Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Luther and the Pope on the Latin Mass

Sometimes the headlines get it exactly wrong. The title of the following article:

Pope set to bring back Latin Mass that divided the Church

is exactly the opposite of the reality.

The use of Latin in church services didn't divide the Western Church at all - in fact, it was a source of unity among Western Christians for many centuries prior to the Reformation, as well as a continued flag to rally round for Roman Catholics until the divisive 1960s. One could wander into a Catholic church anywhere in the world - Europe, Asia, North America, South America, Australia, or Africa, and follow the service even if one wasn't fluent in the local vernacular. There was a standard set of rubrics followed by all - without local displays of culture and individual flourishes. It was easy to fit in and to take part. The Latin Mass served to undo the curse of Babel and confessed a bond that held Christians together that transcended language, race, class, and culture. There is something to be said for this kind of universal standardization.

There is also the continuity from antiquity to consider. If something has been done a certain way for 1,500 years, it testifies to the timelessness of the practice and confesses a comforting sense of stability - unlike our modern culture in which one pop-idol is replaced by the next one in a matter of days, in which our state-of-the-art electronics become doorstops in a couple years.

So, the press gets it wrong to claim the Latin Mass "divided" the church.

Far from it. The division happened when Latin was abandoned by the Roman hierarchy in the 1960s. Of course, it wasn't merely abandoned, it was proscribed, outlawed, shunned like a leper, banned as though it were a sinister method of artificial birth control or the Arian heresy. That sudden and heavy-handed revocation of something dear to Christians was what in fact "divided the church" and led to Archbishop Lefebvre to form a schismatic organization of Catholics outside the jurisdiction of the pope.

But today, Pope Benedict is reportedly trying to heal the rift and the hurt caused by the ecclesiastical bullying of the 1960s, by allowing local congregations discretion to freely use either the newer Mass in the vernacular language or to celebrate the old Tridentine Mass. There is a refreshing liberty of the Gospel and pastoral sensitivity being displayed by this Bishop of Rome who is so often maligned as a kind of archlegalist fascist with hatred in his eyes and blood dripping from his mouth. (How often are we reminded of his membership in Hitler Youth and the fact that he was a WW2 era German soldier by the anti-Christian media, when we're not told the whole story that he was compelled in both cases, and that furthermore, he actually deserted the Nazi army?).

Pope Benedict's actions are a form of reconciliation between those who felt their church turned their backs on them for doing nothing other than what the church has always done, for standing up to the whims of the Godless culture of modernity. The pope is not commanding those accustomed to the New Mass to adopt Latin. Rather he is allowing a diversity of practice in the interest of pastoral care. He is striving to right a wrong by restoring that which was lost.

Interestingly, the first truly public confessional document for Lutherans, the Augsburg Confession of 1530, points out that the Lutherans (then reform-minded Roman Catholics) had introduced some elements of the Mass in the vernacular language (which was, of course, German) in addition to the Latin that was being used in the Mass at the time. Four years before this time, Martin Luther translated a German version of the Mass that replaced many of the Latin chants with more indiginous German hymns that better fit linguistically with the German language. Some people assume that the Lutherans instantly stopped using Latin and insisted that the chuch services all be in the vernacular language - but this simply wasn't the case. In fact, Latin Masses were said and sung in Lutheran churches as late as the 18th century.

In the American Edition of Luther's Works, volume 53 (Liturgy and Hymns), page 53 (the introduction to "The German Mass and Order of Service"), we find the story of Luther's famous 1526 translation of the Mass into the vernacular German. He actually dragged his feet quite a bit, and mainly offered this Deutsche Messe out of fear of the many German Masses appearing on the scene, and the lack of standardization ("confusion") they would create. In fact, Luther "objected to the legalism of those who meant to abolish the Latin mass completely and acted as though the reformation of the church depended on the exclusive use of the German language" (AE 53:53).

Look how similar this "abolish Latin" legalism by some reformers of Luther's day was repeated by Vatican II in the Roman Catholic Church four centuries later! The spirit of the post-conciliar liturgical reform was not to offer the opportunity to worship in the vernacular, rather it took the form of a legalistic prohibition to ban Latin. Both Luther and Pope Benedict take a more evangelical approach - let the Mass be said in the vernacular, but don't ban the traditional liturgy in Latin.

It was never Luther's intention that his German Mass would replace the Latin Mass. He says: "For in no wise would I want to discontinue the service in the Latin language, because the young are my chief concern. And if I could bring it to pass, and Greek and Hebrew were as familiar to us as as the Latin... we would hold mass, sing, and read on successive Sundays in all four languages, German, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. I do not at all agree with those who cling to one language and despise all others." He goes on to point out the necessity of linguistic training for evangelism (AE 53:63).

