A Prayer for the Internet from the 1946 Roman Ritual? Sure, and It’s Wonderful!

121114The old Roman Ritual was (is) a magnificent collection of blessings and prayers. It had some of the most amazing little blessings of things it would never occur to you to find in such a collection. For example, among other more common blessings of statues, religious medals, and so forth are blessings, often elaborately laid out, for things like a seismograph, a typewriter, a printing press, a fishing boat, a fire engine, a stable, medicine, a well, a bridge, an archive, a lime kiln, a ship, an automobile, mountain-climbing equipment, and an electric dynamo.

Thankfully, the old ritual is still able to be used since, as many priests will attest, the current “Book of Blessings” issued back in the 1990s is all but useless. It is also improperly named, since there are really no blessings to be found in it. It is all rooted in a rather narrow notion of blessing that seeks to bless the user of (or someone walking nearby?) an object, but not the object itself.

It is an odd theology to say the least, especially for the Catholic faith, which is so incarnational and seeks to sanctify things as well as the people who use them. But I’ll let the theologians debate this. As a pastor, I (as well as most of my brother priests) know that people want their things blessed, and they are looking for that sign of the cross, that holy water, those words somewhere in the rite that actually ask God to bless the thing. The old Roman Ritual does this, and does it well. It also has good prayers that go beyond the mere act of blessing and seek to put the object in God’s wider plan of sanctity for us.

In the old ritual, there is a remarkable prayer for a telegraph—yes, a telegraph. It quite elaborately laid out psalms and antiphons, but I will only present here the prayer of gratitude at the end, just before blessing it with Holy Water.

To my mind, it is also perfect as a prayer, expression of gratitude, and blessing when using a computer or for the extended “cloud” of our computers, otherwise known as the Internet. The prayer is both thrilling and fitting. It is a minor masterpiece if you ask me. Though written sometime prior to 1945, and likely after 1830, its basic structure fits well what we do now with the Internet. There is probably one word that needs changing, and perhaps you can help by suggesting another word.

But without further drumrolls, here is the prayer, first in its Latin original, and then translated by Rev. Phillip Weller:

Deus qui ámbulas super pennas ventórum, et facis mirabília solus: concéde, ut per vim huic metállo índitam fulmíneo ictu celérius huc abséntia, et hinc álio praeséntia transmíttis; ita nos invéntis novis edócti, tua grátia opitulánte, prómptius et facílius ad te veníre valeámus. Per Christum Dóminum nostrum. Amen.

O God, who walkest upon the wings of the wind, and thou alone workest wonders! By the power inherent in this metal, thou dost bring hither distant things quicker than lightning, and transferest present things to distant places. Therefore grant that, instructed by new inventions, we may merit, by thy bounteous grace, to come with greater certainty and facility to thee. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sign of the Cross + and sprinkling with Holy Water.

Magnificent. It almost paints a picture in the mind as the words go forth. Yes, such beauty and a picture of the swiftness of information going hither and yon, like lightning, or as on the wings of the wind! And may indeed this wondrous tool serve to draw us closer to God and not be corrupted by sinful curiosity, hostility, defamation, profanation, or pornographic and prurient temptations.

One word, “metal,” may need adjusting. What word would you suggest? Perhaps simply “computer” will work, but more is in mind: the whole Internet and “cloud” are part of what we are grateful for and ask blessings for. But of course we may not be in a position to bless the whole Internet, and our blessing or prayer of gratitude is only to be directed to our computer, our one portal to the vast communication network. Anyway, this is just a thought.

But I hope you enjoy this prayer as much as I do. Encourage your priest to get a copy of the older Roman Ritual. For many years now, it has been my custom to use it instead of the Book of Blessings.

This video of the history of the telegraph reminds us that the first telegraph message sent by Samuel Morse was “What hath God wrought?” This almost seems to have influenced the prayer in the ritual!

CS Lewis as many have never heard him.

"C.S.Lewis3"  Licensed under Fair use   via Wikipedia
“C.S.Lewis3” Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia

One of the lesser known and lesser read works of CS Lewis is his correspondence with Rev. Fr. Don Giovanni Calabria. Few indeed have read them since they were written in Latin. And though an English translation was published in 1998, I know few who have ever heard of these letters. The full collection of these letter is here: The Latin Letters of CS Lewis

I first wrote on these letters two years ago but a recent conversation prompts me to re-post on them. Why? There are many who are rightly bewildered at the steep decline of faith in here in America which seems to have happened very dramatically in the late 1960s. But as these reflections by CS Lewis witness, the decline in faith and the erosion of moral life in Europe was already well underway in the late 1940s. Indeed, it was linked to the horrifying experience with two world wars, that seems to have both resulted from, and further exacerbated the decline of faith there.

