Dead language talk

Dead language talk

Local newspapers are beginning to cover the motu proprio for the Tridentine Mass story, like this one from Framingham, Mass., with the headline “Dead language’s revival unlikely.” As you come to expect when any but the most conscientious reporters cover the Church, the author doesn’t seem to get it. For one thing, he interviews members of the parish council of the local parish as if they are experts on Catholic affairs. After all, if they’re on the parish council, they run the church, right? No.

The problem with such reporting is that is speculation based on speculation which is based on rumor. We don’t actually know what the document will say so it doesn’t make sense to make judgments on it. Here’s a comment typical of the story.

“I know there are some churches that would like to have Mass in Latin,” said Cynthia Deysher, chair of the parish council at St. Anselm Church in Sudbury. “We prefer English since not many people in our parish are fluent in Latin.”

Go back about 50 years or so, when all the Masses were in Latin. If you polled the people in the pews, you would find that the majority were not fluent in Latin then either. Sure, they probably knew more Latin than they realized from going to Mass every week, but I doubt there were Latin conversations in the nave after Mass.

This is why we have missals. Even now, when the Mass is in English, we have missals to help us follow along. A Latin-English missal would do the same thing.

Of course, we also see ignorance of the fact that this isn’t just about Latin Masses. In fact, any priest anywhere can celebrate a Latin Mass if he so chooses. But it has to be the Novus Ordo, not the Tridentine. These are two different things. And I’ve been an advocate in my own parish for using Latin NO when we have Masses intended for the whole parish, both Spanish and English speaking.

Meanwhile, I’m especially amused by this quote.

The Rev. Harvey Egan, a Jesuit professor of theology at Boston College, said he wonders if there are enough priests who can still say Mass in Latin. “Jesuits aren’t teaching Latin anymore,” said Egan, 68, who was ordained during the change from Latin to the vernacular. “I’m not certain there’s that much demand for” Latin, he said, adding that he “prefers the way it is now.”

Don’t that say it all!

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  • I bet if you went to St. John’s Seminary, the guys there would tell you that they would love to offer it maybe once a week for their parish for those who desire it, but they wouldn’t want to do it exclusively…

  • Do not make the assumption that those who write or comment here are representative of the larger community.

    Actually, I’m not assuming it because I don’t want it either. I am not a Traditionalist or attender of the Tridentine Mass, and I suspect that few of my readers are.

    But if you read my next most recent post on the matter, I wrote that what people want is more reverence et al, which sometimes comes out as “Latin.”

  • >>>>>But if you read my next most recent post on the matter, I wrote that what people want is more reverence et al, which sometimes comes out as “Latin.”

    I think so too… remember the worldwide focus and subsequent comments of the Funeral Mass of John Paul ll? It was incredibly reverent and beautiful and for a short time, the world was transfixed… at the ancient and unchanging language (it was the N.O. in Latin, I believe) and the beauty of long forgotten (out of sight, out of mind in a short generation) Catholic traditions, including bells, smoke, attire and song.

    Most people have never had anything near that presented in their parish, hardly anyone has the bells, the music is pretty banal, aside of most Funeral Masses I haven’t seen the ‘smoke’ during a Sunday Mass ever in my life, who would remember kneeling for Communion, look at the sacks wrapped with rope and sneakers topping it off attire of the alterpeople… not very awe inspiring visually… but we always remember what is happening during the Mass and that is our focus – keeps me going, anyhow!

  • Fr. Philip,

    Certainly the NO as celebrated at the Cistercian Abbey near the University of Dallas on a typical Sunday is as reverent and uplfting and awesome as any Tridentine Low Mass. And let’s remember that there is High Mass and Low Mass.

    I agree that what we need is to go back to the drawing board and then move forward. I don’t think the the Tridentine is the long term answer, and neither is the NO as it is.

    Hopefully the Mass we’re celebrating 50 years from now will have incorporated the best of the Tridentine and the NO bringing us something that is in fact an organic development of 2,000 years of liturgical tradition.

  • I can only add to this conversation my own personal experience.

    During the 50’s and early 60’s I attended Catholic schools, wherein I was taught by Domenican Nuns. (Yes, they still wore habits).

    I attended the Latin Mass, for at that time it was the only Mass.  I learned the beautiful Latin hymms and I sung in the choir. 

    Within what seems a short period of time, the traditions had changed and the Mass was taken away. 

    This had a devestating effect, not only on me, but on most of my Catholic aquaintances.  Many of us felt lost. 

    As for myself, I stopped attending Mass for twenty years or more.  I did finally feel in need of the Church and began going back to Mass on Sundays.

    I still do, but I am not at all satisfied with the Mass as it is now.

    If the nuns that taught me could attend a modern Mass and hear the applause given to a priest who acts more like an entertainer than a servant of God, they would surely be turning in their graves.

    I welcome the attempt to bring back the Latin Mass, which I do consider to be the true or real Mass.

    God Bless Pope Benedict XVI.

  • “Among Catholics who are catholic enough to read this type of site there may be demand for latin, but among the vast majority of people who show up on Sunday there is no great hue and cry for a return” is almost amusing, coming so near All Saints Day.

    On election day 2004, All Saints Day Mass was held at 7:30PM at St. John Cantius in Chicago, which I was able to attend, along with approximately 750 others, who DROVE to the Parish to attend a 90 Minute High Mass. 

    If this is not a hue and cry for the Traditional Mass, then what is?


  • Hmm…so why were there only about 7 people at my Parish that day?  Something about 100x attendance leads me to believe that the Latin Mass has an appeal beyond (newly) secular holidays, and election day.


  • Liam,

    Not a sole source; there are 4 Latin Masses in Chicago each with a significantly better than average attendance. 

    The 750 in attendance represents enough people to provide a thriving Parish and brilliant Mass where the Archdiocese had given up on a conventional territorial parish. 

    What is wrong with self selection?  The Church is huge.  If the faithful want a trapset Mass, guitar Mass, park Mass, High Mass, Orchestrated Mass, Red Mass, why not let it be provided?  If people show up, then we all enjoy the results rather than claiming that the Latin Mass is dead.