I hope that your Christmas celebrations were full of joy and harmony among all of your loved ones. Today we inaugurate 2023 by celebrating the Feast of Mary, the Mother of God. How blessed we are to have her as our Protector and Intercessor.
Some people have asked me why do we use so much Latin in our Mass celebrations during Advent (and Lent)? I can recall my childhood when the entire Mass was in Latin. As an altar server, I dutifully memorized all of my parts despite the fact that I didn’t know most of what I was saying. When we switched to the vernacular in the late 60’s and early 70’s, understanding all that was said made the Mass experience more meaningful. But that came at a cost.
For 18+ centuries, every nation in the Roman Catholic Church celebrated the Mass in Latin. No matter which country a person found themselves in, they could attend Mass knowing that it would be exactly like the Mass they attended at home. The universal character of the Church was very clearly expressed.
Latin was not only the language of the Sacraments, but it was (and remains) the official language in which Bishops from all over the world communicate with each other when they formally gather in Rome. All official documents coming from the Pope and the Vatican offices are written in Latin before they are translated into the various languages. Latin remains the mother tongue of Roman Catholicism.
All major religion in the world have a distinct, sacred language they use for their worship. Jews use ancient Hebrew; Moslems use classical, Koranic Arabic; Hindus use ancient Sanskrit and, for over 18 centuries, Catholics used Latin. Having a language that is reserved only for worship, and not every-day interactions, helps to set formal worship apart from everything else the people do. While not advocating for a return to the Latin Mass, it is important to reckon the cost of moving from the sacred language to the profane. When traditional Catholic Sacred Music was also dropped in favor of “folk Masses,” not only did it not make the Mass more attractive and meaningful for Catholics, but for many faithful the element of Mystery in the Sacred Liturgy was greatly diminished.
All of this is to say I consider it very important to not entirely scrap our centuries-old patrimony. That is why I’ve asked our music director to introduce a few Mass parts in Latin during the Advent and Lenten Seasons. That would include the Kyrie (which actually is in Greek), the Sanctus, the Memorial Acclamation, and the Our Father. Regular Mass-goers know what is being said, even if it is in Latin. I’ve also asked him to play a small sampling of some of our best classical music pieces (please come to the Violin Sonatas next Sunday afternoon). Again, the purpose is to broaden our “vocabulary” and therefore not lose touch completely with our liturgical patrimony.
Our parish is part of the Local Church of the Diocese of Phoenix which, in turn, is part of the world-wide Universal Catholic Church. My hope is that embracing a small sampling of our Latin origins will help us to experience being Katholou (Greek for catholic—universal) in a more concrete way.
A Blessed 2023 to all, Fr Charlie Goraieb
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