Had not our Lady warned at Fatima in 1917:

The war (WW I) is going to end: but if people do not cease offending God, a worse one will break out during the Pontificate of Pope Pius XI. When you see a night illumined by an unknown light, know that this is the great sign given you by God that he is about to punish the world for its crimes, by means of war, famine, and persecutions of the Church and of the Holy Father. (Second Secret of Fatima).

Of course we know the sad story. The repentance did not take place and, following one of the most vivid displays of the Northern lights ever recorded (Jan 25, 1938) the Second World War was underway. Germany annexed Austria in March of 1938 and Poland was invaded in 1939. WW II was engaged.

Many of us in America know little of the steep decline of Faith in Europe that took place long before the cultural revolution here of the 1960s. Our knowledge of world history is poor and little do most modern Americans understand the horrifying blood bath that the 20th Century was. Conservative estimates are that 100 million people died in wars or were exterminated for ideological purposes. Loss of faith was surely a cause and also a lasting effect from the cauldron of that horrible Century, a Century marked by amazing invention and yet a body count of almost unimaginable numbers, even more, when we add the horror of Abortion.

These Letters of CS Lewis open a window on that mid-century period of European History. There are some very important insights that CS Lewis offers for the loss in faith in Europe already well underway in the early 1950s when the letters were exchanged.

Indeed I would call his insights stunning in many ways. Lewis argues, in effect that Europe was in a far worse state than paganism. Would that she were even pagan, for the pagans accepted natural law. But Europe, having cast off the faith, is in a state far worse than even before she ever heard of Christ.

In the quotes that follow CS Lewis makes this case quite well an then proffers a solution that we may wish to consider in these times that are even darker for Europe and the whole of the West. Allow me to present just a few excerpts. The Latin text is italicized. The English translation (by Martin Moynihan) is just below the Latin in black bold and italic type face. My comments are in red.

Let us begin with Lewis assessment as to how and by what stages Europe lost the faith:

Neque tamen sine peccatis nostris evenit: nos enim justiam illam, curam illam pauperum quas (mendacissime) communistae praeferunt debueramus jam ante multa saecula revera effecisse. Sed longe hoc aberat: nos occidentales Christum ore praedicavimus, factis Mammoni servitium tulimus. Magis culpabiles nos quam infideles: scientibus enim voluntatem Dei et non facientibus major poena. Nunc unicum refugium in contritione et oratione. Diu erravimus. In legendo Europae historiam, seriem exitiabilem bellorum, avaritiae, fratricidarum Christianorum a Christianis persecutionum, luxuriae, gulae, superbiae, quis discerneret rarissima Sancti Spiritus vestigia? (Letter 20, Jan 7, 1953)

But (this) did not happen without sins on our part: for that justice and that care for the poor which (most mendaciously) the Communists advertise, we in reality ought to have brought about ages ago. But far from it: we Westerners preached Christ with our lips, with our actions we brought the slavery of Mammon. We are more guilty than the infidels: for to those that know the will of God and do not do it, the greater the punishment. Now the only refuge lies in contrition and prayer. Long have we erred. In reading the history of Europe, its destructive succession of wars, of avarice, or fratricidal persecutions of Christians by Christians, of luxury, of gluttony, of pride, who could detect any but the rarest traces of the Holy Spirit?

He makes a remarkable description here. Quite sobering! In effect there grew an appalling lack of love for God, for the poor and for one another. Greed and sloth also took their toll. The lip service faith meant that even Communism appeared more virtuous to some than the Faith.

The wars of which Lewis speaks encompass not only the 20th Century, wherein, as we remarked,  as many as 100 million souls perished in two World Wars and the dropping of the Iron Curtain, but war had taken a terrible toll all through the Christian era. Consider this list: European Wars of the Christian Era. The list is unbelievably long. War upon war, and so much of it was Christian killing Christian.

To be sure, 2oth Century was a kind of death blow to Europe. These terrible things happened on the Christian watch. We must be honest about that. Good things, wonderful things happened too: the monasteries, universities, hospitals etc, the great flowering of all that is best in Western culture. And it can be argued that the faith ushered in these things and also prevented things from being far worse. But a gradual internecine lack of love also took its toll and in the aftermath of the bloodiest century the world has ever known, Europe woke up to a largely faithless landscape.

Next Lewis describes how great is our fall:

Quae dicis de praesenti statu hominum vera sunt: immo deterior est quam dicis. Non enim Christi modo legem Naturae Paganis cognitam negligunt. Nunc enim non erubescunt de adulterio, proditione, perjurio, furto, certisque flagitiis quae non dico Christinaos doctores, sed ipsi pagani et barbari reprobaverunt. Falluntur qui dicunt “Mudus iterum Paganus fit” Utiam fieret! Re vera in statum multo pejorem cadimus. Homo post-Christianus non similis homini pre-Christiano. Tantum distant ut vidua a virgine….(est) magna differentia intra absentiam sponsi venturi, et sponsa amissi! (Letter 23, March 17, 1953)

What you say about the present state of mankind is true: indeed it is even worse than you say. For they neglect not only the Law of Christ, but even the Law of Nature as known by the Pagans. For now they do not blush at adultery, treachery perjury, theft and other crimes, which I will not say Christian doctors, but the Pagans and Barbarians have themselves denounced. They err who say: “The world is turning pagan again.” Would that it were! The truth is, we are falling into a much worse state. Post-Christian man is not the same as pre-Christian man. He is as far removed as a virgin from a widow….there is a great difference between a spouse-to-come and a spouse sent away.

