Thursday, October 31, 2013


My home parish was a nationality parish with no territory.  It was meant for persons of Slovenian descent.  As part of this they would sing songs in Slovenian from time to time.  Occasionally someone would say that we should not sing songs in Slovenian since the younger ones no longer understood the language, I being one of them who did not readily understand the language.  My Mother, not known at all from dramatics, would, on this point, dramatically state with appropriate gestures, “Heavens forbid that our children should catch on the ‘Jesu’ is ‘Jesus’ and ‘Marija’ is ‘Mary’ and that ‘Bog’ is ‘God.’”  Well, Mom won and we sang in Slovenian and today I know some of the language of my heritage that I would not have learned any other way simply because I was exposed to it.  As a matter of fact, it came in handy yesterday while in Pittsburg visiting the Cathedral of Learning and visited the “Yugoslavian” room and was able to understand some things and explain them to my buddies because of my very limited exposure to the language. 
That is the background I come from when taking Vatican II very seriously when it says that “steps should be taken” that all Roman Catholics know their parts of the Mass in Latin.  “I’ll never go to Rome,” is one statement I hear often from people who are allergic to Latin, “so I’ll never need it.”  But you are not alone in the parish.  They are many people who may have the chance to make use of this knowledge of their rightful heritage.  There is a good chance some of our students will have the opportunity to study abroad, others may attend Word Youth Day some day, or perhaps they would have attended Bishop Quinn’s funeral two weeks ago at which there was a peppering of Latin.  I smiled thinking that if anyone were there from my parish, they would be able to respond and have at least a minimal understanding of what was going on.


For a remaining couple of weeks we are singing the Gloria in Latin.  Perhaps a few words will start to stick.  Maybe it will inspire someone to have a love of Latin.  Maybe it will give a few words to someone so that, should they go to a concert, they can lean over to their date and say, “That’s the Gloria from the Mass.”  Perhaps they will encounter words elsewhere and make connections.  Consider the Gloria:
“Gloria in excelsis Deo”  It would not take too much to realize these are the same words sung at Christmas in the song, “Angels We Have Heard on High.”
“et in terra pax hominibus, bonae voluntatis” “Et in” would have to be guessed at but it is not too hard to figure out if you have some idea of what the Gloria is in Latin.  "Terra, while not the same meaning of "Tara" that Scarlett O'Hara lived in from "Gone with the Wind" would have worked (as God as my witness I will never go hungry again!) it would have worked.  It made me look it up.  “Pax” is used all over the place from names of organizations to a T.V. station locally - although they pronounce at “packs” which drives me nuts.  So forth and so on. . .
Of course the question could be asked if this is this is really bringing us closer to God.  Valid point.  I would argue yes.  It broadens our possibility of worship anywhere.  It broadens our recognition.  “That’s not just a song!  That’s the Mass on that recording.”  And it hopefully makes us pay better attention to the words even if that is only picking up the book and reading  the English words as others try the Latin.  Heaven forbid someone should learn that “Deo” is “God” or that “Sanctus” is “Holy” (from when we get the words sanctified, sanctification, sanctuary, etc . . .)


But then again, one man’s treasure is another man’s trash.


Pat said...

I learned some Polish (my Mother's first language) via Polish Christmas carols.

At my home parish, a few of these carols are still sung and greatly appreciated.

At an international Mass, if everyone can read along or sing the Latin, then everyone is participating in harmony. The alternatives are either to remain silent during the people's parts or to have everyone recite the prayers in their native languages. What a mess.

Anonymous said...

So when are you going to start a class for adults who want to refresh their high school Latin??

Fr. V said...


MaryofSharon said...

The value of Latin in the Mass was really experienced by the young people at World Youth Day. It was only when parts of the Mass were sung in Latin that everyone was able to participate and understand without translators. Latin served as a reverse Tower of Babel for those who were fortunate enough to have been exposed to it in their parishes.

Another wonderful thing about Latin is that its very uncommonness in everyday life sets it apart as a sacred language. I recently learned that many Muslims believe that the Quran is not the Quran unless it is read in the original Arabic. And Jesus was likely to have read the Torah in Hebrew, the sacred language of the Jews, rather than his native Aramaic. Even the Native American drummers at the Barberton Mumfest sang in an old native language; it would NOT have been the same at all if they were singing in English! It was completely OK that none of us had a clue what they were singing. When a sacred language is used, it reminds us that something otherworldly is being said and/or done.

An analogous experience can be found in the use of incense. I love the smell of incense because, to me, it is the fragrance of prayer. It's the only time I smell that smell. In the same way, I love the use of Latin in the Mass; it is the language of Catholic prayer. It's the only time I hear and sing Latin, and I like it that way!

I can't wait for the Latin classes at St. Seb's. I sure hope I can work it in my schedule. I do hope the students will quickly begin to apply what they are learning to the prayers and hymns of the Church by using a supplemental program like Lingua Angelica in which they can learn word-for-word translations of the most widely used and loved prayers. Just think how much more meaningful it would have been, when at the kick-off Mass for the School of Culture and Arts the choir sang Ave Verum Corpus, if everyone had known the meaning of the words. That melody sung by that choir with those words in a sacred language was celestial, but how much greater it would have been if many more had known what they were singing. Check out the "Ave Verum Corpus" worksheets page from Lingua Angelica in which they give students the tools to really understand the hymn.

Anonymous said...

I think that the shift from Latin to English in the Mass in the USA was a good move.

Anonymous said...

I think that generally Mass in the vernacular is in the best interest of those who wish to participate actively, but absolutely agree that everyone should know the basic Latin responses, and even more so that everyone should learn the basic chant reponses. We do it a bit at a time as well.

Nan said...

I spent a year in Slovenia, and sang in a church choir. I wasn't terribly familiar with the language and we sang in the vernacular, except on Christmas Eve, when we sang in German. I was in a small enclave, formerly part of the Roman Empire, in which Latin was the native language. At least I assume it was because we sang in Latin, continuously through Mass.

I had no idea; I was trying to find pictures of the church online a couple of years ago and, while I didn't find pictures, I learned that I was singing in a radical dissident parish, of the sort that never bothered changing Mass. It was the late 80's.