Thursday, June 01, 2017

Can non-Latinists pray the Latin Mass?

Reposted from Feb 2016

Eloquent gestures and expressive ceremonies in the Traditional Requiem Mass.
Dr Robert Kinney (his doctorate is in Pharmacy, interestingly) has argued over at the Homiletic and Pastoral Review that is it impossible actually to pray in a language one does not understand, or with a celebrant who is using a language one does not understand.

[A]s Catholics, we believe that the Mass is the most powerful prayer on earth. If the Mass is said in an unfamiliar or entirely unknown language, though, can it properly be labeled as a “prayer”? Or, are the words uttered merely beautiful-sounding syllables without willed meaning?

This would have some pretty radical implications for Catholics visiting foreign countries and Masses celebrated for international congregations: in Lourdes, for example, it is common to find Masses celebrated in several languages, one lection in German, one in English, a prayer in French, another in Italian, and so on. The thought 'they'd be better off using Latin' is one which Dr Kinney presumably shares, since praying just a snatch of the Mass, or hearing just one lection meaningfully, must count as almost pointless.

It also implies that the silent prayers (the 'priestly prayers', such as the Lavabo) of the Novus Ordo are so much mumbo jumbo, even when Mass is celebrated in the congregation's mother tongue. If you can't hear the prayer, you can't understand it, right? As so often, attacks on the Traditional Mass rebound on the 1970 Missal. That Bugnini and Pope Paul VI: they got it all wrong, eh, Dr Kinney?

There is an interesting response to this article over at One Peter Five, which accepts the implication that we should familiarise ourselves with Latin. We should, of course, and you can sign up for the LMS intensive, 5-day Latin Course in July here. But Dr Kinney's argument fails at a more fundamental level.

The real problem with the argument is that he hasn't thought through what 'willed meaning' (and various equivalent phrases in the article) means. The Canon of the Mass, specifically, and the Mass as a whole, is an offering of Christ's Sacrifice on the Cross to the Father in reparation for the sins of mankind. That is a fact which can be inferred from the texts, though such an inference would take a bit of study and effort (particularly, perhaps, in the Novus Ordo), but in any case it should be and, particularly in the context of the Traditional Mass, commonly is, conveyed by preaching and catechesis. If you understand this fundamental meaning of the prayers of the Canon, then you can make this, the fundamental intention of the prayers, your own as you participate at Mass. Thus, as far as the most important meaning of the prayers is concerned, you do understand, and you do pray.

This can be done without a great deal of articulation. Someone without much catechism, who is familiar with the ancient liturgy (less so with the Novus Ordo, perhaps) will be able instinctively to grasp that what is going on is an act of worship. We can imagine such a realisation, for example, even by a non-Christian familar with pagan forms of worship, who encounters the Mass for the first time. Such a person would be correct: the offering of Christ's sacrifice is indeed the supreme act of worship. That degree of understanding is enough for the participant to will the act of worship with the priest. This is what we call the uniting of intentions: what we should do in Mass, is offer the worship together with the priest. Moving beyond the pagan's realisation that it is worship, we intend to associate ourselves with it.

No doubt Dr Kinney will object that, while this may be true at the most general level, many liturgical texts have specific intentions and messages, and ignorance of Latin can be a barrier to making these specific intentions our own. It is true that there are specific intentions and meanings in specific texts, but it is not true that missing out on some of these undermines the validity of our union with the most fundamental and important intention and meaning of the Mass. At least, Dr Kinney had better hope it isn't, because there is really no reason to imagine that this is a bigger problem for a non-Latinist who regularly attends the Traditional Mass, than a non-theologian who regularly attends the Novus Ordo being celebrated in his or her own cradle language.

The ceremonies of the Traditional Mass use a set of symbolic gestures, such as incensing, sprinkling with Holy Water, signs of the cross, and kisses, which any reasonably attentive regular worshiper will pick up and understand without needing much prompting. For example, the priest kisses the Gospel book after reading it: you don't need a degree in liturgical studies to understand that this is an act of reverence and love.

On the other hand, liturgical prayers and passages of scripture do contain some fairly complex theological ideas, whatever language they are declaimed in. In some ways the texts of the Novus Ordo are simpler than those of the Traditional Mass, but in other ways they are harder, because in order to understand them fully one needs to read them in a theological context which isn't provided in the liturgy itself: they require catechesis - instruction outside the liurgy - to understand them properly. But don't take my word for it.

On Communion in the Hand, from Memoriale Domine:
It is, above all, necessary that an adequate catechesis prepares the way so that the faithful will understand the significance of the action and will perform it with the respect due to the sacrament. The result of this catechesis should be to remove any suggestion of wavering on the part of the Church in its faith in the eucharistic presence, and also to remove any danger or even suggestion of profanation.

On Reception under Both Kinds, from Redemptionis Sacramentum
So that the fullness of the sign may be made more clearly evident to the faithful in the course of the Eucharistic banquet, lay members of Christ’s faithful, too, are admitted to Communion under both kinds, in the cases set forth in the liturgical books, preceded and continually accompanied by proper catechesis regarding the dogmatic principles on this matter laid down by the Ecumenical Council of Trent.