Powerful analysis indeed. He makes similar remarks elsewhere about paganism but here it is succinctly stated. The modern European (and I would add American) are in a state below paganism. For at least the pagans had belief in the supernatural, some respect for Natural Law and could see what reality plainly taught. Modern Westerners are blinded even to that.

The pagan world was a virgin waiting for her groom. The modern West is an adulterous divorce’, cynical, angry and “so through” with Jesus. It is hard to know how the secular West will come round. Will she die in her sins, or will the miracle of broken, humbled heart emerge? Pray! Fast!

He reiterates and adds a stunning but biblical insight:

Certe sentio gravissima pericula nobis incumbere. Haec eveniunt quia maxima pars Europa apostasiam fecit de fide Christiana. Hinc status pejor quam illum statum quem habuimus ante fidem receptam. Nemo enim ex Christianismo redit in statum quem habuit ante Christianismum, sed in pejorem: tantum distat inter paganum et apostatam quantum innuptam et adulteram. Ergo plerique homines nostri temporis amiserunt non modo lumen supernaturale, sed etiam lumen illud naturale quod pagani habuerunt. (Letter 26, Sept 15, 1953)

I certainly feel that very grave dangers hang over us. This results from the great apostasy of the great part of Europe from the Christian faith. Hence, a worse state than the one we were in before we received the faith. For no one returns from Christianity to the same state he was in before Christianity, but into a worse state: the difference between a pagan and an apostate is the difference between an unmarried woman and an adulteress….Therefore many men of our time have lost not only the supernatural light, but also the natural light which the pagans possessed.

A powerful and stunning reminder that leaving the faith does not simply put them back to the status quo ante. You can never go home. The West is now in a worse state than paganism for the reasons Lewis states.

Jesus made the same warning: When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first. (Luke 11:24-25) Yes, having found the house bereft of the Holy Spirit, quite empty of true faith, Satan returns now with seven more demons and that last state is worse than the first.

St. Peter makes the same point: For if, after they have escaped the defilement of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first (2 Peter 2:20).

But, calling for Hope, CS Lewis considers a way back:

Sed Deus qui Deus misericordiarum est etiam nunc non omnio demisit genus humanum….Non desperandum. Et haud spernendus numerus (apud nos) iam redeunt in fidem….Equidem credo laborandum esse non modo in evangelizando (hoc certe) sed etiam in quadam praeparatione evangelica. Necesse est multos ad legem naturalem revocare antequam de Deo loquamur. Christus enim promittit remissionem peccatorum: sed quid hoc ad eos qui, quum legem naturalem ignorent, nesciunt se peccavisse. Quis medicamentum accipiet nisi se morbo teneri sciat? Relativismus moralis hostis est quem debemus vincere antequam Atheismum aggrediamur. Fere auserim dicere “Primo faciamus juniores bonos Paganos et postea faciamus Christianos. (Letter 26, Sept 15, 1953)

But God who is the God of mercies, even now has not altogether cast off the human race. We must not despair. And among us are not an inconsiderable number now returning to the faith. For my part, I believe we ought to work not only at spreading the Gospel (that certainly) but also to a certain preparation for the Gospel. It is necessary to recall many to the law of nature before we talk about God. For Christ promises forgiveness of sins, but what is that to those who, since they do not know the law of nature, do not know that they have sinned? Who will take medicine unless he knows he is in the grip of a disease? Moral relativity is the enemy we have to overcome before we tackle atheism. I would almost dare to say, “First let us make the younger generation good pagans, and afterwards let us make them Christians.”

To some extent, recent Popes have said the same, we have to begin all over again. But Lewis’ point goes even further since the apostles found a Europe where, at least people were in touch with reality and accepted reality’s testimony as a reliable guide.

Further, the Europe, the West that the apostles encountered had false religion, but at least it accepted that there was a spiritual realm that must be respected as real.

We in the post Cartesian West have retreated out of reality and into our minds. Reality, Natural Law is not a datum, is not a common ground on which to meet. There is no accepted reality, just thought, opinion, views. There is nothing outside ourselves to which we all owe allegiance and which demands our assent. No, we live, not in reality, but in a world of thoughts and abstractions.

Think I’m exaggerating? Try telling a homosexual that the body isn’t designed for homosexual acts and watch how quickly you get a blank stare or indignant response: “What’ my body got to do with it? Its what I feel that matters.” Yes, apparently our bodies have nothing to say to us and neither does anything else in the real world which we dismiss with our ideologies.

