Jun 9, 2005

Vernacular in the Liturgy

Here's some musings on the use of the vernacular for liturgical worship. I'll return to this later.

1. Isn't Latin actually the vernacular use of Rome? At least that's how it got started. Didn't the Apostles write their letters and the Gospels in Greek because that was the vernacular? (Except for Matthew who wrote his Gospel in Aramaic. Of course, didn't he choose Aramaic instead of Hebrew because that was the Jewish vernacular?) How about the Roman Rite being said in Slavonic for centuries? When Sts. Cyril and Methodius translated the Greek Byzantine Rite into Slavonic shortly after the Roman Rite was also translated into Slavonic.1 Why? Because it was the vernacular.

For the Roman Rite Latin has a universality not in that it was in all places the mother tongue but in that it provides for a continuity across many centuries of writings of the Church Fathers, the Magisterium, and the Saints. The reason I so often am reminded of for the value of Latin is that it is a 'dead' language meaning that its meanings stay static so that a word means today what it meant in earlier times. This is true in a sense but as any good dictionary (cf. Lewis and Short) the etymology given for particular words show that this is not absolutely the case. However, the Latin language is static when compared with any modern vernacular. For example, in English the word peruse is almost always used improperly. Its original meaning is to read carefully yet modern English speakers invariably use to word to denote skimming instead of attentiveness.

A far better point in favor of retaining Latin especially in the liturgy is Gregorian Chant. The methods of singing liturgical texts in the Roman style retain their character properly when sung in Latin. This isn't to say that English can't be chanted in Gregorian style but that the chant itself must be changed in order to fit the English translation. Admittedly, there are various examples where this has been done well. Still, there are certain texts and chants that have been sung a certain way for centuries and I''m not sure that the advantages of the vernacular override those of a universal chant. For example, Tantum Ergo is sung a certain way which can be easily learned by almost anyone. I'm not exactly a musical virtuoso and yet with practice and diligence it only took me about a week to learn it. When this text is translated into various languages the rythymn of the text becomes different among the various languages (Italian, German, English, Spanish, etc.) This means that if the text is sung it will be sung differently in each language even if it is chanted according to the Gregorian style.

An argument that I've come across lately against the use of Latin in the liturgy is that it ought to be in the vernacular and should not be in Latin because the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council called for "full, conscious, and active participation" of the people in the liturgy. This argument is as pedantic as they come and shows a deep misunderstanding of both the liturgy and the conciliar documents. I have attended the reformed liturgy in various languages: Spanish, Italian, English, Vietmanese and French. I speak only English. If the principle advanced that one cannot participate in a full, conscious, and active manner because they language of the Holy Mass is not in one's mother tongue were true then the actual achievement of using the vernacular has been to limit my participation in the Mass anywhere that it is not said in English. In fact, by this argument I would have had to learn multiple languages in order to participate fully in the Holy Mass in diverse places. Even if we were to concede the faulty interpretation of the phrase, Latin would remain advantageous in that it requires only learning one additional language.

Quotes on the use of Latin:

In the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy the Council stated,
36. § 1. Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites.
§ 2. But since the use of the mother tongue, whether in the Mass, the administration of the sacraments or other parts of the liturgy, 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, according to the regulations on this matter to be laid down separately in subsequent chapters.
§ 3. These norms being observed, it is for the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority mentioned in Art. 22, § 2, to decide whether and to what extent the vernacular language is to be used; their decrees are to be approved, that is, confirmed, by the Apostolic See. And, whenever it seems to be called for, this authority is to consult with bishops of neighboring regions which have the same language.

Instruction on the Liturgy, Congregation of Rites, 16 October 1964
59. Pastors of souls shall carefully see to it that the faithful, more particularly the members of lay religious associations, also know how to say or to sing together in the Latin language those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertains to them, especially with the use of simpler melodies.
47. According to the Constitution on the Liturgy, while particular laws remain in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites." However, since "the use of the vernacular may often be of great advantage to the people" "it is for the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority to decide whether, and to what extent, one should use the vernacular, their decrees being approved—that is, confirmed—by the Holy See." In observing these norms exactly, one will therefore employ that form of participation which best matches the capabilities of each congregation.

Instruction on Music in the Sacred Liturgy , Sacred Congregation of Rites, 5 March 1967
Pastors of souls should take care that besides the vernacular "the faithful also know how to say or sing, in Latin also, those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them."
When the bishops asked for the entire Mass in the vernacular, Pope Paul VI granted this, but continued to insist on the people being able to pray the "ordinary parts" (that is, those that remain the same in every Mass, such as the dialogues "Dominus vobiscum" "Et cum spiritu tuo," Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Pater Noster, Agnus Dei etc.) in Latin and ALSO according to the simple Gregorian chant modes. Thus,
Iubilate Deo, Preface, Pope Paul VI, 14 April 1974

"General Instruction on the Roman Missal ," Roman Missal, 1975, 3rd ed. The Roman Missal or Sacramentary is the altar missal of the priest.
19. Since the faithful from different countries come together ever more frequently, it is desirable that they know how to sing at least some parts of the Ordinary of the Mass in Latin, especially the profession of faith and the Lord's Prayer, set to simple melodies.

