Is the desire to use Latin in Mass a type of gnosticism?

[left]The Latin is language is a beautiful thing, of that there is no doubt. It has a rich history and, at least in me, conjures up visions of the majesty of the middle ages. I even claim a very small ability in it. But, does it have a proper use in today’s Church (especially at Mass)? Especially given the majority of Catholics are not fluent in Latin which is, after all, a dead tongue?

For example, my in-laws go to a very conservative Parish in Northern Virginia. Last Christmas, the Midnight Mass was done almost entirely in Latin. As I followed along in my Latin missal, I could not help but wonder “Why are we doing this when hardly anyone hear understands Latin?” Sure it was beautiful, in its own way, but shouldn’t we understand what is being said at Mass?

Latin has no special powers, in and of itself. It is just a langauge. Why do we give such power to it? I think there are two reasons: 1) its historical or emotional appeal and 2) the sense of “holier than thou” that it gives.

Though it is harsh, I think many people like Latin Masses because they think it makes them “more” of a Catholic, more holy and more sanctified. And in this I see a trend toward gnosticism. I am not taking about gnosticism in the sense of false doctrine, rather I am talking about it the sense of a secret knowledge that is possessed only by an inner devout circle. The sense that Latin is spoken because it is a “purer” form of prayer. That because my prayer is in Latin it is somehow more devout than yours.

But how many of us actually are fluent in Latin? How many of us, without hesitation and not through memorization, know what a Latin prayer means? Shouldn’t we know what we are saying when we are praying to God? Shouldn’t the words resound in our heads and shouldn’t we reach a deeper understanding every time we say the prayers?

I do find it interesting that people (sometimes the same ones) complain about not having Latin at Mass and complain about having to speak Spanish at Mass. What is the difference? In both cases there is an imposition on people who do not speak the langauge in question.

Private dovations aside, I do not see a need for Latin at Mass. Unless the entire congregation speaks and understands Latin, why do it? For historic or aesthetic reasons? To me, it seems to be a movement towards gnosticism.
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I periodically attend a Latin mass because I like the Tridentine rite. I also personally find that the use of Latin increases my attention at mass as I have to make a concerted effort to follow the missal and not get left behind. Additionally, I personally like the Tridentine rite for its solemnity, especially the use of chant. That being said, I would be perfectly fine with it if it were in English. My wife grew up with the Novus Ordo and that is what she prefers. We take our kids to vernacular mass because we feel it important that they understand all that goes on.

I think that people attached to latin also like to feel the historical connection to church of earlier times. The latin mass is the same as was witness by many of our most cherished saints. Hundreds of years ago few poeple ourtside the wealthy or the clergy understood that Latin in the mass anymore than we do today! Why have we preserved the Kyrie in Greek? I think it is important to be congnizant of our past tradtions within the Church.

Is it a type of gnosticism? Given that there are english-latin missals readily available at each latin mass I don’t think that the term gnosticism is appropriate here given that nothing is secret or disclosed only to a select group. It is possible that people with an affinity for the Latin mass could develop a sense of elitism and false superiority, feeling that they are “better” catholics than their vernacular-mass attending brothers and sisters. I don’t think that I have noticed this.

I think that we all have to be on guard that our strongly held convictions (whether religious or not) don’t become a sort of elitism. Elitism always seems to come at the expense of the virtue of charity.

There are positive reasons for the use of Latin at Mass:

  1. It is the language of the Church; the fact that not many speak it is the fault of those who are supposed to ensure that the laity know at least some parts of the Latin Mass. I am fortunate in that I use Latin every day, so I understand the Mass quite well.

  2. Latin is an expression of the Church’s universality. As the living language of no nation or race, it provides a unique opportunity to use a tongue which has no racial or national ‘superiority’ attached to it.

  3. Latin is naturally more ‘gender inclusive’ than English; where we say ‘man’ in English for human being, Latin uses homo, hominis, which means human being. It thus avoids some clumsy English constructions.

  4. Latin, especially as used in the Church, is not a difficult language. Many people pick up a bit of it by using a Latin/English Missal. There is no reason why the congregation should not be able to understand the unchanging parts of the Mass.

  5. Yes, Latin is old, and therefore is a concrete connection to the generations before us. For hundreds of years, Catholics have used Latin in the liturgy. Using it today is a reminder of our ancestors and their steadfastness in the Faith.

