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The Latin Mass: Old Rites and New Rites in Today's World | Anthony E. Clark, Ph.D. | March 28, 2007 |
Part 2 | Part 1
Latin, Vernacular, and the Expectations of the Council
According to the Council
documents and the expectations of the Fathers who ratified them, the old and
new rites of the Mass were to be more similar than they typically are today.
The New Rite of the Roman Mass was promulgated by Pope Paul VI on Holy Thursday,
1969, according to the directives of the Council. The Fathers ordered that,
"particular law remaining in force, the use of Latin language is to be
preserved in the Latin Rites" (SC 36, § 1). It was assumed that the ordinary
(fixed or unchanging) parts of the Mass were to remain in Latin, while the
variable parts were to be allowed in the vernacular. The Council states that:
"But since the use of the mother tongue . . . frequently may be of great
advantage to the people, the limits of its employment may be extended. This
will apply in the first place to the readings and directives, and to some of
the prayers and chants" (SC 36, § 2). In general, wherever the New Rite of the
Mass allows for options, the Council Fathers directed the priest to choose the
option in continuity with the pre-conciliar Mass, asserting that: "Finally,
there must be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely and
certainly requires them; and care must be taken that any new forms adopted
should in some way grow organically from forms already existing" (SC 23).
However, anyone who attends the Tridentine and New Rite in the vernacular
cannot help but notice the lack of organic continuity between the two
One of the watchwords of
those who disparage the use of Latin is the Council's call for "active
participation." It is argued that one cannot actively participate in a liturgy
that is in a "dead language." The problem is that the Council did not mean by
"active participation" that one must actively respond verbally to the
utterances of the priest. As Fr. Joseph Fessio, a doctoral student under
then-Fr. Joseph Ratzinger, has asserted:
Council actually spells out its intent, in paragraph 14 of Sacrosanctum
Concilium: 'Mother Church earnestly
desires that all the faithful should be led to that full, conscious, and active
participation in liturgical celebrations, which is demanded by the very nature
of the liturgy.' The key words here are "full, conscious, and active
participation." The Latin for 'active participation' is actuosa
Fessio notes that the first
papal use of the term actuosa participatio appears in the writings of Pope St. Pius X. In his Motu Proprio, Tra
le Solicitudini, Pius X states, "In
order that the faithful may more actively participate the sacred liturgy, let
them be once again made to sing Gregorian Chant as a congregation." The Pope's
intention was not to eliminate Latin so that the faithful could respond in the
vernacular, but rather that they more actively involve themselves in Latin
Before Pius X was Pope, a
Jesuit, Angelo dei Sancti, used the term in a document that likewise used it to
refer to active participation in the singing of Latin chant. Popes Pius XI and
XII both used the term to refer only to the congregational use of Gregorian
Chant; this, in fact, is what the Council had in mind when it used the term. We
can see this desire in several passages throughout the Council documents. For
example, we find it stated that, "The Church acknowledges Gregorian Chant as
specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it
should be given pride of place in liturgical services (SC, 116). While Latin
chant is today rarely sung in Roman Rite churches, Eastern Rite parishes still
retain the music and language of their particular traditions; Greek Rite
Catholics still intone Greek tunes and Ukrainian Rite Catholics still intone
Slavonic tunes, even when these rites are offered in foreign countries, such as
the United States. Fr. Fessio concludes that despite the recent disuse of Latin
in the New Mass, "the Council did not abolish Latin in the liturgy. The Council
permitted the vernacular in certain limited ways, but clearly understood that
the fixed parts of the Mass would remain in Latin."
The Future of the Latin
Mass: Old Rites and New Directions
While Roman Catholic parishes are beginning to turn
back to Latin, they are also turning back toward the altar. While this is still
required of all Tridentine Latin Masses, the priest who offers the New Mass
presently has the option to face the altar (liturgical east) or the people,
unless the bishop orders specific guidelines. The Council, however, envisioned
a liturgy more similar to the Tridentine Mass. In the foreword
to U. M. Lang's, Turning Toward the Lord: Orientation
in Liturgical Prayer, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger writes:
To the ordinary
churchgoer, the two most obvious effects of the liturgical reform of the Second
Vatican Council seem to be the disappearance of Latin and the turning of the altars towards the people. Those who
read the relevant texts will be astonished to learn that neither is in fact
found in the decrees of the Council. The use of the vernacular is certainly
permitted, especially for the Liturgy of the Word, but the preceding general
rule of the Council text says, 'Particular law remaining in force, the use of
the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites' (SC 36, § 1).
