Sunday, August 8, 2010

Why in Latin?

So I've been reading a fantastic article titled "Why is the Mass said in Latin?" by the Rev. George Bampfield, found in the book Our Faith and Belief (c. 1917 Murphy and McCarthy, New York, NY).  My only wish is that I had the opportunity to read this article before my first Latin Mass.  This article is set as a mock conversation between a Catholic of the time and a Protestant.  It was so profoundly informative and gave great insight into the role of Mass, and the reasons for the languages used.  I will highlight passages here that I found especially moving, but if you can get your hands on a copy of this book, though dated, I'm sure you will be inspired by the treasure you have secured therein.

[Protestant] "...Then if the Priest preaches and reads the Bible in English, why does he pray in Latin?  It makes it queerer still."

[Catholic] He is not only praying; he is doing a work which is greater than prayer; and the people join with him not in the words he is saying, but in the work he is doing.  He does not want them to join in the words he is saying; he would rather they did not; so little does he want them to join that he says half the prayers, not only in Latin, but quite low to himself: let the people use their own words, say their own prayers, point out to God their own watns, for each heart knows its own grief, and no shoulder bears the same Cross; let many different prayers therefore arise to Heaven, so long as all join in the one great Act, the grand Work, which gives to all the different prayers their value.

[Protestant] "What is that one great Act?"

[Catholic] Sacrifice.  Sacrifice is the worship of God.  The Jews of old time had their synagogues - their chapels - all over the Holy Land, and in theses synogogues they preached and read the
Bible, and prayed.  That was good, but it was not the worship of God.  The worship of God, the true grand worship of God, was in the Temple, where daily, morning and evening, the Lamb was offered to God and died - a blameless martyr - to the honor of Him who made it.  It was this worship that three times a year the Jews were ordered, at no little cost and weariness, to travel up.  It was the loss of this that made David weep when he was in exile.  The Synagogue - the Bible, the Sermon, the Prayer, - was not enough: it was for sacrifice, for the worship of God that he yearned.  Now your service is the service of the Synagogue, ours is the service of the Temple.  The sacrifice of the Temple is greater than the prayers of the Synagogue.

[Protestant] "But were there no public prayers at the time of sacrifice?"

[Catholic] ...It is quite curious to read what careful directions God gives to Moses for altar, and vestment, and incense, and candlestick, and every act and movement of the Priest; but of any form of public prayer no mention whatever.  For sin even of ignorance, in thanksgiving for mercies, to ask for future blessings, to turn away dangers, or as an act of simple worship of the Great God, for all these things is ordered Sacrifice, for none of these things a form of prayer.  And the duties of the people were two: 1. To be present in the Temple while the Priest sacrificed; 2. To feed upon certain parts of the victim.  They joined with the Priest in his Act, his great Work, of sacrificing; they joined with the Priest in his feast, in feeding upon the vicitim; the did not join with the Priest in any public prayer or in any words said.  Sometimes they could not see what he was doing, much less hear anything he said; yet they knew what he was doing, and joined in it.
      ...So it is still with the Mass.  Mass is the everlasting offering of the true Lamb of God.  It is the highest Action that is done on earth.  Our Blessed Lord, when he was going to Heaven to present to His Father His five wounds there, took thorught for His Father's worship on earth, and left Himself on earth as the only worhsip that was worthy of His Father.  And the unceasing offering of the Lamb that was slain, not indeed the salying It, for It died but once, but the unceasing offing It, is the great work of Mass...We will suppose that it is true that the Catholic Priest is not only as much a Priest as the son of Aaron, but an infinitely greater Priest; we will suppose it true that the Lamb on the Catholic altar is a sacrifice infinitely higher and greater than the Lamb in the Jewish Temple; and then I say the same rule hold good for the Catholic as held good for the Jew: let each man join in the Great Act, offer the same Sacrifice, put up to God the same Five Wounds, the same crucified Body of God, the same saving Blood, but let each man offer It up in his own prayers, and for his own wants, for each man's need is different, and no one carries the same Cross.
     ...So is it still.  It matters not what the language be which the Priest may use at the Catholic Altar; what the people join in is the Temple at Jerusalem, as Mary and John and the Magdalen at the foot of the Lamb, bleeding His life, in that Act of awful, hushed, worship, so silently away.


[Catholic] ...I have put and answered a question that must go before it: Why need not the Mass be in English?

[Protestant] "Becuase the Mass is a Sacrifice, you say."