Our task in reintroducing the West to reality, to Natural Law, will not be easy, but CS Lewis thinks we’re going to have start there.

Pretty powerful insights, thought provoking, frank and insightful. I am interested in your thoughts.

A Word By Word Translation and Study of the Latin Hymns Used at Benediction

071813I sometimes get requests for help in understanding the Latin texts of the very familiar hymns for Eucharistic Adoration and Benediction. The O Salutaris and Tantum Ergo, though familiar to many Catholics remain only vaguely understood in terms of a word-for-word translation. Most know the poetic English renderings (“O Saving Victim Opening Wide” and “Humbly Let us Voice our Homage”) but this does not necessarily facilitate a word-for-word understanding as the Latin is sung. What I hope to do here, and in greater detail in the attached PDF files, is to give a very literal rendering that preserves the word order of the Latin so that one can understand the Latin precisely. In the PDF I also give a brief word study of each word in both hymns. It is my hope to bring these hymns more alive for the faithful who sing them who may not be highly skilled in Latin.

1. The O Salutaris – The Author is St. Thomas Aquinas. These are the last two verses of a longer hymn Verbum Supernum Prodiens (The heavenly Word, going forth) which was composed for Lauds (Morning Prayer) of the Divine Office of Corpus Christi. The meter is Iambic Dimeter, accentual with alternating rhyme. This hymn was said to so please even the hostile Rousseau that he would have given all his poetry to be its author. I propose here to record the Latin text to the left and then a very literal English translation to the right which also preserves the word order for easy comparison:

    • O salutaris Hostia (O saving victim)
    • quae caeli pandis ostium (who of heaven opens the gate – i.e. who opens the gate of heaven)
    • bella premunt hostilia (wars press hostile – i.e. hostile wars press)
    • da robur fer auxilium (give strength, bear aid)
    • Uni Trinoque Domino (To the One and Threefold Lord)
    • sit sempiterna gloria (may there be eternal glory)
    • qui vitam sine termino (who life without end)
    • nobis donet in patria (to us may he grant in the Fatherland)

I have prepared a printable and more thorough word study here:Study the O SALUTARIS

2. The Tantum Ergo– The author is St. Thomas Aquinas. It was composed for Vespers (Evening Prayer) of the Divine Office for the Feast of Corpus Christi. The meter is trochaic tetrameter catalectic, rhyming at both the caesura and at the end of the line. These two verses are the last two of the full hymn Pange Lingua. There is here a wonderful union of sweetness of melody with clear-cut dogmatic teaching. I propose here to record the Latin text to the left and then a very literal English translation to the right which also preserves the word order for easy comparison:

    • Tantum ergo sacramentum (So great therefore a sacrament)
    • veneremur cernui (let us venerate with bowed heads)
    • et antiquum documentum (and the ancient document)
    • novo cedat ritui (to the new, give way, rite i.e. gives way to the new rite)
    • Praestet fides supplementum (may supply faith a supplement i.e. may faith supply a supplement)
    • Sensuum defectui. (of the senses for the defect i.e. for the defect of the senses)
    • Genitori Genitoque (To the One who generates and to the one who is generated (i.e. Father and Son)
    • Laus et jubilatio (be praise and joy)
    • Salus, honor, virtus, quoque (health, honor, strength also)
    • sit et benedictio (may there be and blessing)
    • Procedenti ab utroque (to the One proceeding from both)
    • Compar sit laudatio (equal may there be praise i.e. may there be equal praise)

I have prepared a printable and more thorough word study here: Study the TANTUM ERGO.

I hope that this may be of some help along with the printable PDF word studies.

Here is setting of the Tantum Ergo by Mozart which I paired with some video footage I found:

Truth in the New Translation Series # 5 – The Quam Oblationem

We have been exploring the new translation of the Roman Missal that will go into effect by Advent of 2011. It is the purpose of this series to show the value of the new translation by meditating upon the truths that it more accurately translates. These truths were never lost to the Church for the Latin texts have remained with us. However, most Catholics who do not read Latin have not been able to appreciate these beautiful truths since the  1970 translation currently in use omitted a great deal of the Latin meaning. With the new translation, much of this meaningful teaching is fully restored to the faithful. We are a little less than half way through the First Eucharistic Prayer (the Roman Canon). If you have missed previous installments of this series they can be viewed here: Truth in the New Translation Series

To be honest I had suspended this series since I had heard rumors that there were more changes come even to the ordinary texts that have already been published and are actually in use in certain parts of the world. However, after several weeks with no news in this regard, I have decided to reopen the series.

As with previous installments we note first the Latin text. Then the new translation, and then the 1970 rendering that is currently in use. There follows commentary that shows forth the improvements in the new translation.

LATIN: Quam oblationem tu, Deus, in omnibus, quaesumus, benedictam, adscriptam, ratam, rationabilem, acceptabilemque facere digneris: ut nobis Corpus et Sanguis fiat dilectissimi Filii tui, Domini nostri Iesu Christi.

