Sunday, April 6, 2014

Latin Mass

I attended parochial school in high school. I first learned Latin there, which turned into my college major and my eventual career as a Latin teacher. I even taught in a couple of parochial schools in New England. But, ironically, I had only heard about Latin masses from my father and my grandparents. Due to an accident of birth, I had never seen one, because I grew up after Vatican II in the early 1960s.

That all changed today, when I visited St. Benedict's Chapel right here in Chesapeake, Virginia. St. Benedict's is one of 400 or so Roman Catholic churches in the United States that celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass. This traditional service, although growing steadily in recent decades, is still pretty hard to find, so I was thrilled to learn that St. Benedict's offers all its Masses in Latin, and that it was only a few miles away from my house.

Pictures Courtesy of St. Benedict's Website

So today, I realized a long-term desire and finally got an opportunity to hear and see a Traditional Latin Mass for myself. Here are my general impressions:

It was extraordinarily beautiful. I can see why those who had grown up with it had a difficult time giving it up. The music, with all the Gregorian Chant, and with the call and response singing between the priest and the choir, was peaceful and inspiring. The congregation was dressed up, with the women in skirts and dresses and with beautiful, lacy veils covering their hair. It felt like something out of a movie.

The congregation seemed active, diverse, and healthy. There was a range of ages represented. The service was well-attended, as would be expected before Easter. The diversity of ethnicities reminded me of the huge range of the Roman Catholic Church, and the unifying power and heritage of its Latin language.

Latin Mass has become popular enough that there are bilingual materials in the pews to assist the parishoners in understanding the language of the service, which was all in Latin except for the opening hymn, the closing hymn, the announcements, and the sermon. The main aid was the St. Edmund Campion Missal and Hymnal, which offered translations of various parts of the service.

Being a Classicist, it makes me a little wistful that folks need to rely on translations at all. But perhaps this small resurgence in Latin liturgical worship betokens an increased interest in Latin, and even spoken Latin as a form of communication. It has a long and fascinating tradition, and a beautiful and solemn language.

No comments:

Post a Comment