Though educators and theologians tried their best to render Latin a dead language in the 1960s, the fact is, that it lives on. In Roman Catholic circles, traditionalists have succeeded in bringing back Latin, both in elements of the New (novus ordo) Mass, as well as the restoration of the Tridentine Mass in many places. The current pope seems to be facilitating Latin along both of these lines. Latin lives on in the titles of the ordinaries of the Mass in Lutheran hymnals, such as the newly published Lutheran Service Book (LSB). In this 21st century English language missal, we find many ancient Latin liturgical terms such as: Benedicamus, Benedictus, Gloria in Excelsis, Gloria Patri, Magnificat, Nunc Dimittis, Pax Domini, Sanctus, Te Deum, and Venite. Even schools today are bring Latin roaring back into the classroom.

While Lutherans have no recent history of the celebration of the Latin Mass (they have not been celebrated in our churches since the 18th century), we do see a revival of Latin in the form of the interest in classical education in Lutheran schools. As Latif Gaba points out in a recent blog entry, Latin prayer services are offered in Lutheran schools that teach Latin (as an aside, you might also want to see this related offering from Latif as well). As a pastor and teacher at a Lutheran school that is not (at least for the time being) operating under the classical model, I lead all of my students in grades 6 through 8 in prayers in Latin to open class. My students pray the table prayer (Benedic Domine), the Lord's Prayer (Pater noster), and the Apostles Creed (Credo in Deum). I'm looking forward to teaching them a few Latin hymns as Christmas approaches.

The removal of Latin from school curricula in the late 20th century was a huge mistake. It severs young people culturally from what came before (leaving a vaccuum to be filled only by rap music and flash-in-the-pan celebrities), further setting them adrift from their own western history, and robbing them of the copious lingustic benefits of studying the root of all modern Romance languages and the source of more than half of the vocabulary in the English language (not to mention the benefits of logical thinking and grammatical precision that comes with the discipline of Latin study).

Like many other social experiments of the 1960s, this one was a failure. The pope knows it, just as another German priest knew that it would be - nearly five centuries ago. Much to the dismay of the social revolutionaries of forty years ago, not all "progress" is good. Some changes simply have to be rolled back for the good of society and for the individual.

I agree with Benedict and Luther that Latin is good not only for society and the individual, but also for the Church, and that stifling Latin is nothing more than legalism that at its foundation is antithetical to the Gospel.

Besides, as Ovid wrote two thousand years ago: "Rident stolidi verba Latina" ("Fools laugh at the Latin language"). Say what you want about Martin Luther and Benedict XVI, neither man is a fool.


FatherDMJ said...

I am thankful for the two years of Latin training I had at Du Quoin High School in Du Quoin, IL my 10th and 11th grade years. The study of Latin prepared me for German, Biblical Greek, and Biblical Hebrew.

I could use a Latin refresher, though!

Chris said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Chris said...

Father Juhl,

Just remember, Semper ubi sub ubi! :-) If you can't remember ubi after this one I don't know if I can help you!

Past Elder said...

As further evidence supporting your excellent points, it's worth noting that the novus ordo itself was written in Latin and translated (poorly in the case of English) into the vernacular languages. The issue was never Latin. It's the revision of the rite to reflect a revision in doctrine. You can say the new rite in Latin no problem. What the eccleciastical bullying was all about was the new rite, not the language. For those who seek to retain the "Latin Mass", likewise it's not the Latin, it's the rite.

We know of course that either rite expresses doctrinal error, but the lesson for us is precisley lex orandi lex credendi -- nothing will so surely change how one believes as a change in worship that expresses a different belief.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Past Elder:

Yes indeed, thanks for the clarification.

You can see the novus ordo with parts of it in Latin on EWTN.

One advantage of Latin if they had retain its use in the novus ordo is that it would not need translation, which, as you point out, was really messed up. In messing up the words, per lex orandi lex credendi, the doctrine was also messed up.

From a practical standpoint, I'm sure it would have been next to impossible to say the novus ordo in Latin after the English translation was completed. I've never heard of a parish that opted to say the novus ordo entirely in Latin.

Our own LW Divine Service II (LSB DS1 and DS2) is based on the novus ordo, and some of the translations of the texts reflect this poor RC translation (e.g. "And *also with you*" (instead of *with your spirit*; "Lord God of *power and might*" (instead of *hosts*).

I'm not willing to go with you on "the issue was never Latin," since the near-universal change to the vernacular in the RC churches around the world shows this to be a very important objective of the Vatican II reformers. Even at the highest levels of the Vatican today, very few men know Latin (a complaint of Pope Benedict).

Latin was seen as too formal, antiquated, and not in line with the modern and populist spirit of the reform - and this is about the same time that Lutheran liturgies began getting rid of Elizabethan English for the same reason. There is something to be said for "familiarity (in the sense of casuality) breeds contempt."

