The Liturgy and the Vernacular

The text on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum concilium) states the following: but goes on to say: So, this says that the use of the vernacular can be increased, especially in the items referenced. But what of the whole conversion of the liturgy into the vernacular? Nothing of the sort is even mentioned. This means that what has happened since the Council is in direct violation of article 36 (1), which states that Latin must be preserved. Moreover, the Constitution goes on to say: Which clearly states that Latin, according the Fathers of the Council, would still be used in the post-Council liturgy, something that has plainly not happened. I consider the above directives of the Constitution of the liturgy to be noble and wise decrees, a fulfilment of the true liturgical spirit that worked for a greater involvement of the laity in the liturgy, through understanding and participation. The faithful should join in the liturgy; internally through prayer, submission of will and in becoming one with Christ in the offering to God the Father; externally through physical posture, gestures and responses, where appropriate. Converting the entire liturgy into the vernacular, which is what has happened, is total disobedience to the Council itself and the intentions of the Fathers that voted on the Constitution, in particular. Even Mgr. Lefebvre signed the Constitution, understanding that it was a development rather than a complete revolution.

The use of the vernacular expels much of the mystery and majesty of what is taking place. We can hear and understand what is being said, but we cannot grasp, just by listening to the words, what is actually happening. The use of the vernacular makes the liturgy sound ordinary, when what is actually happening is the most extraordinary event that the Universe has ever seen - the sacrifice of Christ Himself. Many people have stated that the liturgy is plain boring, and I would agree to a certain extent - its ordinariness makes my mind wonder, to think that the eternal sacrifice is being re-presented to me seems to be beyond my understanding at the time.

Moreover, it seems what often unified the Catholic Church was its language. We could enter a church anywhere and feel at home. With the liturgy now in many languages depending on where you are (and sometimes in many languages in a single Mass), the sense of unity has been destroyed. Unity of faith has also seemingly been shaken to its very foundations; cafeteria Catholicism seems to be the order of the day rather than obedience to Christ and His Church.

Latin has become a dead language, only used by the Church in its official documents and its liturgy. A dead language no longer evolves to reflect the current social climate, as do vernacular languages. Therefore, the meaning of the words in Latin do not change, so it provides a stable platform in which to celebrate the Church's highest form of prayer: the Mass. The unchanging nature of the liturgy in effect symbolises the unchanging nature of the Mass and the faith itself; the Catholic faith has been revealed once and for all and is an eternal objective Truth independent of all temporal existence. The liturgy naturally reflects this: the eternal sacrifice of Christ surrounded by a liturgy that itself is eternal, transcending our lives and bringing us closer to God through the sacrifice of our Lord. To use a living language such as English, which is used in many different cultures in different ways, is to surround the eternal Truths of our faith with uncertainty and confusion. Moreover, what sounds noble to us today may seem old-fashioned or even offensive in just a few years from now. We can hardly afford this kind of instability around the action of Christ Himself; it endangers the faith of those who attend and dispels much of the sacredness and historical essence of the celebration. We believe in a Communion of Saints, a continuation of what has gone before us. To radically change the liturgy and to continue in this trend, is to symbolise a destruction of this Communion and the faith in which it is based.

With the jettison of the Latin language, the Gregorian chant has seemingly fallen by the wayside. The great treasure of Church music has been destroyed, replaced by awful secular music that drowns any sense of the sacred or mystery. The Constitution said the following on the Gregorian chant: Does your parish give the Gregorian chant pride of place, or are guitars and "folk bands" given the go ahead? Why are these people, in charge of our parishes and diocesan chanceries, so disobedient to the word of the Council itself? Why has Latin, the language of the Church which unified the Latin rite around the world transcending cultures and national borders, been thrown out with so many other beautiful traditions that the Church has cared for and fostered through the centuries?

It seems that the present climate in the Church is obsessed with bringing down all that is mysterious, beautiful and sacred to the level of man, to the level of ordinariness, ugliness and profanity. Latin could not be understood by the common man, so it had to be dispensed with. There seems little or no notion of lifting man above himself to the level of the angels, of sanctification and the realisation of the corruptness of modern society. The musical treasure of the Church has now been confined to concert halls and opera houses, whilst the Mass in which it was written for is surrounded by banal music.

Let reinvigorate the language of the Church. Let us emphasise our unity in faith and language. Let us raise ourselves up to the worship of the Church, not bring it down to our meagre level. Let us be obedient to the Second Vatican Council in its decrees on the Latin language and in fostering the musical treasures of the Church. Let us, once again, celebrate and sing: Gloria in excelsis Deo!

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Last modified 17th March, 1997, by David Joyce.