[quote=georgeaquinas][left]The Latin is language is a beautiful thing, of that there is no doubt. It has a rich history and, at least in me, conjures up visions of the majesty of the middle ages. I even claim a very small ability in it. But, does it have a proper use in today’s Church (especially at Mass)? Especially given the majority of Catholics are not fluent in Latin which is, after all, a dead tongue?

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But then anyone can learn liturgical Latin. As we move more towards parts of the Mass being in Latin. We must instruct or at least offer training to those who would like it. Using Latin is far from a “secret” language.

I don’t have strong feelings on this either way (I usually go to English Masses, but have also gone to a number of N.O. (not Tridentine) Latin Masses. Here are some thoughts that come to mind, in no particular order.

  1. The current English translation is considered by many as awful, and motivated in part by bad and/or dissident theology. That’s why the Vatican has ordered a new translation. Also, and a very important point, with every new translation the current vernacular music needs to be rewritten or thrown out. Do we really want to rewrite our music every 40 years or so? So the original Latin wins out here.

  2. Latin allows for the music that Vatican II says is to hold “pride of place” in the Church; that is, Gregorian Chant.

  3. Vernacular Masses are divisive. Spanish Masses, Vietnamese Masses, Tagalog Masses, Chinese Masses, English Masses, French Masses, German Masses. Everybody segregates themselves according to language. What language should they have used at World Youth Day? At St. Peter’s in Rome? In any location where a number of different languages are spoken? Latin is a unifying force in these situations instead of a divisive one.

  4. Vatican II reiterated that Latin was to be preserved in the Latin rite.

Finally, it is not difficult to learn the Ordinary of the Mass in Latin. It’s the same every week, and missals are available. In the scheme of a lifetime’s worth of going to Mass, the learning curve is just not a big deal.

I’m new to the Latin Mass, but I love it. My parish does not celebrate the TLM, but the Novus Ordo in Latin, Ad Orientem, with Gregorian Chant.

I too believe it increases my attention in the Mass. I also find it uplifting to say words in the same language that has been used by Catholics for many centuries before us, including the saints.

Even apart from the use of the Latin in the mass, we should be teaching it to our kids along with Greek. Until relatively recently in history, you could not be considered educated without some competence in Latin. Much of the heritage of Western Civilization is in Latin. Kids ought to know it.

While the language is “dead” in one sense, in many other senses it lives on. It develops analytical skills. It develops vocabulary. It provides a foundation to learn other languages, including mathematics. It has been shown that there is a correlation between learning Latin and SAT scores. It unlocks the heritage of the church. It unlocks the music of the church. It unlocks most of the great thinkers since the time of Christ.

As a child, I never had the opportunity to learn Latin. I was robbed and am working hard to ensure that my children are not similarly robbed. Shame on those who would deprive us of this heritage.

[quote=georgeaquinas][left]The Latin is language is a beautiful thing, of that there is no doubt. It has a rich history and, at least in me, conjures up visions of the majesty of the middle ages. I even claim a very small ability in it. But, does it have a proper use in today’s Church (especially at Mass)? Especially given the majority of Catholics are not fluent in Latin which is, after all, a dead tongue?

I do find it interesting that people (sometimes the same ones) complain about not having Latin at Mass and complain about having to speak Spanish at Mass. What is the difference? In both cases there is an imposition on people who do not speak the langauge in question.

Private dovations aside, I do not see a need for Latin at Mass. Unless the entire congregation speaks and understands Latin, why do it? For historic or aesthetic reasons? To me, it seems to be a movement towards gnosticism.
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I think there are two points hat can be made about this.

  1. The Catholic Mass is a ritual just as the Orthodox Eucharist and the Anglican Holy Communion are. The language of rituals is fixed (Latin, Old Church Slavonic, Elizabethan English etc) because the point of the ritual is the repetition of words and actions to achieve the purpose of the ritual. As the Anglican Holy Communion Service showed, even putting it into the vernacular does not prevent the fixing of the language once it is written. The meaning of the worlds then in a ritual is thus internalised by constant repetition and the choice of language is secondary. The Protestants on the other hand required the vernacular because they have no fixed ritual. The purpose of the language in their services was to communicate an ever varying (within the confines of their doctrine) message. It would be silly to preach in a language the people did not understand. Thus non ritual churches focus on language that communicates with the congregation rather than ritual language.