The Roman Liturgy and Inculturation , Congregation for Divine Worship, 25 January 1994.
40. Music and singing, which express the soul of people, have pride of place in the liturgy. And so singing must be promoted, in the first place singing the liturgical text, so that the voices of the faithful may be heard in the liturgical actions themselves. . . (84)
Footnote 84: Cf. Vatican Council 11, Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 118; also n. 54: While allowing that "a suitable place be allotted to the language of the country" in the chants "steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them" especially the Pater noster; cf. Missale Romanum, Institutio generalis, n. 19.

Finally, in an address tailored to the needs of the United States, the Holy Father summed up the position of the Church when he spoke to American bishops who were in Rome for their ad limina visit. He stated, "The use of the vernacular has certainly opened up the treasures of the liturgy to all who take part, but this does not mean that the Latin language, and especially the chants which are so superbly adapted to the genius of the Roman Rite, should be wholly abandoned." Fidelity to Doctrinal Foundations Must Guide All Liturgical Renewal , Address to US Bishops, 9 October 1998.

Pope Pius XI, Officiorum Omnium, 1922 "For the Church, precisely because it embraces all nations and is destined to endure until the end of time... of its very nature requires a language which is universal, immutable, and non-vernacular."

Pope Pius XII, Mediator Dei "The use of the Latin language prevailing in a great part of the Church affords at once an imposing sign of unity and an effective safeguard against the corruption of true doctrine."

Pope John XXIII, Veterum Sapientia , 1962 "The Catholic Church has a dignity far surpassing that of every merely human society, for it was founded by Christ the Lord. It is altogether fitting, therefore, that the language it uses should be noble, majestic and non-vernacular."

Second Vatican Council, Sacrosanctum Concilium, 1963 #36 "The use of Latin, with due respect to particular law, is to be preserved in the Latin Rites." #54 "Nevertheless care must be taken to ensure that the faithful may also be able to say or sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them."

Pope Paul VI, Sacrificium Laudis, 1966 "The Latin language is assuredly worthy of being defended with great care instead of being scorned; for the Latin Church it is the most abundant source of Christian civilization and the richest treasury of piety... we must not hold in low esteem these traditions of your fathers which were your glory for centuries."

John Paul II (27, Nov. AD. 1978, AAS 71 (1979) 45.) Ad iuvenes ergo imprimis convertimur, qui hac aetate, qua litterae Latinae et humanitatis studia multis locis, ut notum est, iacent, hoc veluti Latinitatis patrimonium, quod Ecclesia maxime aestimat, alacres accipiant oportet et actuosi frugiferum reddant. Noverint ii hoc Ciceronis effatum ad se quodam modo referri: "Non ... tam praeclarum est scire Latine, quam turpe nescire". Omnes autem vos, qui hic adestis, et socios, qui vobis opitulantur, adhortamur, ut pergatis nobilem laborem et attollatis facem Latinitatis, quae est etiam, licet arctioribus quam antea finibus circumscriptum, vinculum quoddam inter homines sermone diversos. Scitote beati Petri in summo ministerio apostolico successorem incepti vestri felices exitus precari, vobis adesse, vos confirmare. Cuius rei auspex sit Apostolica Benedictio, quam vobis singulis universis libentissime in Domino impertimus.

John Paul II (26., Nov. AD. 1979, AAS 71 (1979) 1524. Macte virtute et ingenio estote! Linguam Latinam, Romana maiestate et breviloquentia insignem, quasi ad sculpendum verum et rectum idoneam, ad acriter et logice cogitandum impellentem, diligenter colite et meditatis consiliis quoquoversus provehite! Contendite, ut, antiquorum praecepta secuti, semper dilucide et plane et, cum res fert, ornate et numerose, apte et congruenter dicatis Latine atque scribatis. Denique divina auxilia vobis precantes, Benedictionem Apostolicam amantissime impertimus.

Code of Canon Law
Can. 249 - Institutionis sacerdotalis Ratione provideatur ut alumni non tantum accurate linguam patriam edoceantur, sed etiam linguam latinam bene calleant necnon congruam habeant cognitionem alienarum linguarum, quarum scientia ad eorum formationem aut ad ministerium pastorale exercendum necessaria vel utilis videatur.

Can. 249 - The program for priestly formation is to make provision that the students are not only carefully taught their native language but also that they are well skilled in the Latin language; they are also to have a suitable familiarity with those foreign languages which seem necessary of useful for their own formation or for the exercise of their pastoral ministry.

Can. 928 - Eucharistica celebratio peragatur lingua latina aut alia lingua, dummodo textus liturgici legitime approbati fuerint.

Can. 928 - The Eucharist is to be celebrated in the Latin language or in another language provided the liturgical texts have been legitimately approved.

1. Slavonic Language and the Liturgy, The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XIVCopyright © 1912 by Robert Appleton CompanyOnline Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight.