GUEST COLUMNIST | Sacred language can lift worshippers

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Upon hearing about the Latin Mass, the first response often is a question: Isn't the use of Latin in Catholic worship outdated — something Vatican Council II wanted the modern Church to leave behind?

In fact, the Council's Constitution on the Liturgy decreed, "The use of the Latin language is to be preserved, ... but since the use of the vernacular ... may frequently be of great advantage to the people, a wider use may be made of it, especially in readings, directives, and in some prayers and chants" (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 36).

Some also might ask, "Why use Latin, which hardly anyone understands?"

First of all, we need to avoid an overly rationalistic approach here. For the heart as well as the mind is involved in worship. Studies in world religions reveal a widespread human tendency to use a mysterious 'sacred' language in religious ritual that helps lift worshippers' spirits above the level of commonplace, everyday discourse and closer to the inexpressible realities of the divine and supernatural.

Also, Latin is an integral part of our historic Catholic culture that we should nurture and be proud of. It takes us back to our roots: the Holy Family and the apostles were all born into the Roman Empire wherein this was the official language. Finally, Latin has always been an important unifying force in the worldwide Church — a common language of worship within the great ethnic diversity that constitutes her 'catholicity' (universality).

For a full decade now, beautiful and historic St. Mary of Victories Chapel has been offering Sunday Mass in a form that follows the above conciliar decree very closely. Using the latest Vatican edition of the Latin 'ordinary form' Missal (not the traditional or 'Tridentine' Latin Rite, also called the 'extraordinary form'), we use English for the Scripture readings, Prayers of the Faithful, one or two hymns, in chanting the Responsorial Psalm and for some brief directives. The rest of the Mass is in Latin (with English translations provided), including Gregorian chant, which the Council called a "great treasure" that should be given "pride of place" when pastorally appropriate (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 116).

Some Catholics, including younger folks born well after the Council, have remained (or become) deeply attached to the classical Roman Rite traditions. Indeed, a form of celebration that uses the earlier options — particularly in a lovely old church such as St. Mary of Victories (built in 1843) where the art and architecture provide a perfect setting for traditional style worship – is in line with a healthy liturgical pluralism that has deep roots in Church history.

We cordially invite you to visit St. Mary of Victories on Sunday, Feb. 11, at 9 a.m., to join in our Mass of thanksgiving on the tenth anniversary of our distinctive form of liturgy, which evokes the continuity between the old and new forms of the venerable Roman Rite.

Father Harrison, OS, is the chaplain of St. Mary of Victories Downtown. 

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