Tuesday, 14 September 2010
Rome Contra Mundum...Again!
The Vatican has decreed that in his upcoming visit to Great Britain Pope Benedict XVI will use Latin for the preface and canon in each mass he says in public. Now, there are certainly things in the canon of the mass that are more offensive to the Gospel than the use of Latin to intone them is, but for the moment let's set them aside and ask why has this decision been made? According to the Vatican official charged with such responsibilities, the purpose is to give expression to the universality of the faith of the (Roman) church. But this seems passing strange, since Latin is hardly a universal language anymore - even in the Roman church - and arguments to the contrary usually just prove the fact! And, in any case, catholicity or universality of the faith is expressed by being one in the Gospel, not by worshipping in the same tongue, which seems to be the implication of this move.
Don't get me wrong, I'm all for reclaiming the knowledge and usage of Latin, not least because a working knowledge of the language is highly desirable for the Lutheran pastor who subscribes to confessional documents written in Latin. But we are talking about liturgical language here, which is something quite different. As the Anglican Articles of Religion so aptly put it, it is "repugnant to the Word of God, and the custom of the Primitive Church to have public Prayer in the Church, or to minister the Sacraments, in a tongue not understanded of the people". To be sure, the Lutheran Church was initially more conservative in its approach to the language question in worship than the Church of England, retaining Latin in some places, particularly university towns, but introducing German hymns and an optional, simplified German mass for the common people. But the same principle which the Anglican articles later espoused was made clear in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession: the purpose of worship - to "conceive faith and fear of God, and obtain comfort, and thus also... pray" - was thwarted when it was not conducted in a language understood by the common people, and the belief that the words of the Divine Service were effective ex opere operato , by the mere hearing without understanding, was denounced as "a Pharisaic opinion".
But, evangelical concerns aside, the strangest thing here is surely the irony attached to intoning the most sacred parts of the Roman mass in a language that few present will understand without the aid of a translated text before them, for the purpose of expressing universality, in the very homeland of the language which over the last several hundred years has conquered the world and become its true universal language, displacing Latin and every other contender (i.e. French!) in the process. Evidently the irony in this is something of which the Vatican is entirely oblivious.
Yet another example of Rome contra mundum on the wrong issue...again!
[Yes, I am aware that contra mundum is Latin :0).]
Actually, setting the irony aside for the moment, I'm quite happy the Pope decided to recite the canon in Latin on his UK trip; it at least means that many who watched the Masses either on TV or live didn't get to hear the terrible prayers which turn the sacrament into a sacrifice.