Friday 13th December 2019

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In The Prayer Of The Church, Latin Matters

October 12, 2019 Frontpage No Comments


Deep down, one really wants to tell folks not to worry about what is going on outside of your parish. After all, what does it really matter who sits in the Curia or who-runs-what at the Vatican Bank? Let the Amazon have its synod; let the Germans follow suit. Who cares so long as we still have the Eucharist, right?
Of course, there is tremendous comfort in the idea that the storm outside isn’t exactly lashing our parish boat too hard. After all, while the politics of the Vatican are “fun” to watch in one sense, the flip side of the argument is rather easily repeated: Focus on your parish, volunteer at the soup kitchen, make rosaries, faithfully attend Eucharistic Adoration, pray the rosary daily, go to Mass every Sunday, make your Confession once a month.
This is what we are called to do after all: to attend to the sacraments and practice the Beatitudes.
I do have a confession to make in this regard, though. Some years ago, my faith was rattled. Not by Pope Francis and the Velvet Mafia, mind you. Rather, it was in early 2011 when the initial changes to the English translation of the Nicene Creed came out that deeply affected me and rattled my ideas about the Magisterium.
You see, the Latin for creed is credo — not “we believe” but rather that I believe. When you make your Confirmation, you are assenting to this creed as articles of faith. This is the faith of our fathers that we are obligated to pass down.
Of course, the changes Pope Benedict made to the English translation of the Nicene Creed rendered the language more faithful to the original Latin. Words are important, and the more faithful the translation the more faithful the faithful; lex orandi lex credendi (the law of prayer is the law of belief).
Yet the terms consubstantial and “one in being” didn’t seem terribly off to me. Effectively, they are very much the same. But the wheels started turning….I didn’t assent to the Latin translation of the Nicene Creed; I assented to the English translation. More accurately, I assented to an English representation of the Latin presentation of what I believe. That’s where the problems begin.
This is not to say that I prize the English translation over the Latin original. Far from it — though to this day, I still do not see the daylight between the English version that predominated my youth and young adulthood and the Latin. Rather, it is the fact that the vernacular translation could be changed that unnerved me, or rather that if Pope Benedict could change the translation to give a more authentic meaning, then the question now arose as to whether or not my first meaning — my first credo — was unauthentic, lacking, or somehow substandard to the original?

To Whose Benefit?

There is another twist to this. If this is the case, then what prevents a future Pope from doing likewise? Or another Cardinal Bernardin? Or another synod in a different country? Will Amazonian Catholics assent to an “I believe” in one language that means something entirely different in German? When we pray the Holy Mass in the vernacular in the Philippines, does it mean something different in the vernacular in the Ukraine?
You can see the implications almost immediately. Language has structure, and that structure has an impact on what the sentence means. “You’re an idiot!” sounds a lot different coming from my brothers than it does coming from a stranger; the emphasis on certain words matters as well. Thus a Latin version that sounds more like Yoda from Star Wars — “idiot you are!” or stultus est — sounds very different in German — du bist ein Dummkopf!
Now if every sentence in German sounds like a declaration of war, and every sentence in Latin sounds noble, and every English sentence sounds like a mouth full of chewing gum — where does that leave vernacular translations of the Nicene Creed? What does that do to our faith? What — pray tell — does that do to our understanding of the Holy Mass? And when the translations change, to whose benefit?
Needless to say, I took these concerns to the confessional some time ago. The priest did not offer much consolation other than to instruct me to bind myself more closely to the Eucharist and continue to pray the rosary every day. Good advice, I think — at least, it has worked so far.

Parish Life

One suspects that the faith of many Catholics is about to be seriously rattled in the wake of the Amazonian Synod and the German Synod. The introduction of married priests in the Western Rite will be viewed with great suspicion, whereas the German bishops — who prize their church tax — will adopt the logic of Henry VIII and apostatize in order to preserve something they lost a long time ago.
Meanwhile, Pope Francis remains presented to the world as a confused figure. In some things, Francis is very good — abortion, transgenderism, marriage, and the family. In other things, Francis seems rather at odds with himself — mock marriages, attacks on tradition, and a willingness to dilute the faith in order to make it more palatable.
Francis may genuinely believe that milk goes before meat; the rest of us wonder aloud whether it is necessary to remove meat from the table entirely. Surely not….
Yet one returns to parish life. The law of prayer is indeed the law of belief, and yet we see how the Body of Christ is divided in subtle and at times overt ways. Vernacular translations, the Gather hymnal vs. the Adoremus hymnal, the Jesuit charism vs. the Dominican charism vs. the Franciscan charism, treating the Church as a hospital for sinners vs. working for their healing and salvation rather than merely warehousing the People of God. These questions matter; they require shepherds.
So my recommendation in this regard is of a somewhat middling third way. Yes, by all means focus on your parish life. But pay attention to your diocese writ large and limit the attention and focus there. Certainly our bishops need our prayers and support. Certainly they too are facing tremendous pressures from a hostile media and a hostile government seeking to undermine religious liberty.
Certainly our bishops need the encouragement to be shepherds — and to that end, every bit of courage we can give them to stand firm for the Magisterium is important.
Yet coming back to the nature of prayer and creed, it is important to remember the faith of our fathers and the common language of the Catholic Church in the Western Latin Rite. There is something to be said for setting aside the vernacular and taking up the Latin, whether that is a Latin Mass said in the Novus Ordo or the old Tridentine Mass that is worshiped not for its beauty but rather it is how Christ deserves to be worshiped.
This is not a call for the Novus Ordo to be scrapped by any means. Rather, it is a call and a reminder that the meat still needs to be on the table, and that a healthy parish life — and a healthy diocesan life — deserves some closer attention be paid to Pope Benedict’s motu proprio Summorum Pontificum.
True, it is not a full-throated endorsement of the old Tridentine Mass, but it is a reminder that the language of the Church anchors us tremendously — in ways both small and profound.
Please remember to pray for our bishops and priests, regardless as to their condition. No bishops, no priests; no priests, no Eucharist…and no Eucharist, no Church. There is our focus, ladies and gentlemen — right there.

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First Teachers warmly encourages readers to submit their thoughts, views, opinions, and insights to the author directly either via e-mail or by mail. Please send any correspondence to Shaun Kenney c/o First Teachers, 5289 Venable Road, Kents Store, VA 23084 or by e-mail to

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