Looking For the Right Words
ON THE SACRED LITURGY
SOLEMNLY PROMULGATED BY
POPE PAUL VI
ON DECEMBER 4, 1963
36. (1.) Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites.
(2.) But since the use of the mother tongue, whether in the Mass, the administration of the sacraments, or other parts of the liturgy, frequently may be of great advantage to the people, the limits of its employment may be extended. This will apply in the first place to the readings and directives, and to some of the prayers and chants, according to the regulations on this matter to be laid down separately in subsequent chapters.
(3.) These norms being observed, it is for the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority mentioned in Art. 22, 2, to decide whether, and to what extent, the vernacular language is to be used; their decrees are to be approved, that is, confirmed, by the Apostolic See. And, whenever it seems to be called for, this authority is to consult with bishops of neighboring regions which have the same language.
(4.) Translations from the Latin text into the mother tongue intended for use in the liturgy must be approved by the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority mentioned above.
On this matter that affects all of us to a significant degree, I returned to two sources we have used before for a refresher on the Council’s discussion on the Liturgy, Xavier Rynne’s popular Vatican Council II (1967, 1996) and John O’Malley’s What Happened at Vatican II? (2008). Despite the “culture wars” that continue to rage in some Catholic circles to this day—specifically the contentions of some in the Catholic press and blogosphere--that the reform of the Roman Missal and the loss of the Tridentine Mass is the cause of the collapse of the Church in the West, the fact is that even many conservatives at the Council shared concern about the limited participation of the faithful at Mass. Pope Pius X and Pope Pius XII had both initiated reforms of the Tridentine Mass before the Council, a point often forgotten.
O’Malley writes that in the 1962 session the principles of the document that would become Sacrosanctum Concilium were read to the Church fathers, but there was “no mention of what had been a burning issue in the [planning] commission and would be the most time-consuming aspect of the discussion in St. Peter’s, the use of the vernacular at Mass.” (p. 133) However, the written text did contain the general wording of para. 36 above. O’Malley has researched a curious point: para. 36 takes a more conservative position on the vernacular than the Council of Trent (1545-63), which states “it is wrong to maintain that the Mass must everywhere be celebrated in the vernacular.” Trent’s directive is, in fact, present day policy in the Church. However, in 1563 the term “vernacular” was so closely associated with Protestants that Latin, in the popular mind, became the language of orthodoxy. [The same dynamic came into play regarding Trent’s teaching on the faithful receiving the Eucharist from the cup.]
In the debate itself, Cardinal Frings of Cologne spoke eloquently and with competence in advocacy of the vernacular. Two of the United States’ Cardinals, Spellman of New York and McIntyre of Los Angeles demurred. Spellman accepted English, for example, for the other sacraments but not the Eucharist, and McIntyre’s argument was simply “The sacred Mass should remain as it is.” In press conferences during the days of the debate, bishops from “the new countries” [missions and newly colonized regions] expressed to reporters their desire that vernacular language be incorporated into their home culture. On the floor of the Council, His Beatitude Maximos IV of the Melkite Rite (speaking in French, not the required Latin!) pointed to the obvious reality that Latin was not used at all in the Eastern Rites, and certainly not his own. Maximos’ proposals that Latin be used as the template or original version of the sacraments, and that conferences of bishops oversee their local translations, is reflected in the language of para. 36.
The debate on Sacrosanctum Concilium and the use of the vernacular dragged out over 328 interventions from the floor and 297 in written form, about a month out of the Council’s first session in 1962. The debate over liturgical language was intense; Rynne’s account (pp. 56-76) is worth researching. In one sense, the unfolding dynamic of the Council itself was undermining the claim that worshipping in Latin would maintain unity of the Church, an argument still heard today. As the official language of the Council, Latin proved so unworkable that Cardinal Cushing of Boston offered to buy a translation service like that used at the United Nations. The Curia, which was not eager to facilitate debate, turned down his offer, and Cushing decided to boycott the second session. For all of that, SC and the directives of para. 36 passed overwhelmingly, but the language of para. 36 regarding Latin vis-à-vis the vernacular or native language does not say exactly what the general Catholic public thinks it means.
Para. 36 does not say that the yet-to-be-composed Vatican II ritual of the Mass should be issued in the vernacular or local language. The originals of all sacraments would continue to come forth from Rome in Latin. Even Maximos’ proposal, coming from the large Greek-worshipping wing of Catholicism, recognizes a primacy of Latin throughout the universal Church. SC, in speaking of a region’s mother tongue, states that “the limits of its employment may be extended,” and then goes to enumerate the Scriptures and “some prayers and chants.”
O’Malley comments that the commission charged with composing the new Mass rite did its work with the understanding that the Eucharistic Prayer would remain in Latin. In truth, there is an ambivalence about the matter of language that runs through the entire document Sacrosanctum Concilium. Some of this reflects the common experience of “composing by committee,” which was just as problematic in Latin as in any other language. In para. 54 of SC, for example, we find the directive: “Nevertheless steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them. And wherever a more extended use of the mother tongue within the Mass appears desirable, the regulation laid down in Art. 40 of this Constitution is to be observed.” [Para. 40 essentially calls for greater diligence and longer periods of experimentation in cases where more “radical adaptation of the liturgy” is required, which presumably includes full use of the vernacular.]
Events ran faster than the paperwork. Within a few years of the Council the Mass in its entirety was being celebrated in the vernacular worldwide. O’Malley explains that “it had become increasingly obvious that the principles of intelligibility and active participation did not sit well with maintaining for such a meaningful part [i.e. the Eucharistic Prayer] a language only priests understood.” (p. 140) A victory of common sense and liturgical consistency.
There is much I could add by way of anecdote and analysis regarding the reintroduction of the vernacular into Catholic worship in the 1960’s, and following Saturday posts will provide opportunity for that. But I need to put one contention to bed. Vatican II did not outlaw the Latin Mass. A Catholic priest, given the circumstances, has always enjoyed the right to celebrate the Mass of Pope Paul VI (1970) or what we popularly call the Vatican II Mass, in Latin. The local bishop has the authority to determine the appropriateness of doing so; if my pastor, on his own whim, celebrated this Sunday’s conventual or primary Mass in Latin, he would be disciplined by the bishop. If, however, there was a request from a segment of his parishioners that one of the Sunday Masses be offered in Latin, he is certainly free to do so.
The problem is: when a priest gets a request for a Latin Mass (as I did once or twice), the expectation is that I would be offering the Mass of the Tridentine Rite, not the rite of Pope Paul VI. In recent times Rome has permitted the use of the Tridentine rite on a regular basis in dioceses, perhaps for the “good of troubled souls,” as the old saying goes. But I would caution that some (not all) requests for this rite are generated by an attendant belief that the Mass of 1970 is defective, or even heretical by some lights. This would be a rejection of a standing teaching of a pope and bishops in solemn Council. That is a dangerous business in any language.
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