Sunday, September 10, 2017

Reflections of Magnum Principium

So...the Holy Father has issued a new motu proprio, Magnum Principium on the use of the vernacular in the liturgy. I've spent this afternoon reading the motu proprio and reflecting on the document, the Latin language, and what the motu proprio means for the Church. I'd like to offer the following considerations. These are very confusing times. God grant that I have written well. As always, I am open to your charitable correction. May God bless us and never fail to show us mercy. 

1. Canon law is something I am not extremely familiar with, so I admit possibly error here - but, as far as I can tell, the essential canonical change made by the motu proprio is that responsibility for promulgating vernacular liturgical translations has been devolved to the Episcopal Conferences, who not only are to carry out the translations, but also make the judgment call as to when such translations are necessary. Essentially, the onus of fidelity has shifted: whereas before it was the job of the particular commissions of the Holy See to ensure a text's fidelity to the original Latin, Magnum Principium amends canon 838 so that responsibility to fidelity to the Latin is on the shoulders of Episcopal Conferences, the Holy See's role being now reduced to merely confirm such translations. If I am wrong in this understanding of the major canonical change, please graciously correct me.

2. Whether or not I am understanding the canon law correctly, the biggest innovation here is not the specific canonical change but the principle, the "great principle" (Magnum Principium) from which this motu proprio takes its name. This principle is that the comprehension of the laity "requires" that the further expansion of the vernacular in the Mass. The motu proprio acknowledges that this means the loss of Latin as the primary liturgical language, but essentially says the Church was willing to make this sacrifice so that the people might "become the voice of the Church." Basically, it is a kind of liturgical supersessionism, where the demands of the times require the vernacular supersede Latin as the Church's sacred language - that "it is necessary to communicate to a given people using its own language all that the Church intended to communicate to other people through the Latin language." The communication in Latin has been definitively superseded and replaced by communication in vernacular, which "often only in a progressive manner" will eventually "be able to become liturgical languages, standing out in a not dissimilar way to liturgical Latin." Liturgical supersessionism.

3. Of course, as the villain Syndrome says in The Incredibles, "When everyone's super, no one will be." When every vernacular language is a liturgical language, then there in effect is no liturgical language anymore. The essential root of the word sacred, the Latin sacrum, denotes something set apart from everyday use. It is reserved for divine usage. Sacred objects are not treated like profane objects; sacred places are set apart from profane places by special behaviors and taboos - hence, why holy places are called sanctuaries. Sacred persons have a dignity that sets them apart from others. The very essence of the sacred is to be set apart. In Roman times, there was a sharp distinction between the sacra and the saecula, the former denoting people, things, and spaces set aside for worship, the latter signifying that which was for common use. Now, nothing is more secular than the vernacular language, the language people cuss and argue and do business in. Not to say that vernacular never has any part in the liturgy, obviously; Aramaic, Greek, and Latin were all once vernaculars. But it is one thing to say vernacular languages can have a part in the liturgy and quite another to say that vernacular languages essentially are sacred languages by virtue of their very vernacularity. That is the real innovation of the motu proprio. Every language is a sacred language! Everybody gets a trophy! You get a car! And you get a car!

4. The ridiculous irony here is that, while the opening statements of the motu proprio invoke the Second Vatican Council, Magnum Principium actually contravenes the vision of the Council Fathers and the Council documents, which stated that the use of the Latin in the Latin rite was to be preserved as normative, with vernacular only envisioned as applying to the readings and some of the prayers - not the Canon of the Mass (Sacrosanctum Concilium 36.1). Of course we know that these texts from the Council opened the door to the mess we are discussing right now. Texts like SC 36 are examples of the timebombs Michael Davies so famously spoke of. Even so, in asserting that the vernacular usage become normative, essentially replacing Latin, Francis is in fact contravening what the Council documents seemed to have envisioned. Well, though it may be a strange twist on the documents of Vatican II, it can't be denied that it is a totally victory for the Spirit of Vatican II.

5. When reading Magnum Principium, one cannot but be struck by the document's pragmatism. The focus is entirely on the practical "needs" of the laity. The consideration of the issue proceeds from a point of view that is entirely "horizontal." There is no mention about the historical role of Latin in the Church's liturgy, no talk of the communion of saints, nor even of the practical role of utilizing a single language for the life and worship of the Church. In 1962, on the eve of the Second Vatican Council, Pope John XXIII had written:

