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Monday, July 7, 2008

Press 1 For English, 2 For Latin, And 3 For Reverence

Doug writes: Back in my youth, shortly before the invention of the wheel, a popular TV commercial for an antacid product depicted one person offering some spicy dish to another person and suggesting, “Try it, you’ll like it!” (A subsequent commercial featured a man in obvious distress, bemoaning, “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing!”) “Try it, you’ll like it!” How often have we heard that suggestion from well-meaning, but often wrongly presumptive family members or friends?

Well, I’m not one of them. So I won’t guarantee that you will necessarily like attending a mass in the Latin rite, but you should at least try it.

Pope Benedict XVI has given a gentle nudge to dioceses to voluntarily offer the pre-Vatican II Latin rite at some masses. One reason I have heard cited is to supposedly bring unity back to the Church. While we in the US might bristle at the mass being celebrated in a “foreign tongue,” imagine a Polish Catholic in Mexico, going to mass at the local Catholic church without language being a barrier. Our Church knows no borders.

While there hasn’t yet been a tremendous infusion of Latin, or Tridentine masses in Connecticut, there have been some sparse offerings in various parishes.

I ventured into such a mass on two different recent occasions, but at the same church. The first occasion was a high mass and the second occasion was a low mass. The high mass was longer, about an hour and 15 minutes, and the low mass, celebrated by the same priest, was roughly 45 minutes in length.

I noticed that some members of the congregation were holding papers, presumably some form of missals, which theoretically helped them follow along. I still don’t know where they found these missals, but they didn’t seem to be reading them, as the timing of their standing, sitting and kneeling was about as conspicuously out of sync as mine was. If the mass in this church was a fire drill in a school, we were school kids instead of congregants, and the priest was the fire marshal, he clearly would have made us do it all over again.

That awkwardness and my own ignorance of Latin aside, I had mixed feelings about the experience.

Having satisfied my curiosity, I would probably not again seek to go to another Latin mass, but I wouldn’t necessarily avoid one either. And if the Church ever so requested, I would be willing to learn Latin, so long as Algebra was never again foisted upon me.

What I enjoyed most about the mass in the Latin rite, however, was the confirmation of what I previously had heard and read about it, the renewed and all too forgotten reverence for God in His house.

The music was beautiful, solemn, holy and conducive to appropriate reflection. Incense was used at the High mass. The priest primarily had his back to the congregation, and not to the crucifix and the tabernacle. Last but not least, recipients of Holy Communion did so while kneeling at an altar rail, and received the Holy Eucharist on the tongue, not in the hand.

The attire of several people present in the mass astounded me. Several men wore jackets and ties, or at least a shirt and tie. Women wore dresses, and in some cases, even hats and white gloves. Items of casual attire such as jeans, shorts, shorter shorts, and ridiculously short shorts, T-shirts, flip-flops, halters, etc. were limited in presence. I also noted that the overall demeanor of most of the congregants present was more focused and respectful than what I typically see in the modern mass. Apparently, most of the folks present got the memo that they were actually in a church! That led me to wonder if the chicken or the egg came first. In other words, did these congregants consciously decide to dress more respectively because they were going to a Tridentine Mass, or were the congregants already more respectable people who simply all flocked to a Tridentine Mass? I don’t know the answer, and frankly, I don’t even care, given the result.

Sometimes, it’s not just what we say that is significant, but how we say it, and in that same regard, yes, actions can and do speak louder than words.

Only time will tell how this experiment plays out with the return of the Latin rite.

Flip a coin for your own preference of English vs. Latin, but the reverence void that we have sadly seen evolve since Vatican II is now gradually being filled.

That is a welcome and overdue trend that must continue, in any language.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
(Matthew: 5, 5)


1 comment:

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