Saturday, November 11, 2006

George Weigel, Benedict XVI, and Latin

George Weigel appeared in Milwaukee at a benefit dinner, entertaining and engaging his audience with not only his prepared remarks but with a delightful Q&A session. By all reports, he is a very down-to-earth and enjoyable individual with whom to pass the time. He's also a theologian, a very smart dude, and he has written extensively about affairs Catholique.

During his remarks, he outlined the agenda of Benedict XVI--it's not a minor-league plattter. B-16 wants to re-awaken the West to the fact that there is a truth, and that it is knowable, and that it does not contradict reason. When that's out of the way, he wants the West to understand that the Cult of Consumption, fueled by the Disease of Relativism, is utterly self-destructive.

These are not issues which are likely to be cleaned up within the American attention span of 60 minutes-less-commericals, but somebody's got to try, and if anyone has the intellectual firepower and fortitude necessary to man the ramparts, it's Benedict.

In 'domestic affairs,' B-16 wants to Reform the Reform of the Liturgy, which was launched in 1967. The "Vatican II Reforms" have lurched ever since, sometimes left, sometimes right, sometimes straight down, but rarely Heavenward. That's been B-16's opinion since at least the mid-1980's when I began reading his works (both papers and books) on the topic.

It was at this point in his remarks that Weigel disappointed, for he stated that 'a better translation will be sufficient' in the reform project.

Obviously, Weigel could not (nor did he) answer the question which immediately popped up: so WHY is Benedict about to release a document which (hearsay has it) will allow celebration of the Old Rite (all-Latin) Mass worldwide with few-holds-barred? Or why all the Masses at St. Peter's are now said primarily in Latin? Or why (as Cdl. Jos. Ratzinger) this man celebrated John Paul II's funeral Mass with a noticeable emphasis on Latin prayers and song? If "a new translation" is really the ticket, why arm-wrestle the Bishops of France over Latin? Heaven knows the Pope doesn't need to pick fights unless they are worthwhile!

The short answer is that Weigel's assessment is deficient and B-16 knows that. As we noted earlier, a Jewish lady pointed out that:

For the power of liturgy to lift us out of our narrow practical and material pursuits is not dependent on our understanding of every actual word we are saying, any more than our emotional submission to classical music's soaring magic is dependent on our ability to read the score that produced it. The power of liturgy to stir and inspire us isn't even dependent on our commitment to the beliefs and doctrines from which the liturgy sprang.

Reading the rest of her remarks at the link is very enlightening--but there's another point which Weigel and other pragmatists miss and that is the concept of 'good fences.' Weigel understands at least one of those 'fences,' given his widely-circulated column on dreadful hymnody...but not all of the 'fences.'

Surrounding the Mass, the font and summit of worship, are sacred time, sacred space, sacred language, and sacred music. Where one of these 'fences' are missing, the nasties are allowed to attack. And attack they have done--with ferocity.

Thus, an offhand dismissal of Latin should be questioned carefully. Certainly, "a good translation" could become 'sacred language;' the English of the KJV Bible (albeit deficient in some regards) is more sacral than the banality we endure. And "a good translation" would demonstrate the night/day differences between the original Latin of the New Mass' orations and the English renditions--which are actually renderings (as in rent-asunder.) But Latin already IS a 'sacred language.' As the Jewish lady also pointed out, it is a source of 'community.'

For Catholics and Jews, that 'community' is not merely those who surround us during Mass or synagogue-services--it is also trans-national and trans-temporal. For what more 'community' can one ask than that afforded by the hundreds of millions of our spiritual ancestors? Or of the hundreds of millions of our neighbors-in-Faith around the world?

Further, we read the following:

"...His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, at that time Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, affirms that ‘to the ordinary churchgoer, the two most obvious effects of the liturgical reform of the Second Vatican Council seem to be the disappearance of Latin and the turning of the altars towards the people. Those who read the relevant texts will be astonished to learn that neither is in fact found in the decrees of the Council. The use of the vernacular is certainly permitted, especially for the Liturgy of the Word, but the preceding general rule of the Council text says, “Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 36.1). There is nothing in the Council text about turning altars towards the people; that point is raised only in post-conciliar instructions.’” (From the Introduction to the book Turning Towards the Lord. The Introduction was written by then-Cdl. Jos. Ratzinger.)

No, George, we will not so easily dismiss Latin. Nor should you.

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