Sunday, September 23, 2007

Why not Latin?

~from Bishop Serratelli of the Diocese of Paterson
There is a value to using a sacred language. We are not surprised when we attend a service in a synagogue to hear the ancient sounds of Hebrew. What a beautiful continuity in the Jewish community. Modern day Jews living in Jerusalem, New York or London hear the Scriptures in the very same language their ancestors did, in the same language Jesus heard the Scriptures proclaimed in first-century Nazareth. In any mosque, the imam recites from the Qur'an in Arabic. No one moans in dismay. The words and the language are important.

Here is a fact of human psychology. ‘In religious matters, people tend to hold on to what they received from the beginning, how their earliest predecessors articulated their religion and prayed. Words and formulae used by earlier generations are dear to those who today inherit from them. While a religion is of course not identified with a language, how it understands itself can have an affective link with a particular linguistic expression in its classical period of growth” (Cardinal Francis Arinze, Address, St. Louis, Missouri, November 11, 2006).

Language is for communication. The use of the vernacular in the Liturgy, especially in the proclamation of the Scriptures, helps us receive God’s Word more readily. Nonetheless, within the liturgy, there still remains a place for the use of Latin. The hymns, the chants, the parts of the Mass that we repeat every Sunday, when done in Latin, open the community beyond the narrow confines of parochial or national boundaries. Especially in liturgies where more than one language is used, the use of Latin can bind all together in a common expression of faith.

Some of us can remember how much a part of our Catholic worship Latin used to be. At times today when we hear the Sanctus or the Agnus Dei sung in Latin, we readily recall the time when Catholics of the Latin rite in every land and in every culture offered worship to God with one language. The use of one language gave a sense of the deeper reality of the mystery of the Church. It made visible that, no matter where we were, we belonged to the same Church, sharing the same faith.

If Jews and Moslems, Hindus and Buddhists have their sacred language, why should we be completely deprived of the use of the liturgical language of the Latin rite? Many people who grew up speaking only English now sing Spanish hymns? Why not Latin on some occasions?

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