  2. I spent many years in Francophone Africa and attended masses in a variety of languages. Although I did not understand many of the words I was able to follow the mass (homily excluded) quite well because the structure and texts of the mass were the same though the language was different. This is the glory of the Latin Mass - that it may everywhere and everytime be understood - it is universal not particular.

None of the above is an argument that Latin is the only language for the Mass rather that their is nothing intrinsically better about having it in the vernacular either.

[quote=georgeaquinas][left]The Latin is language is a beautiful thing, of that there is no doubt. It has a rich history and, at least in me, conjures up visions of the majesty of the middle ages. I even claim a very small ability in it. But, does it have a proper use in today’s Church (especially at Mass)? Especially given the majority of Catholics are not fluent in Latin which is, after all, a dead tongue?[/left]

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From Vatican II

Article 36. Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites. But since the use of the mother tongue, whether in the Mass, the administration of the sacraments, or other parts of the liturgy, frequently may be of great advantage to the people, the limits of its employment may be extended. This will apply in the first place to the readings and directives, and to some of the prayers and chants, according to the regulations on this matter to be laid down separately in subsequent chapters. These norms being observed, it is for the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority mentioned in Art. 22, to decide whether, and to what extent, the vernacular language is to be used; their decrees are to be approved, that is, confirmed, by the Apostolic See. And, whenever it seems to be called for, this authority is to consult with bishops of neighboring regions which have the same language. Translations from the Latin text into the mother tongue intended for use in the liturgy must be approved by the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority mentioned above.

Article 54. In Masses which are celebrated with the people, a suitable place may be alloted to their mother tongue. This is to apply in the first place to readings and the “common prayer,” but also, as local condition may warrant, to those parts which pertain to the people, according to the norm laid down in Art. 36 of this constitution. Nevertheless steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them. And whenever a more extended use of the mother tongue within the Mass appears desirable, the regulation laid down in Art. 40 of this constitution is to be observed.

Thank you all for your replies. I think I did make my point too strongly, but I think I do have a valid point. Again, I see no problem with Latin for personal devotions or Latin Masses, where people know going in that they are going to hear Latin.

As to translation issues, a bad translation is a bad translation. It is not the fault of the langauge on the receiving end.

As to missals being available in the pew. That is my point excatly. By having to follow along in the missal are people truly following what is going on or are they thinking “are we on the first line or the second?” Our mind should be on the Mass, not on following the script. It is this distancing, or removing of attention, that I object to.

I agree with Latin being a thread that grounds us to our origins and, of course, it is the tongue of the Church. But a Mass full of symbols and langauge that the laity does not understand **may **become a dead Mass or, at the very least, a Mass for the few who do understand the symbols and the langauge. But that doesn’t mean we strip it down and plasticize it. Where is the middle way?

In a perfect world our Church would be full of people who fully understand and practice the Faith; who can recite the Creed in Latin and give the declinations of all the verbs. But we don’t live in that world.

I would rather the energy be spent on teaching everyone what the Creed means rather then teaching us to say it in Latin.

[quote=georgeaquinas] Our mind should be on the Mass, not on following the script. It is this distancing, or removing of attention, that I object to.
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If you have hung on every English word of every Mass you’ve attended with rapt attention just because you understand it perfectly, you, my friend, are a saint. A paragon of virtue and sanctity.

For me and the rest of the common herd, however, our minds tend to wander occasinally at Mass. Whether in Latin or English my unruly mind sometimes goes where it wants to with or without my permission.

And, besides, just because we understand every word of the Mass does not mean that we understand the Mass. The Mass is a great mystery. For those who don’t understand much Latin, its use is an external sign of that mystery. Some are able to immerse themselves in that mystery while understanding all that’s being spoken. Some, like me, require a more mystical symbology.

It goes to education also. Just because I witness the sacrifice of the mass in my language does it mean I know whats going on? Or that I actually understand or appreciate the event that occurs? Because in addition to the changes of the mass, people are now less educated about their faith then they once were. So catholics are in a tight bind.

I dont belive that Latin has a certain solemnity about it as opposed to english. Latin is just a beautiful language that even if I dont understand all that is said, it just seems other worldly. The Jews used a supposed ‘dead tounge’ during their worship too.