On receiving Communion standing, from the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (American edition)
The norm for reception of Holy Communion in the dioceses of the United States is standing. Communicants should not be denied Holy Communion because they kneel. Rather, such instances should be addressed pastorally, by providing the faithful with proper catechesis on the reasons for this norm.

The Novus Ordo, as usually celebrated, is just terribly confusing. The confusion undermines the proper understanding of the prayers and ritual actions, which, Dr Kinney must surely worry, can render impossible the congregation's praying along with the liturgy.

Dr Kinney must be even more worried over the mistranslations of the Missal, so many of which were exposed for all to see in the debate about the improved English translation finally promulgated in 2011. From 1974 to 2011 the faithful were given liturgical texts which failed to express adequately the mind of the Church. This must, I suppose, have prevented them from praying the Mass.

Finally, Dr Kinney must be besides himself with concern over the way that the three-year lectionary regularly serves up as lections in the Mass passages from the Sacred Scriptures which are obscure, not to say incomprehensible. The Traditional One Year cylcle tends not to do this.

Not for the first time, it falls to me to defend the Ordinary Form of the Mass from opponents of the Extraordinary Form. The reality is that a grasp of the fundamental meaning of the Mass is sufficient to allow the worshipper to unite himself with the fundamental intention of the Mass. A good understanding of the specific meanings of parts of the Mass and the texts proper to particular feastdays is to be heartily commended, but is not absolutely necessary. After all, even a lifetime's study of the texts and ceremonies of the Mass (in either Form) will not exhaust their meaning, or eliminate all controversy among scholars, just as a lifetime's Biblical scholarship will never uncover the whole meaning of the Sacred Scriptures.

It does appear to be the case, however, that the drama of the Traditional Mass does a better job at conveying the central meaning of the Mass to the Faithful than translation into the vernacular does for the Novus Ordo. At any rate, this survey of church-going American Catholics found that only half of them realised that the Church taught the Real Presence. That is clearly a mistake which is less easy to make if you attend the Traditional Mass.

For why the use of Latin actually assists the faithful, even those ignorant of Latin, to participate in the Mass, see here.

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  1. And of course,all those non-Latinists in the middle ages were presumably unable to pray the Mass and therefore their attendance was totally pointless!

    Once again, wonderfully expressed!

  2. If you think about it, it's utterly incredible that the Church was able to survive, let alone flourish, let alone inspire vocations and generate saints for almost two millennia with only that vexingly confusing Latin Mass...

  3. It's interesting that you mention pharmacy. I have always maintained that it is impossible for a medicine to work unless the patient actually knows its chemical composition, and the precise way it acts on the body.

  4. Since most of the Mass is addressed to God, the only pertinent question is whether God understands Latin. When I first sang a collect as a Catholic, someone complained that one was less able to hear what was being said. My reply was that I was not addressing that person and that I had provided anyway a printed version for the congregation to follow.

  5. Incidentally, Unknown of 4:07pm was Mgr Andrew Burnham. Sorry.

    1. Mgr Burnham .... you are completely correct. I say some of the hours of the Breviarium Romanum. I do not profess to know every word. But I don't do it for me! I do it for God, who I am quite certain can understand.

  6. You pray the Mass by being one with the priest acting “in persona Christi”.

    Physical participation of any sort is unnecessary.

    St John XXIII is famous for having said the Rosary throughout Mass.

    In the Gregorian Mass, a knowledge of Latin or a missal giving whatever degree of translation is required is satisfactory – but not essential.

    Communion in the hand is wrong because it involves hands which have not been anointed for the purpose handling the Sacred Elements.

    Reception under both kinds is necessary, exceedingly unhygienic, and involves possibly the spreading of the Sacred Blood onto un-annointed hands.
    Receiving Holy Communion standing (other than by those who are disabled ) is disrespectful and almost certainly indicates a rejection of the Real Presence.

    All quite simple really!

  7. Last comment. necessary should have been unnecessary! Sorry.

  8. The example Kinney gives as something people can read but not pray is the simple and direct 'Lava quod est sordidum, riga quod est aridum, sana quod est saucium'. So many English cognates that a non-Latinist can easily understand it. In contrast, we can actually pray this florid 17th century paraphrase: 'Lord, wash our sinful stains away, refresh from heaven our barren clay, our wounds and bruises heal'. How can stains be sinful, and does 'our barren clay' mean anything to the uneducated reader?

    Look at a photograph of a Low Mass and it is usually possible to tell at what point of the Mass it was taken; the same does not apply to the Novus Ordo. As for praying, it's difficult when you're basically subject to an hour-long lecture. In the USA bishops actually discourage people from private prayer after receiving Holy Communion; they are told to remain standing and to join in whatever 'Communion song' the music director or (more commonly) directress deems appropriate.