Monday, 3 October 2011

Scared or Sacred? Latin in the Liturgy

At Mass yesterday, we sang both the Sanctus and the Agnus Dei to ancient chant melodies. Or rather, we sang the Holy, Holy, Holy and the Lamb of God. Because, for some reason, they were sung in English.

I've nothing against English, of course. In fact, I think it a wonderful language and enormously expressive, both of precise meaning and of emotional subtlety and ambiguity.

But I also love Latin, and in this case think that latin would have ben vastly preferable. At the most basic level, it works with the music (which was written for the Latin texts) and the English doesn't. The number of syllables and the rhythm of the language are both wrong for the melodic line. It jarred.

But what worried me was that until recently, our Parish Priest has been quite happy with singing the Agnus Dei in Latin. I am wondering if he has been got at. I know there are some elderly people in the parish who hate the Latin: they claim it is too hard, and that it alienates the young.

In fact, Liturgical Latin is not that hard. If at the time one is accustomed to saying Holy Holy Holy, one sings Sanctus Sanctus Sanctus, it doesn't take an Einstein to work out that Sanctus might mean Holy. And then the brain gets to work: Oh that's where the word Saint comes from. And suddenly life is enriched a tiny bit.

As for alienating the young, I see no evidence of that. Most children I know find language fascinating. Schools can kill that of course, but left to themselves, kids love this stuff.

And the Church teaches that we should all know our parts of the Mass in Latin. A universal language makes sense for a universal Church; and I can never forget the glory of singing the Credo in Latin with people from countless countries at Lourdes or Chartres.

So why are some of our priests and older parishioners so scared of a sacred language? My personal theory is that is in part a result of the massive re-education to which they were subjected in the 60s and 70s. But the younger generations don't have that hang-up -and neither does the Holy Father.


Patricius said...

Agree with you absolutely but I don't think the example you give necessarily implies fear/dislike of the Latin. The new missal (translation) incorporates both Latin and English chants together at key points such as the Agnus Dei, Pater Noster and so on so that either option may be easily selected. With a little practice the English chants work quite well. The juxtaposition in the new English missal makes it absolutely clear that the Church expects the Latin to feature even in vernacular celebrations. The use of the adapted chant tones seems to me an excellent way of underlining- for the less brainy members of the congregation- the meanings when the Latin texts are sung. So although personally I'd prefer we stick with the Latin I see this as a big step in the right direction.
A lot of damage has been done in the last forty years. There are many parishes up and down the land where neither Latin nor a decent liturgical chant has been heard in all that time. The new Missal seems to me to be where the implementation of something more like the fathers of Vatican 2 intended begins. In this scenario I think it important that both the English and Latin chants of the new missal are used.

Mater mari said...

I think Patricius is right. Until the new translation was introduced we too had several parts of the Ordinary in Latin; for the last few weeks we have sung them all in English to the simple chants. I suspect that once everyone has become used to the corrected responses (I said 'And also with you' twice yesterday but made no mistake when singing) we will revert to the use of Latin, at least sometimes.

Ben Trovato said...

Has my wife paid you both to say this? Or my PP? Or anyone else who knows me... It's not that I'm paranoid, but I'm sure it's all a plot!!!!

(You are right in principle, of course, but I am concerned that my PP has been nobbled)