NEW TRANSLATION: Be pleased, O God, we pray, to bless, acknowledge, and approve this offering in every respect; make it spiritual and acceptable, so that it may become for us the Body and Blood of your most beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

1970 TRANSLATION: Bless and approve our offering; make it acceptable to you, an offering in spirit and in truth. Let it become for us the body and blood of Jesus Christ, your only Son, our Lord

Imperative tone ameliorated– One of the significant problems with the translation currently in use is its imperative tone. We seem in many cases to be telling God want to do. The fact that we are asking is lost by frequent used of the imperative voice with nothing to moderate it. Hence the current version says “Bless and approve our offering; make it acceptable….” Are we telling God this or asking Him? In my conversation with fellow human beings I do not speak this boldly. I most often soften the imperative tone with words like “please” or “would you mind?” or “kindly” or “I would appreciate it if…” But the current translation from 1970 does none of this. It is not just a problem with this prayer, but is a problem all throughout the current Sacramentary. It comes off as very bold to speak in this manner and while it is true that the tone of voice of the priest can help, it still remains a very bold and inappropriate tone to use with God. The Latin text however is steeped in humility. The use of  quaesumus (meaning “we beseech” or “we humbly ask”) sets the humble tone. Then, instead of using the imperative voice for the verb form, the Latin more humbly renders it as “we humbly ask that you might see fit (digneris) to make this offering blessed, approved, ratified, spiritual and acceptable in every way.” Now my rather clumsy and legalistic translation is rendered more beautifully and still  accurately by the new translation as: Be pleased, O God, we pray, to bless, acknowledge, and approve this offering in every respect; make it spiritual and acceptable. But the main point to note in all of this is that the seemingly rather proud and imperious tone of the 1970 translation has been set aside and the more proper and humble, requesting tone of the Latin has been to restored to us. This is a much more appropriate manner in which to speak to God.

Oops, Forgot to Mention God– You may notice that the 1970 translation does not have the word “God” in it. But the Latin text states clearly, “Deus.” Now granted, it is understood that we are addressing God here and some may argue it was unnecessary to supply the word again. However, there is a theological matter to also consider. One of the current critiques of the Roman Canon is that in the epiclesis (the calling down of the Holy Spirit upon the offerings) the Holy Spirit is not mentioned explicitly. The other more recently composed Eucharistic Prayers follow the Eastern Tradition of mentioning the Holy Spirit explicitly. For example the Second Eucharistic Prayer says “Let your Spirit come upon these gifts to make them holy…..” The other Eucharistic Prayers have similar invocations. But the 1970 translation made matters worse by not mentioning God at all here. At least the Latin allows for us to possibly understand “God” here to mean “God the Holy Spirit”  While this is debatable it is also theologically important to acknowledge that every external act of the Trinity is always an act of the whole Trinity even if we intellectually attribute specific roles to specific Persons within the Trinity. Hence, saying “Deus” does not exclude the Holy Spirit who is God. But for that reason, the reassertion by the Latin text of the word Deus (God) was not without purpose. We are asking God, (perhaps here referring God the Holy Spirit, or at least inclusive of the Holy Spirit) to bless our oblation. It is good that the new translation re-includes the reference specifically to God.

Superlatives restored – The Latin text refers to Jesus as dilectissimi Filii tui (your most beloved Son). The 1970 translation seemed to have some sort of mysterious bias against these sorts of words. We saw this at the opening words of the Roman Canon where the word clementissime (most merciful) was dropped in reference to the Father. And now we seen dilectissimi dropped in reference to Jesus. The 1970 Translation also rather strangely adds the word “only” which is not in the Latin. Perhaps they were trying to capture the word “most beloved” without saying it? Strange. But the omission of these superlatives adds to the terse and somewhat flat quality of the 1970 translation. The Roman Canon is very charismatic and ecstatic in many ways. It uses an almost “flowery excess” at times. But this helps to call forth  a spirit of joyful prayer and humble gratitude that is quite lost in the 1970 version. Thankfully the new translation restores this sense and mood by translating the Latin accurately and beautifully: so that it may become for us the Body and Blood of your most beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

This piece is from the Vivaldi Gloria in D and the Latin text say simply Domine Fili unigenite, Jesu Christe (Lord Jesus Christ, only son of the Father). The piece is not as easy to sing as you might suspect. The timing and vocal  acuity necessary make it very difficult. This video is as visually beautiful as the music.

Why Celebrate Mass in Latin?

