Contemplata aliis Tradere

A meagre contribution to the mission and work of the Order of Preachers: my reflections, thoughts, ideas and the occasional rant on matters mainly theological, philosophical and ecclesiastical, drawn primarily from my reading and experience of life and the world. Striving to be always Catholic, firmly Christian and essentially Dominican, flavoured with dashes of Von Balthasar.

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A son of the English Province of the Order of Friars Preachers (Dominicans); born in Malaysia but have lived in the USA, Singapore, the UK & the Philippines for varying durations. A pilgrim and way-farer, a searcher for Truth on the journey of Life... "Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, There’s always laughter and good red wine. At least I’ve always found it so. Benedicamus Domino!" - Hilaire Belloc

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Lingua Latina

Looking at the first papal Mass of Pope Benedict XVI, celebrated in the Sistine Chapel with the Cardinal-Electors, certain things are note-worthy.

The Ordinary of the Mass, sung in Latin,was the 'Cum Jubilo' Gregorian chant setting. This beautiful setting is traditionally used for important feasts of Our Lady. As such, the Mass was infused with her motherly presence...

The entire Mass with the exception of the First Reading was in Latin, the ancient and official language of the Latin rite Church. What was especially striking is that the Holy Father addressed the Lords Cardinal after Mass in Latin too. This is a reminder of the days of Vatican II when the entire proceedings and debates (with a few exceptions) were in Latin, a language which the body of bishops understood and could (with varying degrees of fluency) converse in.

It was reported only last month that His Holiness is one of the only remaining fluent Latin speakers in the Holy See, so I wonder what his Cardinals thought of his address. If I were them, I would brush up on my Latin!

Although I have not personally studied Latin formally, I have a keen interest and great love for this beautiful language and I was able to follow along with much of the Latin liturgy and prayers broadcast these past weeks.

The predominance of Latin in the Pope's first Mass is not surprising: most papal Masses are at least 75% Latin. Moreover this was a 'private' Mass among the Cardinals and their new Pontiff. However, the address in Latin may signify Benedict XVI's oft-published belief that Latin in the liturgy and the Church should be re-invigorated, although he did not think that Latin Masses should be a matter of course.

It is a fact that the 1983 Code of Canon Law drawn up by John Paul the Great still requires Latin to be taught in seminaries. The seminarians I met in Manila told me this is the case for them but I know many Western seminarians would have no clue whatsoever of Latin. My own attempts to study the language on a voluntary basis in seminary floundered because there was no official support or encouragement for this. I unnderstand that Dominican novices and student-brothers still study Latin, Hebrew and Greek and the prospect of having to do this makes me excited (and a little apprehensive too)!

I have written on the historical importance of Latin for Europe and I continue to believe that is has a relevance for the Church today. As we grow increasingly global, the need for a universal tongue (apart from English) grows. Latin has that capacity to be a 'neutral, non-nation-linked' tongue for the Church. Often when I travel to Germany or even the Philippines, I wished Mass was in Latin - I understood it better and could respond better than in Filipino or German!

For many, the preference for Latin can become a polemical issue or be seen as an indicator of one's 'churchmanship'. That is simply too convenient or simplistic a yardstick. I simply love the sound of the language and it venerable origins, I love music composed to Latin words and I feel it has practical uses. After all, did not Vatican II mandate that the faithful should learn and know how to respond to the parts of the Mass and sing the Ordinary of the Mass in Latin?

Whither that request of the Council Fathers? Perhaps the Holy Father will also turn his eye to this admittedly minor issue amidst the many pressing and more vital questions and challenges facing the 21st century Church.

In relation to my preceding Post, there is an excellent blog in Pontifications for April 21st...


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