[The Church] values especially the Greek and Latin languages, in which wisdom itself is cloaked, as it were, in a vesture of gold. She has likewise welcomed the use of other venerable languages, which flourished in the East. For these too have had no little influence on the progress of humanity and civilization... 
But mid this variety of languages a primary place must surely be given to that language which had its origins in Latium, and later proved so admirable a means for the spreading of Christianity throughout the West. And since in God’s special Providence this language united so many nations together under the authority of the Roman Empire — and that for so many centuries — it also became the rightful language of the Apostolic See. Preserved for posterity, it proved to be a bond of unity for the Christian peoples of Europe.
Of its very nature Latin is most suitable for promoting every form of culture among peoples. It gives rise to no jealousies. It does not favor any one nation, but presents itself with equal impartiality to all and is equally acceptable to all.
Nor must we overlook the characteristic nobility of Latin formal structure. Its “concise, varied and harmonious style, full of majesty and dignity” makes for singular clarity and impressiveness of expression.
For these reasons the Apostolic See has always been at pains to preserve Latin, deeming it worthy of being used in the exercise of her teaching authority “as the splendid vesture of her heavenly doctrine and sacred laws.” She further requires her sacred ministers to use it, for by so doing they are the better able, wherever they may be, to acquaint themselves with the mind of the Holy See on any matter, and communicate the more easily with Rome and with one another" (Veterum Sapientia, 1962).

It seems that any discussion of the Church's liturgical language would have some reference to history, to the "so many centuries" mentioned by St. John XXIII, to the glorification of God and the sanctification of the language used by so many saints, not merely dwell on alleged practicalities of this current place and time. That's not surprising, though; the contemporary talking Church is so enamored with the idea of "proclamation", "word as mystery" and "announcement" that its hardly a shock that the motu proprio takes an extremely pragmatic view of liturgical language. It's so ironic, however, that even considered pragmatically, it makes a lot more sense to have a universal liturgical language "to be a bond of unity for the Christian peoples" than to not.

6. Speaking of practicality, I have to say practically speaking, I am not sure how much of a huge difference this is going to make. For one thing, I want to ask the Holy Father what planet he is living on. In what part of the world is "not enough vernacular" really a problem? Is there anywhere where the reign of Latin is so absolute that vernacular needs a broader usage than it already has?? As to the quality of the translations, I think there might not be any substantial change. Episcopal Conferences are notoriously untrustworthy in so many respects; I chuckled to myself when I saw the new document's admonition that Episcopal translations must be faithful, knowing how that worked with the New American Bible. But at this point, is there confidence that the Magisterium would do any better? It's really a pick your poison sort of situation. I honestly don't really trust anyone to do vernacular translations. Translation is policy, and whenever there is a chance to make a translation, the folks in charge will make those translations according to whatever the theological zeitgeist demands. And that's true whoever is in charge of it. So, I'm not sure I am worried that new translations will be qualitatively worse. Once you open the door to all these vernacular translations, it's just what's going to happen. The day of Pentecost has been undone; we have returned to Babel.

That's all for now. I'm sure there's more to say. But obviously, if you don't want to have to worry about translation and all the nonsense attendant upon relying on vernacular editions of the liturgy, just come to the traditional Latin Mass. In the Latin Mass the Church, "by providing splendid vesture of her heavenly doctrine and sacred laws", thankfully avoids all such worry.

What do you think?


TLM said...

Well, to be honest I'm wondering if the Bishops now have the muscle behind them to limit or even forbid Latin Masses, if they so desire. I'm also wondering if (like some are saying) they have the power to 'revise' Sacramental Rites....Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Orders etc, etc. Realizing that they must be 'approved' by the CDW, does anyone really think that the CDW as it now stands (with the Pope's dismantling of it in 2016)is going to 'deny' ANYTHING? Oh, but maybe they will if there might be some Bishops that want to swing the pendulum back toward tradition! The implications of this thing could be really disastrous. God help us!!

c matt said...

It seems to be yet another attack from Bergoglio on tradition, and Tradition. Saddened, but not surprised. I guess he may think he cannot attack the Latin Mass directly, so why not undermine it any way he can? Of course, I should not really single him out in this effort - he has plenty of collaborators.

I agree - what planet is he on that Latin presents some sort of obstacle or barrier to people, given it is sparingly used, if at all?

donnie said...

My guess is that this motu proprio is almost entirely a result of Pope Francis reflecting on his experiences celebrating Mass in various parts of the world - and not much else.

Think about it - when the Holy Father visits a region where he is not well versed in the vernacular language, he says Mass in Latin. As an example, do you remember two years ago when he visited the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.? It was the same Mass in which he canonized Saint Juniperro Serra (something only a media-darling like Francis could have done without a massive manufactured backlash). All the main prayers of that Mass, including the liturgy of the Eucharist, were said by His Holiness in Latin. And the reason for that was simple: Francis doesn't know that many languages, and though he can speak a little English, he's not very comfortable with it. Whenever this happens, Francis reverts to saying the Mass in Latin.

So imagine Francis traveling the globe and saying Mass in Latin almost everywhere he goes because of the language barrier. Millions flock to see him say Mass, but when Mass starts, hardly anyone in the sprawling crowd knows what it is he's saying. For the vast majority of them, they've never head this language. They don't recognize the prayers and they don't know the responses. It's disorienting for them. It was certainly disorienting for most American Catholics two years ago, so much so that The Atlantic actually ran an article about it.

