• Mr. Hanson, our College Counselor, will give a presentation on college applications, etc. this Sunday, September 15, at 7:00 PM, in the Perpetual Help classroom. Juniors and seniors and their parents are encouraged (but not required) to attend; all others are welcome.
• Looking ahead: Mark your calendars now for Parent-Teacher Conferences on October 6. More information to come as it gets closer.
• The next cross country meet is: Saturday, September 14, the Laguna Hills Invitational Laguna Hills High School, 25401 Paseo De Valencia, Laguna Hills, CA 92653]. See Mr. Schoenfeld for more details.
• Frater Peregrine will once again be the coach of our Archery Team. Contact him if your son would like to be a member of the team this year.
In 1958, the great Italian Cardinal Giuseppe Siri, Archbishop of Genoa, wrote a letter to the clergy of his archdiocese regarding a very important matter which was in need of attention at the time. The letter, which was meant to be a warning and exhortation, turned out to be a sad prophecy of things to come. We now look back over the last 45 years and are stunned at how events have unfolded, and cannot help but wonder why no one listened to the saintly Cardinal Archbishop.
The letter which Cardinal Siri wrote to his clergy was about the importance of Latin in the Divine Liturgy and the concern regarding the participation of the faithful at Mass. Now although this letter is over forty years old, it is still very much worth our consideration; for, its truths are perennial. And although you might be inclined to say, “Well Father, we here support Latin in the Liturgy,” nevertheless it is good for all of us to hear what the Cardinal had to say; because even we might be tempted now and then to ask ourselves secretly why the big fuss over Latin. The letter is far too long to be read now, but hopefully just a summary of it will be enough to instruct and inspire us to treasure and protect this official language of Holy Mother Church.
At the time when Christ was born Latin was the spoken language for most of the Western world. Greek was also spoken for awhile among the more educated; but in the end, after the first few centuries, Latin won out as the official language of the Universal Church—though the East was still allowed to use their languages in the Liturgy. This means that for the majority of the last 2,000 years the Church’s doctrines (all that we believe) have been defined, developed and officially proclaimed in the Latin language. So to simply scrap Latin and replace it with modern languages would cause a lack of precision and continuity in the Church’s teachings and much doctrinal confusion. So, clarity of doctrine is one reason why the Church ought to continue its official prayer in Latin; for, what the Church believes and how she prays are intimately joined—tamper with one, and you tamper with the other. Cardinal Siri warned us of this in 1958, and we see now how prophetic were his words.
The second reason we should hold on to Latin is Church unity. How many of us have had that frustrating experience of attending Holy Mass in another part of the world where, because of the use of the vernacular, we feel completely alienated from our own religion—not able even to recognize a simple Kyrie or Pater Noster. How much more beautiful, how much more Catholic, when, on one of those rare occasions one can enter, say, St. Peter’s Basilica, and sing the Latin Credo with Catholics from all over the world, all united in one common Faith, manifested in one common language. Our Blessed Lord prayed “that all may be one”. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to enter a Catholic church anywhere in the world and feel at home?
The third reason is that once you start to accommodate the language of worship to the present spoken language, there is no end to such a process. We see this now: every couple of years there seems to be yet another official translation of the liturgical texts. In a way, the fact that Latin is not the spoken language among the multitude is a blessing. Unlike modern languages it is not subject to the latest linguistic trends, the constant flux of meanings and equivocations. Also, Latin now carries with it even more than it did before a sense of the sacred; for it is used for the most part only for worship, and only by Catholics.
Furthermore, when we throw out Latin, we throw out also the whole patrimony of the Church, a patrimony which we have a duty to preserve; it is not ours to discard. Say goodbye to Latin, and you say goodbye to St. Leo the Great, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Gregory. Say goodbye to Latin, and you say goodbye to hundreds of years of Gregorian chant, Palestrina, Vittoria, Gabrieli, Mozart. You say goodbye to precious illuminated manuscripts, Fra Angelico, Michaelangelo and Bernini (for even they used Latin in their masterpieces). In short, say goodbye to Latin and you say goodbye to truth, goodness and beauty. And its “hello” Kum-ba-ya!
Finally (and this last one is reason enough to keep Latin): the devil hates Latin. The Church’s saints and mystics have said this on more than one occasion. And even many exorcists have said the same. The devil hates Latin. In fact, it’s worth noting that, though all of the Church’s rites have been translated into the vernacular, the only one that has never been translated is the Rite of Exorcism. All exorcisms must be done in Latin.
Now the most common objection to having Mass in Latin is, as we all know, that the faithful are unable to understand it. “What’s the point of praying in a language you do not understand?”, is a question we’ve heard countless times. The first response to such an objection might sound initially a bit bizarre to our modern ears, but the truth of it will shine forth with some reflection, and it is this: It is not necessary to understand the language of the Mass in order to understand the Mass itself and to offer true and fervent worship to God. The most important vehicle to sound worship is sound doctrine. Think about it. How many Catholics today, who pray in the very same language they speak, have not a clue as to what’s really taking place at Holy Mass? Why? Because they do not know the basics of their Catholic Faith. Because catechism has all but died the death. On the other hand, think about those saints who were far from being Latin scholars: St. Therese or St. Joseph Labre. Who would dare say that they never got anything out of the Mass? Think also about those (and they are numerous—like the famous French poet Paul Claudel) who in the past walked into a church, experienced the immense beauty of the Church’s liturgy, and converted to the true Faith, understanding little if any of what they heard. The language is only one part of the liturgy, one mode of communication between God and man. Sacred art, which once filled our churches, beautiful music (especially Gregorian Chant—the Catholic Church’s “pride and joy”), the ceremonies, vestments, postures, incense—all these are also used to raise our minds to heavenly things and to assist us in worshiping God
Finally, the last two points. First, it is very easy to obtain a hand missal which allows one to follow the Latin as much as one wants. This is a great idea; for, the ancient Latin remains untouched, and yet everyone can know exactly what’s being said. Secondly, why not actually try to learn a little Latin—even just a few phrases here and there? The Muslims and Jews send their children to years of school in order to learn to pray in Arabic and Hebrew, and we cannot even spend a little time to learn even the mere basics of our Church’s official language! We should be ashamed! No one is being asked to be a Latin scholar, but just to know some simple phrases: Domine, non sum dignus; Credo in unum Deum; Sanctus, sanctus , sanctus. Most, if not everyone, are capable of at least that much. Holy Mass, the most beautiful thing this side of heaven, is worth it.
May our Heavenly Father grant us the grace to pray the Mass with reverence, attention and devotion, treasuring the gifts He has bestowed on His Church throughout the ages, and so someday participate in that heavenly liturgy which knows no end. Amen.
• For all the benefactors of St. Michael’s Preparatory School, living and deceased.
• For all the students and families of St. Michael’s Preparatory School.
• For all faculty and staff of St. Michael’s Preparatory School.