Today beginning at 12:30 pm here in Washington at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, a Solemn High Pontifical Mass in the Extraordinary Form will be celebrated in the Great Upper Church. For those unfamiliar with all the Church jargon of the previous sentence let me decode. The “extraordinary Form” of the Mass is the form of the Mass as it was celebrated prior to 1965 when Liturgical changes brought about the Mass as we have it today. Prior to these changes the Mass was celebrated exclusively in Latin with only the homily (and sometimes the readings) in English or whatever the local language was. The celebrant also faced in the same direction as the people which some have wrongfully described as the priest “having his back to the people.”  To say this is a “Solemn High” Mass means that all the ceremonial options are observed. There is incense, extra candle bearers, and many of the prayers and readings  of the liturgy are sung. The celebrant is also assisted by a deacon and subdeacon. To say this is a pontifical Mass means that it will be celebrated by a bishop and will include two extra deacons and an assisting priest. Bishop Edward Slattery of Tulsa is today’s celebrant.

For those who are unfamiliar or unappreciative with the splendor of  the Latin Liturgy in this form soem questions often arise.

1. Why pray in Latin or any language unfamiliar to the language of the people who attend? 

Simply put, praying in Latin is to pray in what has been a sacred language for the Church. It is a common feature of cultures down through human history that they often prayed in a language other than the language of the home and streets. To pray liturgically is to enter heaven, a world apart from the every day world. To use another and more ancient language is a common way many cultures have underscored this.

At the time of Jesus, the synagogue services and the Temple liturgy used ancient Hebrew. Jesus and his contemporaries did not speak Hebrew at home or in the streets any longer. They spoke Aramaic. But when they prayed they instinctively used the ancient prayers which were Hebrew.

In the early Church it appears that the earliest years saw the use of the Greek language for the Liturgy. It seems to have been used even though many people spoke Latin throughout the empire. But many did not think Latin was suited for the Liturgy which required a more elevated language than what most people spoke. By the 5th Century however Latin came to be introduced in the Western Empire as it became an older and more venerable language to them. Eventually Latin wholly replaced Greek in the liturgy of the Church in the Western empire (except a few remnants such as the Kyrie). It remained the language of worship until about 1965 when the local languages were allowed. However, it was not the intent of the Church that Latin should wholly disappear as it has largely done. Latin remains for the Church the official language of her worship. 

So, why pray in Latin? Why not? It is for us a sacred language of worship and there is an instinct in human culture that liturgy is  world apart where we enter heaven. It is not wrong to pray in the local language but, truth be told, it is not the usual practice in human history.  

 2. Why does the celebrant face away, or “have his back to us?”

It is really a wrongful description to say the celebrant has his back to us. What is really happening is that the celebrant and the people are all facing the same direction. They are looking toward God. On the center of every older altar was a crucifix. The priest faced it to say Mass and all the people faced it with him. He and they are turned toward the Lord.

In the ancient Church, they not only faced the cross, they also faced to the east to pray. An ancient text called the Didiscalia written about 250 AD says,  Now, you ought to face to east to pray for, as you know, scripture has it, Give praise to God who ascends above the highest heavens to the east . In later centuries it was not always possible to orient the Church so that everyone could face east. But the Crucifix above the altar represented the east and the Lord. Hence everyone  faced the Lord to pray.

The idea of facing each other to pray is wholly modern and was never known in the Church prior to 1965.  Hence the answer is that the celebrant is facing the Lord to pray and so are we.

3. Why is so much of the Mass whispered quietly?

Not everything is whispered but the much of the Eucharistic prayer is. Historically the whispered Eucharistic prayer (or Canon) developed in monastic settings where it was not uncommon for more than one liturgy to be celebrated at the same time at various side altars. In those days priests did not concelebrate masses as they do frequently today. Each priest had to celebrate his own mass. In monasteries where numerous priest might be in residence, numerous liturgies might be celebrated at similar times. In order not to interrupt each other, the priests conducted these liturgies with a server quietly. This practice continued into modern times.

Over time this monastic silence came to be regarded as a sacred silence. The whispering of the prayers was considered a sign of the sacredness of the words which “should not” be loudly proclaimed. (There are other more complicated theological trends that swept the liturgy too complicated to go into here that also influenced the move to a more silent liturgy) At any rate, the practice of a sacred silence came to be the norm eventually even in parish churches. Hence the hushed tones were not an attempt to ignore the faithful who attended or make their participation difficult but it was associated with a holy silence. People knelt, praying as the priest prayed on their behalf.

In the past century as literacy increased among the lay faithful it became more common to provide them with books that contained the texts of the liturgy and those who could read were encouraged to follow along closely. Through the 1940s and 50s these books (called “missals”) became quite common among the laity. By the 1950s there were also some experiments with allowing the priest to have a microphone or to raise the level of his voice so the faithful could follow more easily. These “dialogue Masses” were more popular in some place than others. Sacred silence was still valued by many and adjusting to a different experience was not always embraced with the same fervor, it varied from place to place.

