More on the Tridentine Mass and Latin

More on the Tridentine Mass and Latin
Last week, I wrote about the degree of confusion that seems to exist about the use of Latin after the Second Vatican Council. As I explained, it was not Latin that was ‘banned’ as such. It was the Tridentine Mass, celebrated usually in Latin, which was replaced by the new Order of Mass with the publication of the Missal of Paul VI in 1970.
The issue of using Latin in the celebration of Mass was aired recently when Pope Benedict XVI’s Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis was promulgated. From some media reports one could be forgiven for believing that Sacramentum Caritatis was mostly about the reintroduction of Gregorian chant and Latin into the Mass.
In fact, ‘The Latin Language’ is dealt with in one paragraph of this ninety-seven paragraph document:
“In order to express more clearly the unity and universality of the Church, I wish to endorse the proposal made by the Synod of Bishops, in harmony with the directives of the second Vatican Council, that, with the exception of the readings, the homily and the prayer of the faithful, such liturgies (emphasis added) could be celebrated in Latin. Similarly, the better-known prayers of the Church’s tradition should be recited in Latin and, if possible, selections of Gregorian chant should be sung.” (#62)
The term ‘such liturgies’ refers to the large-scale celebrations dealt with in the previous paragraph, particularly ‘celebrations at international gatherings, which nowadays are held with greater frequency’ (#62). The use of Latin allows participants at these gatherings to pray together in a common language.
The context of the comments here about Latin is important. Clearly the Pope is encouraging the use of Latin at large-scale international liturgies, not at the average parish church on Sundays!
The fact that there is a difference between using Latin where and when appropriate in the current Order of Mass and celebrating Mass according the Tridentine Rite is illustrated wonderfully in recent comments by Reginald Foster, one of the chief Latinists at the Vatican.

In a recent interview with the British Sunday Telegraph, he spoke of his passion for the Latin language:
“You cannot understand St Augustine in English. He thought in Latin. It is like listening to Mozart through a jukebox. ….. You do not need to be mentally excellent to know Latin. Prostitutes, beggars and pimps in Rome spoke Latin, so there must be some hope for us. "But when asked to comment on rumours that Pope Benedict was about to reintroduce the Tridentine Mass, his response was:

“All hell will break loose. It is a useless Mass and the whole mentality is stupid. The idea of it is that things were better in the old days. It makes the Vatican look medieval."

The gap between the Tridentine Mass and the current Order of Mass is not so much one of language as an underlying theology of who celebrates the liturgy and what elements are of central importance. The Tridentine Mass has fewer readings from scripture than the current Mass, there is no Prayer of the Faithful, the Eucharistic Prayer is said in silence and the liturgy is celebrated with the priest’s back to the people.

I can’t help wondering how many Catholics really want to go back to this form of celebration, whether in Latin or the vernacular.


Elizabeth Harrington