The Mass in Latin

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Pope Benedict XVI issued an apostolic letter on July 7 on the use of the Roman Liturgy prior to the Reform of 1970. This commonly has been known as the permission to celebrate the Mass in Latin as it was celebrated since the Council of Trent. The current Latin Missal was approved in 1962 and is the Missal to be used when Mass is celebrated in Latin. It is also possible to celebrate the Mass of the Second Vatican Council in Latin, but its form is the same as the Mass we now know in the vernacular.

Certain confusion has been caused by reports on the letter, issued "motu proprio" (on the Holy Father's own initiative). The instruction states clearly that the ordinary form of the Latin Rite is the use of the Missal approved by the Second Vatican Council and that the extraordinary celebration of Mass in the Latin Rite is the use of the Missal of 1962. The Holy Father in his instruction makes it clear that those who wish to use the prior Missal must not in any way reject the authority of the Second Vatican Council to replace that Missal with the Missal presently in use. Unfortunately, this is what is held by many so-called traditionalist Catholics led by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, now deceased. His followers continue to maintain that the Second Vatican Council had no authority to change the traditional Latin Mass.

The Holy Father in his instruction uses two Latin phrases that characterized the life of the Church for many centuries, "lex credendi" and "lex orandi." Simply stated, this means that the laws of worship follow the laws of belief. It is hoped that the ability for greater use of the prior Missal to celebrate Mass in Latin will express a common belief, although the language of prayer may be different. This certainly is a concern to many, in particular in parishes where some feel confusion can result over the use of the two Missals.

However, it has been our experience since the Second Vatican Council that those who prefer the use of the prior Missal in the celebration of Mass are certainly fewer than those who prefer the new Missal. In many ways it is a matter of preference, because the liturgy is meant to enhance and support our belief and give us the way of expressing that belief in prayer.

The use of the vernacular in the liturgy has been a great asset in proclaiming Sacred Scripture as well as in intensifying the understanding believers have of the liturgy in which they participate. Some people still question the use of multiple languages in one country for the celebration of liturgy. The Diocese of Brooklyn often receives requests that Mass only be celebrated in English, however, in a Diocese where Mass is celebrated in 26 different languages each Sunday, this is hardly possible or advisable.

Language is an expression of one's culture and manner of thinking. People usually pray in the language they first learned, the language in which prayer was taught to them. This certainly is the case with many immigrants whose first language is other than English. For them to adapt to another language of prayer in their liturgical life would be a great burden and in many ways would diminish their participation in liturgy. In some ways this is applicable to those who prefer Mass in Latin, prior to 1968 when the Mass was almost only in Latin.

We all have our fond memories of the liturgy that nourished us and brought us to new insights of the Second Vatican Council. I myself am trained to celebrate the Mass according to the 1962 Missal, but I never had the opportunity to do so since when I was ordained in 1970 the popular use of that Missal was not encouraged. All the priests who celebrated Mass in Latin for many years have their own memories, some fond and others not so admirable, since the Mass was difficult to celebrate. Since the rubrics (the instructions) of how the Mass was to be celebrated were detailed and sometimes difficult to follow, distractions were also numerous. Although many could pronounce Latin, the meaning of certain texts was not always understood.

The Church in its wisdom allows many different forms of worship within the one Catholic Church. For example, we have many different rites in which Mass is celebrated in a completely different way than the Roman Rite, with the use of different languages. Now within the Roman Rite there are two ways of celebrating that rite, the ordinary with the Missal of the Second Vatican Council and the extraordinary using the Missal of 1962.

There are certain advantages and disadvantages to each method of celebration. The major advantage of the newer rite is that much more of Sacred Scripture from the Old and New Testaments is used over the three-year cycle of readings. In the older liturgy, only small portions of Scripture were liturgically proclaimed. On the other hand, Mass in Latin from the prior Missal did have a certain reverence and attention to the mystery of the Eucharist that was celebrated. Certainly, the music of the Latin chants was also an essential experience which added to the solemnity of the liturgy. Periods of silence also added to a prayerful atmosphere. Of course, all these elements of the older celebration can be included in the newer. Perhaps these fewer than 40 years have not given us sufficient time to recoup the advantages of the past and place them into the present.

The Church is a living organism open to change and renewal. Sometimes renewal must look at the past in order to reach the present. The celebration of the Mass in Latin with the 1962 Missal may give us some understanding of how we must continue to improve our attention to the liturgy, for, in fact, it is the sum and source of our life as Catholic Christians, and anything we can do to make our celebrations more faith filled and more reverent must be used.

Diocesan norms based on the Holy Father's instruction will be forthcoming and will give some understanding of how we can implement the instruction in our Diocese. Several weeks ago, The Tablet announced that the Latin Mass is regularly celebrated at two locations, each Sunday at 10 a.m. in Our Lady of Peace Church in Park Slope, and on the second and fourth Sundays of the month at 9 a.m. in St. John's Cemetery Chapel in Middle Village. I hope these opportunities will be sufficient for the faithful to fulfill the desire to experience the Latin Mass, but if they are not we will take into consideration other requests that may come from parishes. There are always the difficulties of scheduling and having priests appropriately trained in language and liturgy to celebrate Mass in Latin.

Any new innovation certainly is an exercise of "putting out into the deep." Certainly, the Holy Father's instruction, which is meant to foster an interior reconciliation in the heart of the Church, will give the Church an opportunity, as he said, "to generously open our hearts and make room for everything that faith itself allows."

Join me in praying for good celebrations of the Eucharist in our Diocese, where the proclamation of the Word and homily are clear and where the celebration of the Eucharistic rite is reverent and according to liturgical norms. Good celebrations foster faith, while poor celebrations can destroy faith. My hope is that the celebration of the Eucharist in whatever form in our Diocese will inspire us to deeper faith and concrete action.

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