Fr Z recently posted a poll about one's language preference for the Mass (i.e., Latin or vernacular), so these thoughts seem timely.
I grew up with the novus ordo in English (with the occasional Spanish Second Reading at Midnight Mass). When I first fell in love with the Traditional Latin Mass, one of its strongest draws was precisely that it was not in English, that I had to put forth some effort in order to pray it effectively.
Just over a year ago, I posted about the perks of praying in Latin. My arguments basically boiled down to the fact that we fallen humans just don't listen, so Latin (with translation provided, of course) would be a way to wake people up and help them to enter in. (Leaving aside entirely the theological points of universality through space and time, and of undoing both the Babel event and the fall.)
But, as my regular readers may remember, I have recently had to reexamine how I look at things in light of the huge blessing that is my opportunity to study the Sacred Liturgy, for the service of Holy Mother Church. So I have found myself wondering.
For this was one of the major aims of the Liturgical Movement, to have the Mass in the vernacular, and since I seem to be continuing in their footsteps, I thought I'd best address our major points of divergence (the other being Mass celebrated versus populum, which is a forthcoming post).
I began to wonder about the mother of the young child, who knows what's going on in the heart of the Mass, but cannot pray the propers or orations (or, in some places, even the readings) because she doesn't have the time to open her missal and read them. About the old man who's losing his sight. About the foreigner who has no missal. About the illiterate man who sits in the back. About the child. Sure, all these people can pray, principally through the beauty of the Sacred Liturgy. But how can they enter deeply into the liturgical prayer of the Church, as their baptismal priesthood both entitles them and calls them to do?
Certainly /I/ prefer Latin, but I'm an intellectual and an avocational linguist. My mother, on the other hand, is put off by it. If Jesus Christ descended to become incarnate as man so that we could know Him on our own level (if you will), then why can the Sacred Liturgy not speak our own language, so that we could know Him there?
This blog is aptly titled, for I find myself musing here with greater frequency. Not concluding, mind you, merely musing. When all is said and done, I don't know which is "better." I know which I prefer, but is my preference a devotional-like attachment to praying the Mass the way I want to pray it, rather than how God has asked me to pray it?
Considering that Holy Mother Church, the Bride of Christ, has asked that we continue to pray in Latin as well as in the vernacular, and that modern popes and magisterial documents have requested that every Catholic know at least the Ordinary of the Mass and common prayers in Latin, my desire is clearly not contrary to God's perfect will.
Still, these objections must be considered. Were I to simply voice my assent for a universal application of what practices I find beneficial in my own spiritual life, I would be a poor scholar, and perhaps even poorer a Christian.
Even more practically: I do not have the option of going to a Mass where everybody does everything the way I want. The very concept is laughable, and selfish. My responsibility as a Christian is to offer my heart to Our Lord at every liturgy I find myself attending, to always place myself upon that paten to be offered up as a sacrifice.
When I'm at a Mass in English, that means listening.
I've always been bad at listening, but my listening skills do seem to have deteriorated over the past year or two. Admittedly, I was spoiled at Steubenville by dynamic, intellectual homilists. But even back home (especially at my EF parish) I heard my fair share of excellent homilies - and still had to keep mentally slapping myself to attention because my mind had wandered off several sentences ago.
As I summed above, we fallen humans just don't listen. But, by virtue our very participation in the Sacred Liturgy, we are called to rise above the fallen state of our humanity and enter into the heavenly worship. By our offering of ourselves upon the sacrificial altar, we are called to let go of our sins and weaknesses. By our sharing in this our wedding banquet, we are called to intimate Communion with our divine Bridegroom.
We are called to listen. And not just to listen: to listen with reverence. We are called to make that listening our prayer, just as we make prayers of our standing and sitting, our signs of the cross and bows of the head, our dressing in finery and speaking of the assigned responses.
We are called to listen to Him, as He listens to us. Regardless of the language of the liturgy (but especially so when it's in our native tongue): listening to Him in the liturgy can be the first step to listening to Him in our hearts.
Domine, exaudi orationem meam...
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