GATEWAY LITURGICAL CONFERENCE
ADDRESS OF HIS EMINENCE CARDINAL FRANCIS ARINZE
St Louis, Missouri (U.S.A.)
Saturday, 11 November 2006
1. Excelling Dignity of Liturgical Prayer
The Church which was founded by our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ strives to bring together men and women from every race, language, people and nation (cf. Rv 5: 9), so that "every tongue should acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord to the glory of God the Father" (Phil 2: 11). On Pentecost day there were men and women "from every nation under heaven" (cf. Acts 2: 5) listening as the Apostles recounted the wonderful works of God.
This Church, this new People of God, this Mystical Body of Christ, prays. Her public prayer is the voice of Christ and his Bride the Church, Head and members. The liturgy is an exercise of the priestly office of Jesus Christ. In it, full public worship is performed by the whole Church, that is, by Christ who associates with him his members.
"From this it follows that every liturgical celebration, because it is an action of Christ the priest and of his Body the Church, is a sacred action surpassing all others. No other action of the Church can match its claim to efficacy, nor equal its degree of it" (Sacrosanctum Concilium [SC], n. 7). From the sacred spring of the liturgy, all of us who thirst for the graces of the redemption draw living water (cf. Jn 4: 10).
Consciousness that Jesus Christ is the high priest in every liturgical act should instil in us great reverence. As St Augustine says: "He prays for us, he prays in us, and he is prayed to by us. He prays for us as our priest; he prays in us as our head; and he is prayed to by us as our God. Let us therefore recognize our voices in him and his voices in us" (Enarratio in Psalmum, 85: CCL 39, 1176).
2. Different Rites in the Church
In the sacred liturgy the Church celebrates the mysteries of Christ by means of signs, symbols, gestures, movements, material elements and words. In this reflection we are focusing on words used in divine worship in the Roman or Latin Rite.
The core elements of the sacred liturgy, the seven sacraments, come from our Lord Jesus Christ himself. As the Church spread and grew among various peoples and cultures, various ways of celebrating the mysteries of Christ also developed. Four parent rites can be identified as the Antiochene, Alexandrine, Roman and Gallican. They gave rise to nine major rites in the Catholic Church today: in the Latin Church the Roman Rite is predominant, and then among the Eastern Churches we find the Byzantine, Armenian, Chaldean, Coptic, Ethiopian, Malabar, Maronite and Syrian Rites.
Each "Rite" is an historic blending of liturgy, theology, spirituality and Canon Law. The fundamental characteristics of each undoubtedly go back to the earliest centuries, the essentials to the apostolic age if not to Our Lord himself.
The Roman Rite, which is the subject of our reflection, is in modern times, as we have said, the predominant liturgical expression of the ecclesial culture we call the Latin Rite. You will know that in and around the Archdiocese of Milan a "sister Rite" is in use that takes its name from St Ambrose, the great Bishop of Milan: the "Ambrosian Rite". In certain locations and on special occasions the liturgy is celebrated in Spain according to the ancient Hispanic or Mozarabic Rite. These two venerable exceptions do not concern us here.
The Church in Rome used Greek from the beginning. Only gradually was Latin introduced until the fourth century when the Church in Rome was definitely latinized (cf. A.G. Martimort: The Dialogue between God and his People, in A.G. Martimort, ed.: The Church at Prayer, Collegeville, 1992, I, p. 161-165).
The Roman Rite has spread in most of what was known as Western Europe and the continents evangelized largely by European missionaries in Asia, Africa, America and Oceania. Today, with an easier movement of peoples, there are Catholics of the other rites (roughly identified as the Oriental Churches) in all these continents.
Most rites have an original language which also gives each rite its historical identity. The Roman Rite has Latin as its official language. The typical editions of its liturgical books are to this day issued in Latin.
It is a remarkable phenomenon that many religions of the world, or major branches of them, hold on to a language as dear to them. We cannot think of the Jewish religion without Hebrew. Islam holds Arabic as sacred to the Qur'an. Classical Hinduism considers Sanskrit its official language. Buddhism has its sacred texts in Pali.
It would be superficial to dismiss this tendency as esoteric, or strange, or outmoded, old or medieval. That would be to ignore a fine element of human psychology. In religious matters, people tend to hold on to what they received from the beginning, how their earliest predecessors articulated their religion and prayed. Words and formulae used by earlier generations are dear to those who today inherit from them. While a religion is of course not identified with a language, how it understands itself can have an affective link with a particular linguistic expression in its classical period of growth.
3. Advantages of Latin in the Roman Liturgy
As was mentioned above, by the fourth century, Latin had replaced Greek as the official language of the Church of Rome. Prominent among the Latin Fathers of the Church who wrote extensively and beautifully in Latin were St Ambrose (339-397), St Augustine of Hippo (354-430), St Leo the Great († 461) and Pope Gregory the Great (540-604). Pope Gregory, in particular, brought Latin to a great height in the sacred liturgy, in his sermons and in general Church use.
The Roman Rite Church showed extraordinary missionary dynamism. This explains why a greater part of the world has been evangelized by heralds of the Latin Rite. Many European languages which we regard as modern today have roots in Latin, some more than others. Examples are Italian, Spanish, Romanian, Portuguese and French. But even English and German do borrow from Latin.
The Popes and the Roman Church have found Latin very suitable for many reasons. It fits a Church which is universal, a Church in which all peoples, languages and cultures should feel at home and no one is regarded as a stranger.
Moreover, the Latin language has a certain stability which daily spoken languages, where words change often in shades of meaning, cannot have. An example is the translation of the Latin "propagare". The Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples when it was founded in 1627 was called "Sacra Congregatio de Propaganda Fide". But at the time of the Second Vatican Council many modern languages use the word "propaganda" in the sense in which we say "political propaganda". Therefore, there is a preference in the Church today to avoid the expression "de propaganda Fide", in favour of "the Evangelization of Peoples".
Latin has the characteristic of words and expressions retaining their meaning generation after generation. This is an advantage when it comes to the articulation of our Catholic faith and the preparation of Papal and other Church Documents. Even the modern universities appreciate this point and have some of their solemn titles in Latin.
Blessed Pope John XXIII in his Apostolic Constitution, Veterum Sapientia, issued on 22 February 1962, gives these two reasons and adds a third. The Latin language has a nobility and dignity which are not negligible (cf. Veterum Sapientia, nn. 5, 6, 7). We can add that Latin is concise, precise and poetically measured.
Is it not admirable that people, especially well-trained clerics, can meet in international gatherings and be able to communicate at least in Latin? More importantly, is it a small matter that 1 million young people could meet in the World Youth Day Convention in Rome in 2000, in Toronto in 2002 and in Cologne in 2005, and be able to sing parts of the Mass, and especially the Credo, in Latin? Theologians can study the original writings of the early Latin Fathers and of the Scholastics without tears because these were written in Latin.It is true that there is a tendency, both in the Church and in the world at large, to give more attention today to modern languages, like English, French and Spanish, which can help one secure a job quicker in the modern employment market or in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in their country.