In the LCMS, we're stuck with NIV texts for the catechism - and I can't imagine that this will stay the same in the lifespan of my 2 year old son. He will, like me, be forced to learn different translations which only serve to confuse and actually prohibits memorization. I want him to learn Latin at a young age so he can learn these treasured texts in a format that won't change.

Past Elder said...

What a pleasure to be read by Father Hollywood!

You are quite right, there is no stampede to say the novus ordo in Latin. Apart from EWTN, about the only time you will hear it is the pathetic spectacles from Rome such as Midnight Mass or the recent papal funeral and installation.You will not see people of every origin united in one tongue as before, or even as the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of Vatican II directs, that care be taken that the people can say the ordinaries in Latin. Rather, the mute and stony silence on the faces of anyone much younger than I (56) pretty well expresses the reality.

Nonetheless, the point remains, in secular and even religious accounts of the Mass, one would get the impression that all that happened was the Mass was simply now said in vernacular languages rather than Latin -- with no idea that what happened first was a new Mass was written, in Latin, that replaced the old Mass, and that is what is said in the vernacular.

When I first saw the Lutheran Book of Worship, I thought this could just as easily have been issued in Rome by the curial Sacred Congregation for the Liturgy -- novus ordo missae, Lutheran edition. Why would Lutherans even bother with latter day nonsense from an apostate church? Yes, it survives in LW and DS I & II of the LSB, along with the miserable three year lectionary to replace the real one. During Vatican II, I was in college at one of the leading liberal Catholic centers for "liturgical reform" and some of my professors were periti (theological advisers)at Vatican II. The intent was manifest: a variety of services to express a variety of theology, a lectionary that leans on the moral teachings (Law) rather than the miracles and divinity (Gospel, ecclesiatical muscle devoid of any "collegiality" toward those who resisted. And close attention to St Louis and Seminex, everyone but me rooting for the wrong side.

Our LSB would be about perfect IMHO opinion if it simply dropped the first two services and the three year lectionary and calendar. Nonetheless, even so the Reformation endures. Look at the Kyrie, ridiculously made a part of the confession of sin in the novus ordo, but restored to something of its place in the Eastern Liturgy as a bidding prayer by retaining its opening "In peace let us pray to the Lord" etc. Maybe we would have been better to continue as if Vatican II were held in Rome, not St Louis, but at least we got right what they cobbled up and finally dropped the "we believe" credo and some other intentional errors of the novus ordo.

And speaking of the Catechism, didn't Luther in the Preface say choose a text and stick to it? At least we have the ESV now, if not yet in our Catechism.

(Yes, I'm a convert twice over, once from RC to WELS, and from WELS to LCMS.)

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Past Elder:

Wow, thanks for the liturgical history lesson! I hope you'll post to my blog often! Better yet, maybe you ought to have your own blog! If you do, count me in as a subscriber.

cheryl_2006 said...

One could wander into a Catholic church anywhere in the world - Europe, Asia, North America, South America, Australia, or Africa, and follow the service even if one wasn't fluent in the local vernacular. There was a standard set of rubrics followed by all - without local displays of culture and individual flourishes. It was easy to fit in and to take part. The Latin Mass served to undo the curse of Babel and confessed a bond that held Christians together that transcended language, race, class, and culture. There is something to be said for this kind of universal standardization.

This is a very good point. I wonder though, what about new converts, who have not grown up in the church, wouldn't the liturgy in a language not their own, hinder their participation?

Father Hollywood said...


Very good point, although, a liturgical church, even when conducted in English, will seem very foreign to a person who has not been catechized. Especially to a non-Christian attending a church, a lot of our English words will be "foreign": sin, justification, atonement, baptism, sacrament, etc.

Before Vatican II, Roman Catholics often used missals that were bilingual. Potential converts simply knew being a Catholic meant learning the liturgy in Latin, and since it is repeated every Sunday, it's really not too difficult to pick up over time.

But I think the bigger lesson for us modern-day Lutherans (who will not be attending Latin Masses any time in the forseeable future!) is that having a standard text is preferable to changes every few years, and having the traditional liturgy is much better than innovative and "creative" worship that varies from parish to parish.

Ditto wuth regard to the ever-changing words of the Small Catechism. Also, in the latest LCMS hymnal, we have three different texts for the ordinaries of the Mass, and many of the texts of our hymns have changed multiple times since the 1941 TLH hymnal.

I do think we Lutherans should continue to encourage the learning of the traditional Latin names of the parts of the liturgy. It would be a shame to lose that, just as much as it would be a great loss to give up the singing in Latin that we do every Christmas when we sing "Angels We Have Heard on High."