Monday, 8 October 2012

What to do for the Year of Faith: 1. Learn a little Latin

I provided a suggested list, yesterday, of things to do by way of taking the Year of Faith, that starts this Thursday, seriously. 

This week, I want to expand a little on each item in my list, on the basis that we'll get going properly on this next week.

First, learning a little Latin.

Practical Latin

I'm not actually suggesting that you need to sit down and learn Latin properly, in order to read the language fluently.  Great if you can spare the time, but most can't.

Instead I'm suggesting recovering that basic bit of practical knowledge of the Latin of the Mass and Office that Catholics down the ages acquired by hearing and saying it over and over in the proper context.

I'm talking about learning to recognise, say, sing (where appropriate) - to memorize key prayers and texts in Latin.  To be able to say them with understanding.

What did the Council actually say?

The Council – as well as every Pope from John XXIII on wards - actually affirmed the importance of Latin in the Church. Paragraph 36 of Sacrosanctum Concilium (SC) firmly states that:

"The use of the Latin language, with due respect to particular law, is to be preserved in the Latin rites."

The Council did, it is true, then  go on to permit the use of the vernacular on a limited basis.  But it gave no mandate whatsoever for the wholesale abandonment of the Churches official language that has in fact occurred.

In fact, SC 54 goes on to say that although the vernacular can be used as appropriate:

"Nevertheless, care must be taken to ensure that the faithful may also be able to say or sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them."

Gradually some attempt is being made to promote Latin again. 

Indeed, the Vatican is doing its own little bit to emphasize this, in its own inimitable way, by only providing the document setting out the details for the indulgences available for the Year of Faith, for example, only in Latin and Italian (indeed certain other key documents, such as Summorum Pontificum, remain similarly available only in Latin and languages such as Hungarian...).

Why Latin is important

All the same, recovery of the Ecclesiastical use of Latin is still pretty much a traditionalist enterprise.

In fact the International traditionalist organization, FIUV, recently put out a position paper on Latin as a liturgical language which is well worth reading.

Here is the abstract:

"Latin is the normative language of the liturgy, in the Latin Church, and also of the great majority of the Church’s teaching documents and administration, since very early times. The teaching of Blessed Pope John XXIII in Veterum Sapientia emphasises the value of Latin as universal, unchanging, and dignified. The rise of migration in recent decades has given particular value to the universality of Latin. It remains the essential language of the Latin Church’s culture and spirituality. Its use in the liturgy, even where the congregation may have little knowledge of the language, can give rise, as Blessed Pope John Paul II expressed it, to a ‘profound sense of the eucharistic mystery’, since it can assist in communicating the grandeur and importance of the liturgical action. Particularly in the context of a proper liturgical formation, far from being a barrier to participation, therefore, Latin can be an aid to it. Pope Benedict XVI has asked that seminarians be taught to celebrate the liturgy in Latin, noting that the Faithful can be taught many texts and chants."

How to tackle learning Latin

If you are serious about learning Latin, there are some good distance education courses available if you don't have access to courses in your area.  You could audit, for example, the Australian Catholic University's Ecclesiastical Latin course (for which I believe Cardinal Pell provided the funding to get going).

Alternatively, by way of excellent teach yourself courses, Carol Byrne's Simplicissimus Course can either be purchased cheaply through the UK Latin Mass Society, or found for free online in a number of places.

Learning enough Latin...

If you are a priest who went through seminary at a time when Latin wasn't actually taught, you could perhaps focus first on how to pronounce the Latin of the Novus Ordo Mass correctly (because you already know what it means given that you say it every day!).

If you then want to graduate to the Extraordinary Form, there are lots of sound recordings and videos around to help on this. Or you could also take a look at the really excellent, very focused resources provided by the UK Latin Mass Society to this end.

The common prayers, chants and parts of the Mass

For the rest of us, a good starting point might be to learn how to sing or say the key parts of the Mass that pertain to the people (as Vatican II prescribed) and the 'common prayers' set out in English and Latin the back of the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

I have to admit that though my Latin is reasonably good, I'm absolutely hopeless at memorizing texts, even of many of the prayers I say every day (though I remember tunes well enough, I went through school at that time when memorization was deemed A Bad Thing). I do know some, but quickly forget, or have never properly learnt, all too many of these key texts, so one of my resolutions for the year is to remedy this.

