Thursday, April 20, 2017


I hear you.

I just don’t understand you.

I can’t get over the number of times this year that I have discovered that what someone is saying to me and what I understand are two different things.  For example:  In keeping with the mandates of Vatican II, a number of years ago we started incorporating parts of the Ordinary Form of the Mass in Latin, usually only during penitential seasons (although I have been taken to task for this - why should Latin only be penitential some have asked? - B. S. - I know you want to jump on that comment ;>))  In the beginning we practiced with he congregation and had page numbers announced and posted etc . . .   And occasional someone would say, “I don’t now what we are singing,” meaning that they don’t understand Latin.

Recently someone said the EXACT SAME THING TO ME and in my mind I am wondering how an intelligent Catholic adult, after years of having sung this in church, could not figure out that sanctus sanctus sanctus is holy holy holy or that Angus Dei is Lamb of God.  I was so preprogrammed - thinking I knew what the person was talking about - that I didn’t hear what was really being said.  Had I taken the time to clarify, I would have discovered that some of the words were tricky to pronoun and remember, “Pleni sunt cæli,” and they would simply like the words again to be able to sing along.  It wasn’t a complaint about Vatican II.

This type of misunderstanding in other areas plagued me a few times this year.  I might think that I am working on a proposed difficulty or challenge when, in fact, I was completely off of the mark.  If your pastor (spouse, sibling, coworker, etc.) seems similarly off, it might be a good idea to clarify.  As it turns out, almost all of the areas that this happened to me this year were much easier to handle than the ones I thought I had.  

When someone asks me a question, I often ask, “Am I answering the question that you are asking?”  I probably should implement that in more areas of my life.  I hope this helps you too.


marcy said...

Do you have any clean hand towels or "S" logo towels?

Stephen said...

Good advice Father, especially for me.

Anonymous said...

Father, I appreciated the opportunity for us to pray in Latin during Lent, etc. I am not complaining. I am ready and willing to be obedient to my pastor, bishop, and Pope.

What I do not understand is why it is that some people feel it is so much holier to pray and sing in Latin. I will be 56 in a couple of months, and I have absolutely no memory of when Mass was always in Latin. To me it is some kind of unbreakable code we have to learn before we can pray.

I was once on retreat with members of my secular order. The priest who very kindly led the retreat had Mass in Latin, and provided the written translation. I spent the entire Mass reading the translation and trying to keep up. It was not the same peace I got from going to Mass at home. When we were dimissed (it was a Sunday), I went to the next Mass at my home parish, where the Mass is always very beautiful, and the sermons clear and easy to understand, and it is all in English.

Truly, I do love the Sanctus and the Agnus Dei and their music settings, and our pastor made sure we were aware that we knew what we were praying this past Lent. But I must tell you, I love praying in English even more. I feel like I am in conversation with My Lord, and not reading a difficult, incomprehensible prayer to Him.

Best Easter blessings.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the blog Father. I am 43 and while I think the Latin songs are beautiful I find myself not participating because I do not know the words, their titles, nor where to find them in the books. I did not know they corresponded exactly to what I know in English- so thank you for stating that.

Fr. V said...

Actually, you bring up a good point. (Participation will be another post) but until the more recent translation of the Missal, it wasn't always a great correlation be the Latin and English. When i was a kid with the Gloria, for example, I tried to rectify the English translation with the Latin that we sang. There were just too many Latin words! I could;t understand what was going on. Now things are much, much better.

Mary of Sharon said...

To Anonymous #1 - Part 1:

As one who loves the use of Latin in the prayers of the Mass and in Benediction and beyond, allow me to shed some light on why I love it as I do. Perhaps this can be a bit of the kind of dialogue to clear up misunderstanding that Fr. V. is encouraging. I've been wanting to get my thoughts about this on "paper" for some time, so you give me a reason to do so. (Fr. V., forgive me for this long, long, entry of multiple post. I need to start a blog of my own!)

Please don't misunderstand me here to be saying that praying in Latin, in and of itself makes one or one's prayers more holy, but based on the definition of "holy" one could say that the use of Latin actually is more holy.

Holy: "Dedicated to God or to a religious purpose"

After all Latin (particularly the form of Latin we use in the Church, ecclesial Latin) is quite literally set apart for the use of the things of God: Roman Catholic worship and official Church documents.

