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A Leaven In The World . . . Is “Never Latin” The New Babel Of The Universal Church?

October 30, 2017 Our Catholic Faith No Comments


(Editor’s Note: Because of the importance of this week’s column by Fr. Cusick, we are running it on the front page instead of its usual place on page 2B.)

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Years ago when I was assigned for two years to Italy as a Navy chaplain, I entered upon a very intentional program of life. I was determined to learn the Italian language and thus obtain the key to understanding more deeply the rich complexities of Italian life, its culture and manners. I wanted to communicate with the people on their own level and to become their friend, sharing in their lives and having my own enriched as a result.
I went “native” except for the period when I reported to the military base for work each day. I listened to Italian TV and radio and I visited my neighbors’ home nearly every day, sitting through hours of nonsensical words that sometimes left me feeling the odd outsider. I even signed up at the Pontifical Faculty in Naples for theology classes one morning and one afternoon every week, instead of taking a day off, with the hope of earning a sacred license in theology.
Slowly but surely particular sounds took on associations, some with objects and others with actions. I began to be able to form small sentences, making mistakes too as I attempted to extrapolate on what I had already learned. Once, later in my stay when I was baptizing a friend’s baby, I used the typical ending for the names of various types of stores to invite everyone to the area of the church with the font, calling it a “battizeria” instead of the correct term, “battistero.” They chuckled with amusement as they corrected me, recognizing the logic as well as the bravery of my attempt.
Soon enough I was speaking Italian fluently and amazing my friends and family. I enjoyed the honor and privilege of celebrating local weddings, Baptisms, and Sunday Mass in Italian. I had to get over my perpetual surprise at the matter of fact response on the part of my Italian friends, however. For them it was really nothing at all to hear the language they had been learning since birth, no matter who was speaking it.
My life has since been immeasurably enriched by this key to Europe’s richest culture and home to eighty percent of the world’s art treasures as well as our Church’s central shrine on Earth at St. Peter’s.
When it comes to our Church’s worship, I believe the same challenge and enrichment should be offered to all. At this point, based on certain recent developments, it appears that Summorum Pontificum, which ensures the Traditional Latin Mass can be said by any priest and requested by any group, is now our sole hope in this regard.
All but forgotten is the continuing importance of liturgical Latin, for the council fathers made clear by no less an authority than Sacrosanctum Concilium and their intention documented elsewhere that the Canon of the Mass continue to be prayed in Latin.
Pope Francis’ document Magnum Principium grants greater authority to bishops, meaning in fact bishops conferences with their anonymous bureaucrats, over the words chosen to create a substitute in local languages for the Latin original in the rites. Whether or not there will be any longer a concern for faithfulness to the rich Latin expression of faith in the traditional prayers, this promises a Balkanization of the Church which will serve to fracture her unity.
Pope Francis and Cardinal Sarah are coming from two different places on the subject of translations of liturgical texts. Others have commented already at length on why Pope Francis issued a letter of correction to Cardinal Sarah’s commentary about Magnum Principium. In this regard I recommend Andrea Gagliarducci’s excellent piece for, “Why did Pope Francis write to Cardinal Sarah?”
The long and the short of the matter is that the Pope emphasizes decentralization over Vatican defense of fidelity to the sense of Latin texts in matters of vernacular liturgy. The long, hard battle that went into forging Liturgiam Authenticam (LA) does not interest him and he has abolished certain paragraphs of that document to take authority away from Rome and place it into the hands of local bishops.
For Cardinal Sarah, continuity and tradition, faithfulness to apostolic succession as expressed in Latin prayers, are a means of transmitting the faith and thus to be defended.
Word by word translations according to LA preserved the sense of Latin for the sake of making the tradition accessible as fully as possible without hindrance due to possible prejudices of a translator.
For the Pope, there now must be a “triple fidelity”: the importance of the original Latin text must be ranked equally with “the particular languages the text is translated into, and to the comprehension of the text by its recipients,” according to Elise Harris of
How one text can meet all these demands without becoming an unrecognizable betrayal of the original baffles me. Considering the fact that the work will most likely be done by committee invites despair at the prospect of ever reaching a consensus.
Peter Kwasniewski, in a LifeSiteNews interview with Diane Montagna, makes an important point. It should be remembered that the decentralization that the Pope envisions builds on and perpetuates a faulty inheritance from Vatican II: the weakened position of individual bishops as a result of the creation of bishops conferences.
As we have seen already, the bishops end up hiring so-called experts to form a committee for tasks such as peace, ecology, or translating. As a result, the bishops themselves may not have a direct say in the final documents and, as we saw so often in the 1970s and 1980s, may become hostages to the alien agendas perpetuated by the bureaucrats they have hired to work in their name.
Kwasniewski states:
“When we see the phrase ‘legitimate adaptations,’ we should recognize it as code language for experimental inculturation that breaks apart the substantial unity of the Roman Rite. Indeed, this has already been done by the hundreds of vernacular translations already in existence as well as the plethora of options in the new liturgical books, but in recent moves we are seeing an acceleration of regionalism and pluralism.
“The episcopal conferences already have far too much power, which has taken away from the role and responsibility of individual bishops and of the Pope. It is not in keeping with the principle of subsidiarity because each bishop is supreme in his diocese, and the Pope is supreme over the whole Church; episcopal conferences are mere bureaucratic mechanisms having no inherent office, authority, or responsibility. One might compare them to the difference between individual sovereign nations and the United Nations.
“Already at the Second Vatican Council, when some of the fathers expressed a desire that greater authority, independent of Rome, be vested in national episcopacies, other fathers strongly countered, saying it would fragment the Church in her expressions of faith.” (This interview is titled: “Pope’s liturgy reforms risk taking Catholics back to the 1970s’: liturgy expert.”)
Part of the fuel for this fire is the falsehood perpetuated even by some bishops that there was a time when every priest and every member of the lay faithful understood every word of the Latin prayers for Mass and other public rites. That was never the case. So, how did people receive grace and some even become saints by praying the Mass in Latin? Ecclesia supplet, the Church provides or supplies all that we need even though we may not always know everything that is being said or understand with scholarly precision every concept proposed in our worship and common prayers.
“We see now through a glass in a dark manner; but then face to face. Now I know I part; but then I shall know even as I am known” (1 Cor. 13:12).
There is a dramatic tension present in our lives not only between where we are and where we should be with regard to living up to the Commandments and responding to grace; there is also a tension between our understanding and prayerful response and God’s word, whether in English or any other language. Perhaps nothing expresses this better than the use of Latin which powerfully invites us to study and draw closer to the mystery of God, always accessible in Jesus Christ but not as yet completely understood.
Whether all of this means that most parishes of the English-speaking world will have to suffer through a further bowdlerization of the Mass in the vernacular at the hands of liturgical terrorists, only time will tell.
How to avoid getting involved in the crossfire of a new liturgy war? Attend the Traditional Latin Mass. As the ancient saying goes, “traditore, tradutore,” meaning, “the translator is a traitor.”
We are often willing to learn something new for many things that are important to us. Sometimes we will even learn a new language to visit a foreign country even temporarily. Entering more deeply into the sacred tradition and the rich spiritual world of our ancient faith for the sake of our salvation should be no less important. So, learn a little Latin and you can be your own translator every time you attend Mass.
Thank you for reading and praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever.

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