Thursday, December 28, 2006

Secret vs. Mystery

I was listening to the mass in latin on Vatican Radio today as I was driving my guardian to St. John Lateran, and it caused me to stop and think (not literally... driving in Rome you can't just stop anywhere... although some Roman drivers do).

Anyway, I began to wonder about those who advocate that the mass be comepletely in Latin. I've heard all sorts of reasons in favor of this, including that Latin is a better language, etc. What caused me to think was that I was understanding what was being said even if I didn't know the words exactly (having attended mass enough times in English and knowing Italian seemed to have helped me understand). And I wondered about those who went to mass in the Tridentine rite (before Vatican II) and whether they really understood what was going on. I'm sure that some people who were interested enough in following the mass came to understand what was being said, but others, no. So I was wondering about those people and whether or not their experience of the mystery of the eucharist wasn't affected by the secretness of the language.

When I was little my brother and sister and I would speak to each other in German. Why German, you ask? Well, my sister had studied it in high school, my brother had studied it in high school and I began to study it, so every once in a while we would have a bit of fun and speak German so that our parents wouldn't understand. It was thrilling. Little did we know that our folks understood more than they let on. But the fact that we were privy to something secret was in fact a big deal. Everything in German was some how richer, better, more meaningful than things in English.

Okay, maybe I'm being a little too psychological in this, but I wondered this morning whether or not those who advocate a complete return to an all Latin mass don't have as their reason for preferring Latin over the vernacular this very mechanism of "secretness."

A secret generally is something that is comprehensible but simply unknown to the unititiated. Just ask any Knight of Columbus and they will tell you that the secrets of the degree ceremonies they go through are understandable.

A mystery, however, is not understandable, not comprehensible, even if it can be put into words. A mystery provokes contemplation. For example, to say "The One Who heaven and earth cannot contain, became man in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary," is to put into words a mystery. The words themselves are comprehensible, they make sense, but the mystery itself causes one to contemplate what truth is being told, it causes one to wonder.

There's the old anecdote that an anglican primate asked the Pope for a blessing during an ecumeical meeting and the Pope said a blessing in Latin, and the anglican goes away impressed, feeling blessed, not knowing that blessing the Pope gave him was "May you be blessed in Whose Name you shall burn," that is, the old blessing of the incense (with an obvious insinuation that the anglican would end up in hell). I don't know if this story is true, but it is quite conceivable that simply hearing something in a different unknown language adds a sense of hiddness, a sense of "mystery" in the common day sense of the word, but which is really only a matter of secretness.

I'm not for Latin in the mass for reasons of secretness, ie in order to add mystery (in the human sense) to the mass. There is enough "divine mystery" there already, which needs to be contemplated. Anyone who advocates a return to the mass completely in Latin might want to examine themselves to see if this love of "secretness" is not present in their love for Latin.

By the way, this is not a condemnation of Latin just an admonition against a wrong reason for going to Latin in the mass. Anyone who wants to know my view on Latin in the mass: Vat II did not say to get rid of all Latin and neither did it say to use it throughout the entire mass. It has its place, and we should know the mass parts in Latin - and we should know what they mean too. Personally I think Latin could be used in pastoral settings where there are multiple ethic groups celebrating in their different languages in the same parish. Latin in that case could be used as a way for the different groups to be brought together and celebrate as one community - the readings being alternatively in the various vernacular languages, of course.

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