As someone else posted and what I want to expand on is unity it promotes.
One of the main benefits of Latin is it’s universal. If I can go to a Latin Mass in Mexico, it allows me to worship with by Catholic family there, Japan, Europe anywhere.
In addition it allows others to come and understand and worship with us, it is a uniting language. It unites us across the world with a common tongue. The important thing is to make it available and to help make it understandable*, as most of us have not grown up with it available. (*with good missals)
We are a worldwide Church, we need to recognize the Catholicity of the Church. We need to promote it and share it.
We have many hispanics coming into the my area, if we had a common language Mass we wouldn’t need to try and make a special Spanish Mass, or any other vernacular language Mass. A universal language unites us and enables everyone to worship regardless of their native language.

God Bless
Scylla

I much prefer the vernacular Mass, but I don’t think the love of the Latin Mass is gnosticism. For SOME, it may be a holier than thou thing, but for others, probably most, it isn’t.

I rather wish, to put an end to all the verbal bloodshed, that they would just translate the TLM into English and not give priests the option of using other Eucharistic prayers. I do want to understand the words (and to hear them…you can’t in a TLM, but I don’t know about a Mass of Paul VI in Latin), but I like singing the Gloria, the Sanctus, and the Agnus Dei in Latin.

[quote=georgeaquinas][left]The Latin is language is a beautiful thing, of that there is no doubt. It has a rich history and, at least in me, conjures up visions of the majesty of the middle ages. I even claim a very small ability in it. But, does it have a proper use in today’s Church (especially at Mass)? Especially given the majority of Catholics are not fluent in Latin which is, after all, a dead tongue?

For example, my in-laws go to a very conservative Parish in Northern Virginia. Last Christmas, the Midnight Mass was done almost entirely in Latin. As I followed along in my Latin missal, I could not help but wonder “Why are we doing this when hardly anyone hear understands Latin?” Sure it was beautiful, in its own way, but shouldn’t we understand what is being said at Mass?

Latin has no special powers, in and of itself. It is just a langauge. Why do we give such power to it? I think there are two reasons: 1) its historical or emotional appeal and 2) the sense of “holier than thou” that it gives.

Though it is harsh, I think many people like Latin Masses because they think it makes them “more” of a Catholic, more holy and more sanctified. And in this I see a trend toward gnosticism. I am not taking about gnosticism in the sense of false doctrine, rather I am talking about it the sense of a secret knowledge that is possessed only by an inner devout circle. The sense that Latin is spoken because it is a “purer” form of prayer. That because my prayer is in Latin it is somehow more devout than yours.

But how many of us actually are fluent in Latin? How many of us, without hesitation and not through memorization, know what a Latin prayer means? Shouldn’t we know what we are saying when we are praying to God? Shouldn’t the words resound in our heads and shouldn’t we reach a deeper understanding every time we say the prayers?

I do find it interesting that people (sometimes the same ones) complain about not having Latin at Mass and complain about having to speak Spanish at Mass. What is the difference? In both cases there is an imposition on people who do not speak the langauge in question.

Private dovations aside, I do not see a need for Latin at Mass. Unless the entire congregation speaks and understands Latin, why do it? For historic or aesthetic reasons? To me, it seems to be a movement towards gnosticism.
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Universality of worship, timelessness, a sense of awe and mystery…

I will first state that I am not a member of the SSPX, and I do not call into question the validity of the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II), but I only attend Mass at an indult Traditional Latin Mass.

I believe that the liberal highjacking of Vatican II and the misguided reform of the liturgy of the Roman Rite has lead to the massive problems we have today, on every level effecting Holy Mother Church.

I believe that some day, the excommunication of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and his four bishops will be lifted. I also believe that, like many formally excommunicated men before him who were later canonized, Lefebvre will some day be lifted to the altar as a saint.

Were it not for Archbishop Lefebvre’s work to hold onto Tradition, call into question the novelties following Vatican II and leading the way for a return to the Traditional Latin Mass, the Mass of the ages, the “most beautiful thing this side of Heaven,” the indult, the FSSP, et al, would never have seen the light of day, and the Traditional Latin Mass would have died on the “spirit of Vatican II.”

God bless Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre!

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