Wednesday, April 10, 2013
Latin & the Church
Latin, the mother tongue of Rome, is the language of the Holy Roman Church. Despite widespread use to the contrary, Latin remains the normative language of the Latin Rite, and, indeed, even the Second Vatican Council demanded that Latin be preserved and Gregorian Chant given pride of place. It is surprising how many parishes are not in tune with Vatican II and ignore the wishes of the popes, and don't offer Holy Mass in Latin!
The office of liturgical celebrations at the Vatican has a splendid summary of the use of the Latin language in the Church, which is well worth a read:
Of course, it is from the Apostolic Constitution, Sacrosanctum concilium, promulgated by Pope Paul VI, that we find this quotation: "the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites." The full text of the document is here:
The Code of Canon Law, Canon 928, repeats the place of Latin in the Church:
This legal position of Latin has been repetedly affirmed by the Supreme Roman Pontiffs. In the Aposotolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, Benedict XVI wrote: "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." The full text of that document is here:
Pope Benedict XVI was interested in the promotion and preservation of Latin, even establishing a pontifical academy of Latin, expressing that, "The Latin language has always been held in very high esteem by the Catholic Church and by the Roman Pontiffs. They have assiduously encouraged the knowledge and dissemination of Latin, adopting it as the Church’s language, capable of passing on the Gospel message throughout the world."
Pope John Paul II, also, expressed the importance of Latin in his letter Dominicae cenae: "The Roman Church has special obligations towards Latin, the splendid language of ancient Rome, and she must manifest them whenever the occasion presents itself."
Of those popes of the recent era, an era that has neglected Latin, Pope John XXIII has been the most outspoken in his zeal for Latin, as we find in his Apostolic Constitution on the subject, Veterum Sapientia. How many Catholic institutions are responding to the wishes of John XXIII, I would ask: "And We also, impelled by the weightiest of reasons -- the same as those which prompted Our Predecessors and provincial synods -- are fully determined to restore this language to its position of honor, and to do all We can to promote its study and use...In accordance with numerous previous instructions, the major sacred sciences shall be taught in Latin, which, as we know from many centuries of use, 'must be considered most suitable for explaining with the utmost facility and clarity the most difficult and profound ideas and concepts.' For apart from the fact that it has long since been enriched with a vocabulary of appropriate and unequivocal terms, best calculated to safeguard the integrity of the Catholic faith, it also serves in no slight measure to prune away useless verbiage.
Hence professors of these sciences in universities or seminaries are required to speak Latin and to make use of textbooks written in Latin. If ignorance of Latin makes it difficult for some to obey these instructions, they shall gradually be replaced by professors who are suited to this task."
John XXIII spends some time in this Apostolic Constitution explaining why Latin is of such importance, not just in the liturgy, but in the life of the Church. You can find the full text.
So, perhaps today is a good opportunity to brush up on some Latin and Latin prayers?
Here is the Vatican website, in Latin: http://www.vatican.va/latin/latin_index.html