Now imagine His Holiness travels to a Spanish-speaking country and says Mass in Spanish there. Again, millions flock to see him say Mass, but this time they know exactly what he's saying. They know all the responses. They understand him perfectly.

I suspect Pope Francis vastly prefers the latter scenario to the former. And I suspect that's almost entirely how he formed his impression that "the comprehension of the laity requires the further expansion of the vernacular in the Mass." It's all based on his personal experience and how the crowds react when he is able to say Mass in their native tongue versus how the crowds react when he says Mass in a language that (for most of them) they've never been exposed to in their entire lives.

It's hard to make the point respectfully, but almost everything His Holiness does makes far more sense once you realize that Francis is actually a fairly dim, narrow-minded Argentinian Jesuit who views the world almost entirely through the lens of his own limited perspective.

Anonymous said...

Divide and conquer. What is the most successful way all revolutionaries eventually gain power? Create chaos, make a mess, and constant changes, all of which Francis has expertly done.

The purpose of Vatican II was to eventually destroy the Catholic faith, replace it with a world-wide religion of the worship of man, and thus prepare the way easily for the reign and rule of the Antichrist.

From the minute Francis was "elected", he has tirelessly worked to ensure this future. He lives for confusion, chaos, and constant change as he is the ultimate Modernist. He has no faith but in their Revolution and he has carried out his role so far to perfection.

The two pillars of Catholicism are the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the monarchical governmental structure of the Church. Both have essentially been destroyed, only particulars needed to be implemented to ensure their final destruction. Francis is seeing to it the complete destruction occurs through him.

Thomas J. McIntyre said...

All this nonsense is just making it more likely that once I convince my wife, we will be jumping ship to attend the Traditional Latin Mass exclusively.

Ignatius, Cornwall said...

Hear hear

marĂ­a said...

Magnum P=Amoris L´s mess

Sean W. said...


What's that experience got to do with anything? It doesn't matter much whether the canon uses "chalice" or "cup," either way, Francis would have to say it in Latin while celebrating Mass in an English country. The translation doesn't affect his inability to speak the language, so "his experiences" are irrelevant in that sense.

To the extent his experience is relevant, it's lingering resentment over his recommendations for the episcopate being ignored by Rome while he was merely archbishop of Buenos Aires, hence a desire to humiliate and reduce the Curia. Of course his appointments make clear exactly why Rome ignored him.

john said...

Do it...I did, never a regret! Reading through the TLM, you see how way more beautiful the prayers are, come to appreciate the prayerful silence of the Low Mass. Going back to N.O. Mass after that is like getting a root canal, having to participate in watered down, protestantized Mass, being forced to listen to crappy VII hymns, constant noise.

Unknown said...

So, practically speaking :), where do we go from here? Are we to assume the reigning Pope Francis is slowing "undoing" what was done by the previous Pope? Are his motives evil? or just ignorant? In our times of extensive media coverage and constant, real-time updates about "this" and "that" happening at the Vatican, are we, as Catholic laity, culpable for our judgement of the Pope? That seems like a heavy burden for a mom of two young boys. Who am I to trust if I can't trust the authority of the Church?

Anonymous said...

Mary, trust in the Church founded by Jesus Christ. The gates of hell will not prevail against Her. As you know, a primary distinction of Catholicism is belief in and submission to Magisterial authority, even if and when we doubt or disagree wiith it. The voices of opinion are just that. Do not let your heart be troubled. Stay true to the Catholic faith and continue to fight for the salvation of your family.

Unknown said...

^Thank you. As St. Augustine said, "My heart is restless until I rest in Thee." But it's a good restlessness because it inspires reflection, conversation, action, and prayer. Other's opinions help stir my soul which would otherwise become stagnant, lacking movement or growth. I hope and pray that my mind is always challenged and, more importantly, that I never give up seeking the truth.

Because of the nature of social media (blog comments included), the "face to face" quality of an opinion based debate is lost. That's why I like to put my face on my I don't forget that who I'm talking to is a person, not a soul-less computer screen.

Don't worry about me. God has blessed me with an unshakable faith. I just like to participate in an online discussion from time to time (if I have the time in the morning before the boys wake up). It brings me back to the old college days when we were at least open to the idea of being convinced otherwise, verses today when no debates are ever won or lost on social media...the only desire of those participating is to get the final word and have the "drop the mic" experience.

Pulex said...

For the less known languages it will not change much. CDW does not have experts in all languages, therefore, they are simply not able to check the correctness of the translations. Google Translate is so far not adequate for doctrinal nuances of liturgical texts. So they would rely anyway on the assurances of the bishops conference that commisioned the translation that everything is alright. Apparently they did so in the past, too.