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Mixed views over Latin in Church

Denise Balgobin Monday, December 4 2006

There has been mixed support for Pope Benedict XVI in his efforts to revive the celebration of Catholic Mass in its traditional Latin format as practiced by priests for over 1,500 years.

Most Catholics today attend Mass according to the rite established by Pope Paul VI in 1969, which is generally celebrated in the everyday language of the people.

The church believes that those Catholics who wish to attend Mass in Latin according to the ancient rite should be permitted to do so.

Use of the Tridentine Mass, parts of which date from the time of St Gregory in the sixth century and which takes its name from the 16th-century Council of Trent, was restricted by most bishops after the reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).

This allowed for the introduction of the new Mass in the vernacular to make it more accessible to contemporary audiences. By bringing back Mass in Latin, Pope Benedict is signalling that his sympathies lie with conservatives in the Catholic Church.

On top of the cross on which our Savior died, the cause of his death — Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews — was written in Hebrew, Greek and Latin.

In tribute to this historical fact, the Mass of the Roman Catholic Church, while always preserving certain Greek and Hebrew expressions, has from the very first century been conducted in Latin, the language of old Rome.

Some believe that to preserve the Latin in the Church’s public worship is to preserve the link between the Church of today and the Church of the past. Besides being a sign of historical continuity, the Latin language is also a sign of universality.

According to Monsignor Christian Pereira of the Santa Rosa RC Church, the Catholic Church as a body has never condemned the Latin language during the celebration of Mass.

“In fact, in Rome, all public Masses are conducted in Latin. Over the years, though, in the various countries with their own language, the Church has allowed usage of the people’s vernacular,” Pereira stated.

“Several times during the year, parts of the local Mass is done in Latin, according to the Feast. We recently celebrated the Feast of Christ the King, and the Sacred Heart Choir’s 19th anniversary and we spoke Latin.

“This is our main local choir. They sing mostly in Latin and often visit other parishes to perform, so that you would find Latin in various churches around the country.”

He regretted that many young people in Trinidad today expect to be entertained when they go to church and because of the structure of the Catholic Mass, the youths tend to gravitate towards Pentecostal churches, which have vibrant music and singing.

“There is a need for us to move away from this cultural tradition of seeking out instant gratification. Pleasing the youths don’t always help them and we need to encourage them to move their lives beyond this type of thinking.”

Pereira also noted that whenever the Pope writes a letter, it is always done first in Latin, then translated into the other languages of the world.

Citing everyday circumstances where young people can find Latin, he stated that “several of the great medical texts have large sections in Latin. Scripture and Theology students have a large part of their study material in Latin, so it’s a good way for young students to learn a new language,” he ended.

One 32-year-old Trinidadian Catholic (who did not wish to have his name published) admitted that he often falls asleep during Mass and he believes the church has not yet moved into the 21st century, which is why so many persons his age are now flocking to the Pentecostal churches.

He believes that increasing the use of Latin in the Catholic Mass, in Trinidad at least, is a perfect way to decrease the number of young Catholics.

“We don’t know the language and we obviously won’t be able to understand what’s going on. I would just like it if the powers-that-be in the Catholic church revive their conduct of Mass, to make it more appealing to the younger folk.

“While I grew up hearing parts of the Mass in Latin, there is the question of whether it is worth isolating young Catholics by forcing on them a dying language.”

For many years, Pope Benedict XVI has demonstrated solidarity with the faithful devoted to the older rite. From the outset of his papacy, there has been speculation about whether the Pontiff would make more generous provision for the celebration of the traditional Mass.

This speculation has intensified in recent weeks with reports from the Italian press and other media outlets suggesting that the Pope’s decision may be made public within the upcoming weeks.

Many have speculated as to the Pope’s reasons for issuing a new document. Some believe that such a measure is necessary because to date the intentions of Benedict’s predecessor concerning the traditional Mass have not yet been realised.

Some Church leaders are vehemently opposed to the freeing of the traditional Roman rite. Several French bishops recently issued a communiqué warning that the easing of restrictions on the traditional Mass would cause disunity, stating that just as Roman Catholics have a right to expect the same beliefs among members of their Church anywhere in the world, so too they have a right to find themselves “at home” in every one of their churches the world over.

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