Cardinal Ratzinger notes: "There is nothing in the Council text about turning
altars towards the people; that point is raised only in postconciliar
instructions." In his book, The Feast of Faith, Ratzinger observes, "The original meaning of what
nowadays is called 'the priest turning his back on the people' is, in fact--as
J. A. Jungmann has consistently shown--the priest and the people together
facing the same way in a common act of Trinitarian worship. . . ."  The
theology behind this notion is Scriptural, as seen in Ezekiel's prophecy: "And,
behold, the glory of the God of Israel came by way of the east (per viam
orientalem): and his voice was like
the voice of many waters and the earth shone with his majesty" (Ez 43:2).
Churches such as Mother Angelica's Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament, St.
John Cantius in Chicago, Old St. Mary's in Cincinnati, and St. Josaphat Church
in Detroit are among the growing number of parishes who offer the New Mass in
Latin with the priest facing liturgical east (the altar).
The value of the Latin Mass is being re-appreciated
throughout the world. At the 2001 Liturgical Conference in Fontgombault,
France, Cardinal Ratzinger argued that it is essential "to recognize that both
Missals (Tridentine and Paul VI) are Missals of the Church, and belong to the
Church which remains the same as ever." And in his preface to Franz Bried's Die
heilige Liturgie, Ratzinger wrote,
"The Church stands and falls with the Liturgy." The way Mass is offered is
clearly important to our Holy Father. In his homily at the Abbey of
Fontgombault, given while offering the Tridentine Latin Mass, he stated: "Let us
pray to the Lord to help us--to help the Church--to celebrate the Liturgy well,
to be truly at the feet of the Lord,
to receive the gift of true life, the essential and necessary reality, for the
salvation of all, the salvation of the world. Amen."
This is an appropriate prayer for anyone attending
Holy Mass, Latin or vernacular. As Latin returns to the liturgy, we should
rejoice in the liturgical heritage of the Church and prevent old debates from
perpetuating divisions. Whether the Mass is offered in Latin or vernacular, the
Old Rite or new, it is the same Sacrifice of Christ, a peace offering for our
sins, the Sacrifice he made on Good Friday when he reconciled all men to
himself, "making peace through the Blood of His Cross. . . ." (Col. 1:20). In
Pope John Paul II's homily at the Basilica of St. John Lateran on June 10,
2004, the late Holy Father exclaimed:
"Lauda, Sion, Salvatorem!... - Sion, praise the Saviour /
your guide, your pastor / with hymns and canticles." With untold emotion, we hear this
invitation to praise and joy echoing in our hearts. At the end of Holy Mass we
will carry the Divine Sacrament in procession to the Basilica of St Mary Major.
Looking at Mary, we will understand better the transforming power that the
Eucharist possesses. Listening to her, we will find in the Eucharistic mystery
the courage and energy to follow Christ, the Good Shepherd, and to serve him in
Truly the Mass gives us the "courage
and energy to follow Christ, the Good Shepherd"; the splendor of the Church's
Latin liturgical patrimony uplifts the soul. The English Oratorian, Fr. Frederick Faber, called the Latin Mass "the most
beautiful thing this side of heaven," and certainly it is.
 New York Times, May 13, 1996.
 This article was
originally written in late 2006. However, as of this posting (March 28, 2007)
there are rumors that Pope Benedict XVI may issue a Motu Proprio regarding
saying the Mass in Latin within the a matter of weeks or even days.
 Cardinal Gracias Speaks, 1977, 207.
 Hovda, Strong, Loving and Wise, 1976, 64.
 Hovda, 64, 65.
 Bernadin, Pastoral Letter on the Liturgy, 7.
 Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, preface to Dom
Alcuin Reid, The Organic Development of the Liturgy, 2005, 13.
 "The Mass of Vatican II", IgnatiusInsight.com.
 Joseph Cardinal
Ratzinger, foreword to U.M. Lang,
Turning Towards the Lord: Orientation in
Liturgical Prayer, 2004, 9.
 Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith, 1986, 140.
Comments? Thoughts? Questions? Share them on the Insight Scoop blog!
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Anthony E. Clark, Ph.D. is assistant professor of Asian history at
the University of Alabama.
He did his doctoral studies at the University of Oregon, where he studied
Chinese history, philosophy, and religion. His more recent research has
centered on East/West religious dialogue. He has also been researching the
history of Catholic martyrs in China. He has previously written articles for IgnatiusInsight.com about
Pope Benedict XVI, Buddhism, and the Church in China.
Dr. Clark has presented papers at numerous academic conferences and has
also been a guest on "EWTN Live."
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