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Musical Musings: Liturgy Page 2

Could More Use of Latin Overcome the Divisions in Liturgical Prayer?

Latin as Expression of Unity

One of the problems of the vernacular liturgy is that there are many vernacular languages. And many parishes have people from many different language groups. It is not uncommon for a parish to have to provide liturgies in two or more languages. Not all priests are able to do this at all, and many cannot do it very well. (At this point few priests are equipped to celebrate the liturgy in Latin.) Certainly we should not stop trying to serve the many language groups in our midst. But doing so necessarily brings about a fragmentation.

Could not Latin be used as a means of expressing unity? Many members in one Body of Christ need to experience that unity in as many ways as possible. An occasional liturgy where everybody could sing the same words together would provide an experience of inclusion not available in any other way--inclusion of the worldwide Catholic Church, inclusion of the centuries of tradition which precede us. Latin can accomplish this inclusion as no living language can, because it no longer represents a dominant culture or a superpower.

Would Spanish-speaking congregations rather have a priest celebrate the liturgy in the mother of all Romance languages, rather than in English, which represents so much oppression to Hispanic peoples? Would other ethnic people for whom English is unintelligible prefer an unintelligible language which at least connects them with the church? These are questions worth exploring in our multi-lingual world.

Here it is appropriate to dig up some other buried statements of the Second Vatican Council: "The treasure of sacred music is to be preserved and fostered with great care" (par. 114) and "The church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services" (par. 116).

Some of the best liturgical music happens to be in Latin. It is a shame that this music is neglected and has become virtually unknown in the last 30 years. A compact disc by Spanish monks recently revealed the appeal of Gregorian chant, and the longing of people (even those under 30) to hear this music. Perhaps, now that chant has become "popular," it can find its way back into the liturgy, as folk music was incorporated 30 years ago!

Occasionally one does hear Latin at Mass. Adeste fideles gets trundled out at Christmas. A simple Sanctus or Agnus Dei is sung. Soloists have not yet forgotten the Ave Maria and the Panis angelicus. Several popular Taize refrains are in Latin. Some of the misplaced anger against Latin (as representing all those horrible old things we were glad to get rid of) has dissipated. In a few parishes, such as St. Margaret Mary in Oakland, a multi-ethnic congregation is quite happy to pray in Latin every week--to recite or chant the Ordinary prayers, to pray along as the choir sings the beautiful musical settings of Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, and contemporary composers.

Perhaps we could begin by getting everyone to learn the Lord's Prayer in Latin. United voices could recite or chant the Pater noster, as was done at the funeral of Mother Teresa, in place of a babel of voices saying the prayer in different tongues. Latin does not have to be used at every worship service. But its more frequent use could help overcome the difficulty of our separation and divisions in liturgical prayer. This would also be a "new" way to implement some dormant liturgical directives of the Second Vatican Council.

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