the preparation of the paper, is the strength of the Papal Magisterium on the importance of Latin, a Magisterium which runs without a break through the documents of Vatican II. Not only did John XXIII, famously, defend Latin in 1958 (‘In the exercise of their paternal care they [sc. Bishops and Superiors General] shall be on their guard lest anyone under their jurisdiction, eager for revolutionary changes, writes against the use of Latin in the teaching of the higher sacred studies or in the Liturgy, or through prejudice makes light of the Holy See’s will in this regard or interprets it falsely.’), but in no sense is this isolated. That document, Veterum Sapientia, is almost a tissue of quotations from earlier documents, notably by Pius XI, but in continuity with, for example the condemnation of the Synod of Pistoria in the 18th Century (Auctorem Fidei, 1794), and obviously Trent. The theme is continued in Vatican II, where Sacrosanctam Concilium (1963) not only says that 'Latin is to be retained' in the Mass, but allows priests to say their Office in the vernacular only in exceptional circumstances (section 101).

This was followed in 1968 with Paul VI's remarkable Instruction, Sacrificium Laudis, apparantly too embarrassing a document to have on the Vatican website except in Latin. The LMS website has an excellent translation, however, by our Midlands Chaplain, Fr Thomas Crean. Paul VI implores and commands religious orders to retain Latin in the Office.

In present conditions, what words or melodies could replace the forms of Catholic devotion which you have used until now? You should reflect and carefully consider whether things would not be 
worse, should this fine inheritance be discarded. It is to be feared that the choral office would turn into a mere bland recitation, suffering from poverty and begetting weariness, as you yourselves would perhaps be the first to experience. One can also wonder whether men would come in such numbers to your churches in quest of the sacred prayer, if its ancient and native tongue, joined to a chant full of grave beauty, resounded no more within your walls. We therefore ask all those to whom it pertains, to ponder what they wish to give up, and not to let that spring run dry from which, until the present, they have themselves drunk deep.

It is not so surprising, therefore, to find that the 1983 Code of Canon Law places a very strong emphasis on Latin, although the English does not do justice to Canon 249. The official English:

‘The programme of priestly formation is to provide that students not only are carefully taught their native language but also understand Latin well.’ 

The Latin:

‘Institutionis sacerdotalis Ratione provideatur ut alumni non tantum accurate linguam patriam edoceantur, sed etiam linguam latinam bene calleant.’

The Latin verb used, calleo, -ere, means ‘To have experience of; to be skilled or experienced in’ (Oxford Latin Dictionary); it is related, by the notion of constant practice, to the idea of calloused hands. For those preparing for the priesthood to be ‘linguam latinam bene calleant’ is for them to have a thorough familiarity with it, not merely to 'understand' it. 

Pope Benedict XVI has had some very strong things to say about Latin as well, in his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, where he writes (section 62):

I ask that future priests, from their time in the seminary, receive the preparation needed to understand and to celebrate Mass in Latin, and also to use Latin texts and execute Gregorian chant; nor should we forget that the faithful can be taught to recite the more common prayers in Latin, and also to sing parts of the liturgy to Gregorian chant.

Of course, all this is merrily ignored by great swathes of the Church. But this is just one more example of the Traditionalists being more faithful to the Mageristerium, including the Conciliar and Post-Conciliar Magistgerium, than the most Catholics, and the institutions - schools, universities, seminaries - of the Catholic 'mainstream'.


  1. I found this business of religious orders retaining Latin (or not) particularly striking. The ostensible reason for the almost universal abandonment of Latin was for the benefit of the laity, for our better understanding of the liturgy. Surely no such argument could be made in the case of the office said by and for religious orders, given the requirements of religious formation?

    1. I agree with you, Simon Platt. There truly is no justifiable reason for religious orders to abandon Latin. I wonder why this was ultimately allowed by PP Paul VI?