Accordingly, I'll try and highlight a prayer or other text each week to learn, perhaps with some notes on the Latin or other material on it to help ensure it penetrates the brain!

Here's a little sample of the kind of thing I mean...

In nomine Patris....

The very first of the 'common prayers' contained in the Compendium to the Catechism is:

"In nómine Patris et Fílii et Spíritus Sancti. Amen."

or in English:

"In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."

It is one of those blessings that is used over and over in many different contexts, so you should at least be able to recognise it so you can join in with the amen!

Indeed, making (and saying) the sign of the Cross comes with a partial indulgence.

Get used to how it sounds

So the first thing to do is listen to it being said several times until you have it in your head.  The speaker on the sound file at Boston Catholic says it nice and slowly to help you.

Look at the Latin

Next, have a closer look at the Latin. 

There are a couple of things you can immediately notice, the most obvious being that there are a lot fewer words in Latin than in English.  There are two reasons for that. 

First, Latin doesn't have a definite (or indefinite) article - no 'the' 'a' or 'an' (in translating, you have to guess which is appropriate from the context).

Secondly, Latin is an inflected language, meaning that instead of adding extra words such as 'of ' or 'to' or 'from', it just changes the end of the word to indicate the particular 'case' or way it is being used in the sentence.

You may know the word 'pater' for example, meaning father, from the Our Father (Pater Noster). Patris is the same word but inflected so as to mean 'of the Father'.

So here is a word by word translation of the sentence:

In (in) nómine (the name) Patris (of the Father) et (and) Fílii (of the Son) et (and) Spíritus Sancti (of the Holy Spirit/Ghost). Amen (actually a Hebrew word meaning 'so be it', but rarely if ever translated into Latin or English)."

Say it

The final task is to listen again to a sound file until you can say it yourself, and say it up to speed.  The sound file on this excellent parish site is a useful one for this purpose.

Then keep practising each day until it comes naturally (I've put it in the sidebar on the blog as a prompt).

And if you would like to read more on this excellent little prayer, the short essay over at Thesaurus Precum Latinarum is well worth a read.

More next week!


GOR said...

"Amen (actually a Hebrew word meaning 'so be it', but rarely if ever translated into Latin or English)."

Interestingly, when I lived in Italy decades ago, people did use the Italian “cosi sia” instead of ‘Amen” at the end of reciting the Hail Mary in Italian.

However, in public recitations of the Rosary back then, they usually prayed it in Latin! I expect that has changed since…

NickD said...

Learn some prayers in Latin:

Done! :-) I'm a high-school student in Latin two, and the first thing the teacher went over was the Signum Crucis, Pater Noster, Ave Maria, et Gloria Patri. I learned the Salve Regina on my own. I'm well on my way to being "traditionalist" ;-)

Unknown said...

When my kids, husband and I were in RCIA a couple of years ago, it was suggested we learn at least the Pater Noster, Ave Maria, et Gloria Patri as it was something Pope Benedict wanted Catholics around the world to do. Within a week, most of us had everything down & now my daughter and I love to pray the rosary- in Latin!

limapie said...

I'm a firm believer in the great use of Latin for Christianity. It could become a universal language of the world, not just Christ followers. Not one person, or country or nationality would have a leg-up on any other when using Americans mostly speak American English as a first, dominant language; therefore when American English is being used most have no problem understanding, unlike a person whose first, dominant language is, for instance, Spanish. It is more difficult for a Spanish-based person to understand the tongue of American English.
If all were speaking Latin, not
one person would have difficulties with understanding.

Latin should be taught in all Christian education classes....Catholic, and non-Catholic. It would certainly help, too, if Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism would also teach---just to be able to communicate better with Christians.

Reviving a formerly dead-language would draw the universal church together as Christ wishes.

Collin Michael Nunis said...

I have always appreciated Latin, but for us from the Eastern Catholic Churches, where the language of the liturgy is determined by the language of the people, I think it is safer to say that we should really get in touch with what gives our Liturgy its identity. From an Eastern Catholic praxis, it could be something as simple as the Hymn of the Incarnation, or the Hymn to the Holy Spirit, the Great Doxology, or even the Paraklisis to the Virgin Mary.

Within the Roman Rite, they should start by reintroducing sung Masses at every normal parish Mass, and use the Roman Canon (my personal favourite) as the normative Eucharistic prayer. You could probably add more to the list. :)

Subdeacon Collin