Why Latin Mass?

11-25-2018This Week in Vidi DominumFr. Chris Axline

Over the past several weeks you have heard about the adjustment in our Latin Mass schedule. I wanted to take a few moments of your time and explain my reasoning behind this revision.

First, we are down one priest. Since Fr. Will and I both received new assignments in April, St. Mary Magdalene has had one less priest to help with Sunday masses. With that in mind, reducing the number of masses offered on Sundays from 6 down to 5 alleviates the burden on the priests. While he was here, Fr. Will and I were both able to offer the Mass in Latin and could alternate to cover the additional Mass offering. Now there is just me who is able to celebrate and offer the Mass in Latin.

Additionally, I have heard from a number of families within our community that have a devotion to the Latin Mass that 7pm on Sunday night is too late for families as it cuts into valuable family time together. This change, I pray, will help to accommodate the needs of these families. Thank you for your feedback.  

Third, the Church did not "get rid" of Latin after the Second Vatican Council. On the contrary, Vatican II acknowledged the importance of Latin as a part of our heritage that preserves communion with the past, unites the universal church, and adds solemnity and mystique to the Sacred Liturgy. This is the idea preserved by the document Sacrosanctum Concilium (the Constitution on Sacred Liturgy written in 1963 and the first document from Vatican II) when it says that, "The Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites" (SC, 36). Furthermore, in a document written in March of 2004, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments reinforced this idea granting that "Priests are always and everywhere permitted to celebrate Mass in Latin" (IRS, 112).

The document in which this statement was issued was written to safeguard proper liturgical practice and to reinforce the vision of the Second Vatican Council regarding the Mass. Thus, it's goal is to ensure that the ancient tradition and language of our faith (Latin) is preserved and taught to the faithful.

This is the same principle at work in our Sacred Music program here at St. Mary Magdalene. The Church envisions music in the liturgy as a compliment to the human voice and as a means by which we can lift our voice, heart, and soul to the Lord in prayer. Thus, music during Mass should reflect the intimate nature of the Mass which is the dialogue between Christ the Son and His Father through which Christ offers Himself (think back to the Agony in the Garden and the Crucifixion) as a sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins and the establishment of a "new and eternal covenant" (words of consecration). Part of this solemnizing of liturgical music as well involves catechesis on, and experience with, chanting the mass parts in Latin (these parts include, but are not limited to, the Our Father, Gloria, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, Kyrie, and others). A Latin Mass then, provides an opportunity to put all of these parts together in a powerful way!

The Latin Mass that we celebrate here is what is known as the "Novus Ordo" (also called the "Mass of Paul VI") which was promulgated in 1965 after the closing of the Second Vatican Council. This Mass is the template for all Catholic masses, even when celebrated in the vernacular languages, as it provides the structure and prayers to be used. This is, as all official Church documents always are, written in Latin and then translated into the other languages. That is why Latin is important for us as Roman Catholics as it gives us a common source from which all languages, countries, and peoples, can tap into.

Also, this Latin mass is celebrated "Ad Orientem," a Latin term meaning "to the East." Theologically, the East is a symbol of resurrection and new life. Thus, when we face east together in prayer, the priest and the congregation are turned to face the Second Coming of Christ (who will come from the East). This posture is particularly meaningful for the priest. I am not trying to "turn my back on you," but rather, am trying to lead you towards Christ. The additional symbolism of "Ad Orientem" is that the priest comes forward as one of the community to lead them in prayer just as Christ "comes forth" on behalf of humanity in order to sacrifice Himself so that we might live! It is a gesture of mediation and intercession that the priest, who acts in persona Christi (in the person of Christ) acts on behalf of the people in order to provide an encounter between God and His holy people. It provides me, as a priest, the opportunity to carry with me your petitions, joys, struggles, and holiness to the Father, through Christ, in and with the Holy Spirit!

Finally, I would like to invite you to prayerfully consider attending this mass a few times in order to experience it. It is a chance to connect to the ancient tradition of our Church and (in a point of particular delight to me personally) to pray and experience the Mass in the same language as many great saints! It is also a chance to practice all of the Latin we already integrate into our liturgies and see how it all comes together in an integral, prayerful manner!