Again, from that it does not necessarily follow that a congregation singing in Latin is more holy. It all depends on what is going on in the hearts and minds of people as they sing. If my singing Latin leads me to pride, thinking that I am more holy than someone who doesn't prefer it, then any benefits are lost. On the other hand, if another person's having to sing in Latin leads to irritation and resentment, that is anything but fruitful. But I do think there are some things that can happen when we mindfully and prayerfully lean in to the many reasons that singing in Latin can be good for our souls. I will list them in Part 2.

Mary of Sharon said...

To Anonymous #1 - Part 2:

1) Latin is our sacred language.
It is not used as a spoken language anywhere in the world, except by us. Yes, Latin was the language of ancient Rome, but our ecclesial (church) Latin has never been used as a spoken language. I love the fact that we have our own language that is set apart for prayer like that. Think of how Jewish cantors sing their sacred language, Hebrew. The difference is that Hebrew is also a spoken language, so our Latin is even more set apart. It is not the language of any particular nation, but rather our own language.

2)Latin is the universal language of the Church.
Back when the entire Mass was in Latin, a Catholic could go to Mass anywhere in the world and be at home with the language. When we were in Europe this summer and went to Mass in Germany, I had no idea what was being said when they were speaking German. I felt kind of lost, except when they did certain key parts of the Mass in Latin. I loved being able to sing the Gloria with the Germans in our Catholic language, even though I couldn't carry on a conversation with these same people. This common language is a tangible way of experiencing the unity in Christ we experience as Catholics in a way that is unique to Catholicism.

3) Latin is the historical language of the Church.
When we sing in Latin we are singing the same exact words (and often in the same melodies) as our ancestors several centuries ago. For example, when we sing "O Salutaris Hostia" at Benediction we are singing the same exact words penned by Thomas Aquinas nearly 800 years ago and sung by all Catholics everywhere (popes, saints, royalty, explorers, peasants, and our Catholic ancestors no matter what nationality we are) ever since then, except for the last 50 years. I love that connectedness with all of them. There is always something special about singing in the original language in which a piece was composed. For example Italian opera ("O Sole Mio" or "La Donne e Mobile"), or "Stille Nacht" (Silent Night) in German.

4) The language itself has a particular beauty
Think of the difference between the Elvish language in Lord of the Rings vs. Klingon in Star Trek. Some languages are just more aesthetically pleasing.

5) Traditional Latin chant and hymns are broadly appealing in their beauty.
It seems that just about everyone loves the beauty of traditional Latin song except for Mass-going Catholics. Classical sung Latin Masses are still popular pieces for choruses to sing in all sorts of secular venues around the world. My daughter went to an Evangelical university, where I would think they would want to distance themselves from Catholicism, yet her choir actually sang multiple Latin Mass pieces! Monks and nuns singing Latin chant are releasing chart-topping CDs that are snapped up by nonbelievers because of their sheer beauty. Check out these beautiful young nuns whose gorgeous Latin CDs have been covered by many national media outlets:

6) The Church asks us to retain Latin in the Mass
In the document of Vatican II, which many think to be the place where the Church abolished the use of Latin in the Mass, it says that "the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites." (Sacrasanctum Concilium)

Anonymous said...

Hi Mary of Sharon - It is I, Anonymous #1.

Thank you for your well-reasoned and thorough response. I can see you love Latin and are conversant in Church Latin. I love the Latin hymns as well.

I, and I would hazard to say, the great majority of the rest of us who are younger than 65, have no working knowledge of Latin, at church or otherwise.

The only time I can get to Mass is on the weekend, and I treasure it. Daily Masses within perhaps a 30 mile radius of Akron all seem to be between 6:30 AM and 12 Noon, which completely shuts out anyone who works during business hours, has children, or has other family responsibilities. So Mass at my parish on the weekend is truly the highlight of my week, where I can be with God. I treasure it.

When I am confronted with a foreign language like Latin, I am completely at sea. My inner conversation and worship of God comes to a stop. I find myself more worried about pronouncing the incomprehensible Latin words correctly and keeping up with the Mass, than truly understanding what I am saying and experiencing the joy of being with God at Mass. I should be focusing on Jesus and relaxing in prayer, not on trying to figure out what Father and the congregation are saying. It creates an obstacle to my worship.