Today, with the return in some places to the celebration of the Old Latin Mass (called officially the “Extraordinary Form”) this sacred silence is once again in evidence. For those who are not used to it, it seems puzzling. But hopefully some of this history helps us understand it. Once again we are faced with the dilemma of how loudly the priest should pray the Canon (Eucharistic Prayer) at such Masses. There are different opinions but a fairly wide consensus that the prayer should be generally said in a very subdued voice.

Vatican Liturgists Present Proposals for Change to the Pope

In an Article published in the Italian Newspaper Il Giornale Journalist Andrea Tornielli reports that the Roman Dicastery responsible for the Sacred Liturgy met and proposed certain reforms for the consideration of the Pope. I reproduce a translated excerpts of that article here with some of my own thoughts in RED.

ROME. A document was delivered to the hands of Benedict XVI in the morning of last April 4 by Spanish Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship. It is the result of a reserved vote, which took place on March 12, in the course of a “plenary” session of the dicastery responsible for the liturgy, and it represents the first concrete step towards that “reform of the reform” often desired by Pope Ratzinger.

 The Cardinals and Bishops members of the Congregation voted almost unanimously in favor of a greater sacrality [sacredness] of the rite, of the recovery of the sense of Eucharistic worship, of the recovery of the Latin language in the celebration, and of the remaking of the introductory parts of the Missal in order to put a stop to abuses, wild experimentation, and inappropriate creativity. [There have been many observations over the decades that Masses in some places have become too informal. In many cases the action of worshipping God seems almost lost. The author of a book I read some years ago summarized many parish masses as “the aware and gathered community celebrating itself.” The personality of the priest and other liturgical leaders also seems exagerated in some celebrations of the Mass. Hence a re-emphasis that the Mass is an act of worship directed to God seems an important reminder and an antidote for mistaken notion that the Mass is really more for the self-actualization of the gathered faithful. However, I think we have to be careful to avoid the tendency that some have to frown upon joyful expression in the liturgy. Reverence doesn’t have to mean that everyone looks like they just sucked a lemon. Different cultures may well be more expressive than others and joyful praise can be very worshipful. The main point is to be sure that God is at the center and that it is He who is being worshipped. As for the liturgical abuses, they are clearly an ugly problem that persists.  I think of them as a sign of pride, that somehow Father or some liturgy committee knows better than the Church. Liturgical abuses are also a form of injustice since they rob the faithful of the Liturgy they are entitled to. Abuses and violations of liturgical law cause division not unity. Hence they are not of God.]

They have also declared themselves favorable to reaffirming  that the usual way of receiving Communion according to the norms is not on the hand, but in the mouth. There is, it is true, an indult which, on request of the [local] bishops, allows for the distribution of the host on the palm of the hand, but this must remain an extraordinary fact.[This may cause something of a stir. But notice that they are not saying the practice of receiving on the hand must end. Rather they state it is not the norm but is a departure that is permitted in some places. But it does seem to start a trajectory away from the practice of Communion in the hand. The Pope, at his Masses usually gives Communion only to the faithful kneeling and on the tongue. Several Bishops aroung the world have revoked the practice of permitting communion in the hand in their dioceses. I have also noticed in my parish, through no suggestion of mine that more people are returning to the practice of receiving on the tongue. I am not sure of the final outcome of this but a clear preference for communion on the tongue has been expressed by the Pope and the Congregation for Divine Worship. That is not something to ignore and it will proabably have ripple effects in the wider Church].

The Prefect of the Congregatoin for Divine Worship, Cardinal Cañizares, is also having studies made on the possibility to recover the orientation towards the east, at least at the moment of the eucharistic consecration, as it happened in practice before the reform, when both the faithful and the priest faced towards the Cross and the priest therefore turned his back to the assembly. [ Here too a pretty radical shift away from current practice. Put in plainer language it means that they are studying the possibility of returning to the practice of the priest standing at the altar with the congregation behind him, but only for the Eucharistic Prayer. It is wrong to say that the priest turns his back on the people. Rather, priest and people all face the same direction. In the early Church it was the practice for everyone to face to the East (looking toward the Light, toward God and toward the direction from whence Christ would come again). As the Church spread, it was not always possible for every Church to be oriented (to the east) so the cross in the sanctuary came to represent a symbolic east. Everyone faced the cross to pray. Although it may seem seem strange today to those who never experienced the older way, consider this example. Suppose a community leader is leading a large group of citizens forward to greet a dignitary. When he speaks on behalf of the group to the dignitary who will he face? It would be strange for him to face the crowd while he spoke to the dignitary on their behalf. No, he faces the person he addresses. This necessarily means he “has his back to the crowd” but no one thinks of it this way. Thus, in the old days, when the priest spoke to God on our behalf he faced God, to the East, or toward the cross.Understood this way it is not all that odd.  The practice of everyone facing one direction for Mass continued all the way to 1965 when altars began to be turned and priests began to face the congregation. Truth be told this is an innovation unknown before 1965 and it has seriously changed the whole tenor of the Mass and tended to shift the focus to the assembly. Many liturgical theologians have strongly recommended that we study and revisit this practice. Where this study will go is uncertain and it is unlikely that we will see any sudden changes in this practice, but here too  the tide seems to be turning].