[Catholic] Yes.  Prayer is something said to God; Sacrifice is something done to God.  In Prayer words are all; in Sacrifice the thing done is first, the words said are second.  Sacrifice is a gift given; in a gift the grand thing is the act of giving, not the speaking of any particular word. When a multitude of people join in bringing a gift to God, each man of the multitude may have a different reason for  bringing the gift.  One may be in trouble and bring the gift to get out of his trouble; his neighbour may be in joy and bring the gift to thank God for his joy; a third in temptation, a fourth in sin, - all four bring the same gift, through for different reasons.  The important point is that they should all join in offering the one gift, which gift is Jesus Christ: not that they should all join in the same words; joyuful words could not express the sad man's sorrow, and sad words would not tell to God the happy man's joy; but both joyful and sorrowful tell their joy and their sorrow to God by the same gift, by the offering of the same Jesus Christ.  The one thing required them is that all men should join in the act of Sacrifice; but a form of prayer - prayer in the vulgar tongue which would force itself upon the ear - would be in the way at the Sacrifice of the Mass.  It is not the idea or wish of the Church, that her priest should pray aloud, and be heard, and take the people with him; she leaves the people each man to his own freedom of pryaer.  Mass is a time of silent prayers, all put up through the one great Sacrifice.  Sacrifice, and prayer without Sacrifice, are in the Church's eyes different things...
...English people have quite lost the notion of Sacrifice.  Among the peoples of the earth, from the Creation until now, the English stand alone in this. They cannot understand, therefore, praying at a Sacrifice, and their notion of our Mass is a set of Latin prayers, in which the people are positively idle, doing nothing, saying nothing, because they understand nothing.  Whereas in fact the people are hard at work the whole time, joining with the Priest in his great act, and praying, not indeed the same prayers as he, but each his own prayer, the whole time, as you can see for yourself if you will but enter a Catholic church and watch them.

[Catholic]...And having settled that there is no harm done by the Mass being in Latin, if there is any good in its beingin Latin, let us by all means have that good.

[Protestant] "But is there any good?"

[Catholic] Very decidedly yes.  In the first place, it is a proverbial saying of which will not doubt the truth, because it is in the Gospels, that we must not cast pearls before swine.  The things of God are in a world which is careless and irreverent.  Even in the College of Apostles there was a Judas, before whom our loving Lord had bountifully thrown the pearls of His teaching, and who turned again and rent his Master.  So in every congregation that kneels in a Catholic church, here and there must be a Judas - one or two who will betray, and one or two who will deny.  Besides these there is the multitude without, who know not our Lord - the multitude that throngs and jostels, and knows not whom it is so rudely pressing.
     Now the Mass is the Church's pearl of great price.  You do not understand that!  No, you cannot till you become a Catholic.  But the Mass is our pearl of great price.  It is the life of the Catholic Church; the one thing for which it lives; nay, the one thing by which it lives - its food, its daily bread.  Now, we give this food, this mann, to those who know it; from those who know it not we hid and protect it.  Who cares to bare the secrets of a loving heart to a scoffing stranger?  So we care not to put our holiest things in plain English before the common scoffer.  He who comes to learn will learn easily and surely: he who comes to scoff will turn away baffled; there will be no holy words for him to carry away as a jest for his fellow-laugher...Truly the everyday mouthing of Scripture, and the way in which Scripture is made a jest-book, are a proof of what becomes of trhowing God's pearls before the graceless...Here then, you have one good.  Were our Mass in English, the scoffer would scoff easily: it is in Latin, and he is baffled.  This is better for him, who would sin, and for us, who would be troubled, and for God, who would be insulted.

(I'll finish sections III and IV tomorrow night!  My hands hurt from this transcription:)


  1. This is an amazing post, Patty, especially since it goes to the very root of the Protestant obsession to eradicate Latin from the liturgy beginning in Henry VIII's day: it is because Catholic priests offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and the concept of sacrifice was abhorrent to the Protestants. It is all too easy to see the parallels in the Church today. I will look for a copy of this book, and I look forward to your next post. May God bless you and Our Lady protect you.

  2. Thank you for taking the time to write that out. Where did you find it? I'm going to look for it.

  3. Ironcially, JMJ, I found it in a book that my husband purchased for $1 at a yard sale this past June. I loved the photos in it, but this article really touched me, and I loved the in-depth look at the Latin:) It helped me a lot!
    I looked on line for the book and I couldn't find it:( But the info is up above, and maybe if you checked with your local library, even though I don't think its in print, you might be able to find it in circulation?