Saturday, May 22, 2010


I just ran across this post from a former classmate. Although it was written almost three years ago, it is still relevant today.

Pope Benedict XVI has just made it possible for any priest in the Roman Catholic Church to celebrate the Mass of the Roman Missal 1962. That is to say, the priest is now able to celebrate Mass in Latin with a special ritual that resembles the older Mass ritual performed before 1965. For a point of reference, rent any movie that deals with Catholicism (usually something with either the Devil or the Mafia in it) and most likely the Mass will be Latin.

The instruction (motu proprio) is available in Latin and English here.

You will notice at St. John here in Oxford, we use Latin quite a bit during our Masses. However, we do not do the so-called "Latin Mass". The Mass we celebrate is called the "Novus Ordo" Mass and this Mass has been the "ordinary" Mass for the Catholic Church since the 1970's.

So what's up with the Latin at St. John's?

Normally, we use Latin sparingly during the Mass. The parts most likely that are in Latin are:

Kyrie: "Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison" which means "Lord, have mercy" and "Christ, have mercy". The words are actually Greek and the chant form we use is used throughout the world. For nerds, "Kyrie" is also used on many video games as background music such as Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. But I've said too much.

Sanctus: This is also known as the "Holy, Holy" in English. Some of the terms in the Sanctus are a bit different in the Latin than in English. For instance, where the English says "Lord, God of power and might" which is pretty cool, the Latin says, "Dominus, Deus Sabbaoth" which means "Lord, God of 'invincible armies'" in a literal translation. Now, that sounds even cooler! Like an army made of Iron Men! Or not....

Agnus Dei: Note for note, the Latin "Agnus Dei" is the "Lamb of God" without some of the English derivations such as "Lamb of God, prince of peace" or the innovative "Lamb of God, dancer of dreamshadows, weaver of womyn's song" or some other thing like that. From the book of Revelation, Jesus is the Lamb of God and the redeemed people are gathered around him praising him day and night. This ancient form of "Agnus Dei" chant unites us with the saints in a mystical and beautiful way.

Salve Regina, Ubi Caritas, etc: Well, actually we don't sing "etcetera" which is also Latin but not Churchy Latin. The other uses of Latin are in some traditional hymns and songs. "Salve Regina" is the "Hail Holy Queen" (not exactly the same one Whoopi Goldberg sang in "Sister Act" but close enough) and "Ubi Caritas" is a classic monastic hymn that says "Where you find charity and love, you will find God".

We use the Latin in our Mass for a few reasons:

1. We serve an international Catholic community. Jews have Hebrew, Muslims have Arabic, Christians have Latin. It's the language of the Church and it does unite us with our brothers and sisters from Africa, Asia, Europe and Central America.

2. Latin is supposed to be used! Although the vernacular is encouraged in the celebration of the Mass, Latin was never to have been abandoned.

3. Young people appreciate tradition. In the 70's, the priests and nuns listened to the youth and celebrated Mass that would bring relevance to their lives. From Masses held in the middle of fields, to the priest painted up in clown makeup and dancing around the altar, to the nun wearing a stole made of burlap and playing "I AM WOMAN" for the closing hymn, innovation and creativity was used during Mass. And it wasn't too cool. It was more like your dad singing a Gwen Stefani song to be "hip".
The youth of this generation wants stability and something they can count on. The use of Latin and the reverence given to the Mass is something that is more than "cute" or grasping at relevance. It's true.

4. Ole Miss is a teaching institution. So why not learn how to be Catholic? I have an obligation as pastor to give you the best our Catholic tradition has so when you move on in 2, 4, 13 years, you at least will have the fundamentals of the faith that will have you at home in any Church throughout the world. You're welcome.
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