Further, on the few occasions I have attended the TLM, I found myself rewarded with the stink eye because, in my ignorance, I had intruded without smacking a veil on my head and putting on a dress, in spite of being dressed modestly. I found myself feeling excluded, and I longed to be at my beloved home parish, where strangers are welcomed, no one raises an eyebrow at the homeless at our doors, and where Mass is celebrated beautifully in clear, simple English or Spanish.

Truly, I mean no disrespect, and I understand and respect your feelings and Father's, but please try to understand mine and many others. I am blessed to be at a parish whose pastor prays the Mass more beautifully than anyone else I know, in English or in Spanish for our Hispanic parishioners. Our parochial vicar similarly takes very good care of us. I want to be able to understand what they are saying and where they are leading us. And I think that praying in English or whatever the vernacular is for the congregants is every bit as heartfelt and beautiful. It does not have to be in Latin for it to "count" with God, or the Church. When I attended Mass at old Yankee Stadium when Pope Benedict visited America several years ago, Mass was in English.

For myself, I am just too old to learn Latin. I love being able to worship, and to understand every Mass, in English. It brings me great joy, and I hope it is pleasing to God. It may be the language of the Church, but it simply is incomprehensible to the great majority of us, no matter what nationality we are.

Peace and all good to you and all here.

Mary of Sharon said...

Hi again, anonymous! Thanks for your reply. I really appreciate your respectful comments. I think we are not as different about this as it might have seemed at first. I'm not really conversant in Latin at all. I also share your reluctance with Latin when I don't understand it. Since I last was on this site, I had an experience which really brought that home to me. I was on retreat at a place where they pray the Liturgy of the Hours several times a day. The hermitess who leads the prayer makes a kind informal assessment of those who are present to determine what they are able to handle, always quick to offer instructions to newcomers. Well, I am a regular there, and somehow she determined that I was comfortable with Latin, but she way overestimated my capacity, and she led a number of the prayers and songs in Latin. I did fine when we sang the Regina Coeli in Latin because I had taken it upon myself to study it and learn it for this Easter season. But then she ended up praying other Latin prayers that I had never heard of before (in English or Latin), and I was completely lost, fumbling along and feeling quite inept.

I really appreciate the Extraordinary Form of the Mass because of the reverence in how it is prayed (although much of that can also be done in an Ordinary Form Mass), the timeless sacred beauty of the style of the music, and the opportunity to sing and pray the Latin prayers that I know. There is something to be said for just resting in the beauty, mystery, and otherworldliness of our ancient language of prayer when we don't understand it, much like just resting in beautiful instrumental music or unadulterated silence. But truth be told, as much as I love the use of Latin in the Mass, I appreciate it much, much more when I understand what I'm saying. I agree with you; you certainly can't prayerfully engage the words of a prayer you don't understand. It took me several times of attending before I became familiar enough with the missal to pray along, but I think that I would actually like it better if the longer prayers, like the Eucharistic prayer, for example, would be prayed audibly and in English so I wouldn't have to concentrate so hard on following the missal.

I'm sorry to hear that it seemed that those at the church where the Extraordinary Form of the Mass (1962 Roman Missal in Latin from 1962) was being offered seemed to be looking down their noses at you for not conforming to their customs. I sure hope that wasn't really how they were thinking. It would be nice if they could find a way to help newcomers feel more welcomed and help familiarize them with what's going on. (Of course ALL Catholic parishes could do better with this! My daughter brought a non-religious friend to Mass and really had hoped that there could be something at church to help this newcomer have a clue of what was going on, but alas there was nothing.)

While there is no excuse for inhospitality, I hope we can separate the behavior of people from the value of Latin in the Mass. I respect your preference for praying in English and I don't think that your prayer is less pleasing to God when you pray from your heart in English. Still, I'd like to propose that instead of eliminating the use of Latin, we do more to help people understand it so they can really pray it, too, from their hearts like I do. When I don't understand a prayer or hymn in Latin, I am always eager to decipher it, like a puzzle. In my final post, I'd like to make some suggestions for how this doesn't have to be as hard as people might think, even for those who don't know Latin at all!

Mary of Sharon said...

Fr. V., thank you for letting me "borrow" your blog! I've been wanting to get all of this in writing for a long time. I am working on my own site where I can organize all of this, but who knows when and if I will ever get to it!