…..the “propositiones” voted by the Cardinals and Bishops at the March plenary [also]foresee a ….recovery of the celebrations in Latin in the dioceses, at least in the main solemnities, as well as the publication of bilingual Missals – a request made at his time by Paul VI – with the Latin text first. [ This is not a return to ALL LATIN. Rather it is their intent to make the Latin more accessible to the celebrant and encourage more use of Latin espeically at feast days. Today if I want to say the canon in Latin, I have to flip a lot of pages to find it in the missal. The proposal by the Cardinals would make it easier to find and encourage the use of Latin more frequently].

OK. I know these proposals will not be without controversy. Please feel free to weigh in with comments and thoughts. That’s a main purpose of this blog after all, to generate discussion. Fire away.

I’ve posted this video before but it shows the practice of “facing east” during the Eucharistic Prayer.

Translation Please

devotions-benedictionSomeone asked me for a translation of a Latin song we often sing called Tantum Ergo. We usually sing it  for benediction and other Eucharistic occasions. There is an English translation of sorts that is out there which begins: “Humbly let us voice our homage for so great a sacrament…”  It’s close but because it is bound by poetic meter it strays a bit. Perhaps a more literal translation will help you in know what the Latin words mean as you sing them. I would like to offer a fairly literal translation here below:

Tantum ergo Sacramentum                 Therefore so great a Sacrament
Veneremur cernui:                                  Let us venerate with bowed heads
Et antiquum documentum                   And as the ancient dispensation
Novo cedat ritui:                                      gives way to the newer rites:
Praestet fides supplementum              Let Faith supply a help
Sensuum defectui.                                    to the defect of the senses.

Genitori, Genitoque                                 To the One Who Begets and the One who is begotten
Laus et jubilatio,                                        Be praise and jubilation,
Salus, honor, virtus quoque                 Salvation, honor, strength also
Sit et benedictio:                                       And may there be blessing:
Procedenti ab utroque                            (and) to the One proceeding from them both
Compar sit laudatio.                                 may there be equal praise.
Amen.                                                             Amen.

Just in case you’re wondering, the “One who Begets” is God the Father, the “One who is Begotten” is God the Son (Jesus), and the “One proceeding from them both” is  God the Holy Spirit.

Alright so now that you hopefully have a better idea what those words mean, enjoy this video which features Mozart’s  version of Tantum Ergo (k. 197).

Praying in Latin?

 detroit-seminary-1955I recently got a question from a reader:

Last week you dealt with a question concerning the “traditional” Latin Mass and by way of contrast the Latin Mass as celebrated in the ordinary form of the new mass. My concern is how to properly participate in this form of the mass in order please God and gain the spiritual benefits of the mass. For instance there are long silent passages in the traditional low mass. Should I purchase a missal in order to best join with the celebrant or are their other ways in which I can participate? Please clarify. Thank you.

There is in fact a very different sense of participation when the Older (Extraordinary) Form of the Latin Mass is celebrated. As you note the Mass is celebrated in such a way that there are long passages that the priest whispers in Latin. Even if one might be able  to learn and follow the Latin prayers such a remoteness is startling to many who have not known liturgy to be celebrated in this manner. I will explain in a moment how one can participate in such a situation but at first it might be good to explain why there is such a pronounced silence at Latin Masses.

Historically the whispered Eucharistic prayer (or Canon) developed in monastic settings where it was not uncommon for more than one liturgy to be celebrated at the same time at various side altars. In those days priests did not concelebrate masses as they do frequently today. Each priest had to celebrate his own mass. In monasteries where numerous priest might be in residence, numerous liturgies might be celebrated at similar times. In order not to interrupt each other, the priests conducted these liturgies with a server quietly. This practice continued into modern times (see the picture above right). Over time this monastic silence came to be regarded as a sacred silence. The whispering of the prayers was considered a sign of the sacredness of the words which “should not”  be loudly proclaimed. (There are other more complicated theological trends that swept the liturgy too complicated to go into here that also influenced the move to a more silent liturgy) At any rate, the practice of a sacred silence came to be the norm eventually even in parish churches. Hence the hushed tones were not an attempt to ignore the faithful who attended or make their participation difficult but it was associated with a holy silence. People knelt,  praying  as the  priest prayed prayed on their behalf. In the past century as literacy increased among the lay faithful it became more common to provide them with books that contained the texts of the liturgy and those who could read were encouraged to follow along closely. Through the 1940s and 50s these books (called “missals”) became quite common among the laity. By the 1950s there were also some experiments with allowing the priest to have a microphone  or to raise the level of his voice so the faithful could follow more easily. These “dialogue Masses” were more popular in some place than others. Sacred silence was still valued by many and adjusting to a different experience was not always embraced with the same fervor, it varied from place to place.