Thursday, February 26, 2009

Attend a Latin mass, if you can find one, and learn about your language.

I attend Roman Catholic mass with the Pittsburgh Latin Mass Community at St. Boniface Church on the North Side in Pittsburgh. I do this because I grew up with the Latin mass and because I am captivated by its beauty and solemnity. And, a little know fact among my friends and acquaintances, I studied Latin in high school; in fact, I took Latin One twice! (Ida Ficker, my Latin teacher, thought I needed to review the fundamentals after my first, literally sophomoric, attempt.)

In any event, I advise you to attend a Latin mass, if you can find one, regardless of your religious preferences. You will find the splendor and mystery of this mass exhilarating. If you follow the mass booklet closely you will learn much about the English language. And, if you attend to the proceedings, you will learn that communication involves more than just words.

For instance, the mass begins with the Asperges (the sprinkling of water) and asks, "Misere mei, Deus" or, "Have Mercy on me God." If you know English and never took a day of Latin class, you will be able to translate that sentence. Or this passage, "...omnipotens aeterne Deus et mittere digneris sanctum Angelum tuum de caelis." Do you have it? You've got the "Deus," right? How about the "aeterne"? (eternal) and the "omnipotens" (all powerful)? This isn't so hard, right?

Our language has borrowed mightily from the Latin. If you know the word "celestial" you will have found the clue to "caelis" in the passge above. If you know "saint", you will know "sanctum" which in this case is "holy"; after all, saints are holy! And, who could have missed "Angelum"? If you named your daughter "Angela", you know you really named her "angel".

If you have a chance to sit in that high vaulted church on the North Side and listen to the choir singing in Latin and breathe the fragrant incense while watching the ministrations of the 14 altar boys dressed in black and white (sorry, no girls in this mass) to the learned and pious Fr. Myers, clothed in colorful garments, you will be transported to a world of spirit. The ritual, symbolism and colors of the mass clothe you in an almost overwhelming spiritual experience. You understand the mystery of the cross without a verbatim translation. That, my friends, is communication!

Fr. Myers recites the entire one-hour mass in Latin, including the readings (which he later translates before his homily). If you listen closely you will hear him say, "Confiteor Deo omnipotenti, beatae Mariae semper Virgini, beato Michaeli Archangelo, beato Joanni Baptistae, sanctis Apostolis Petro et Paulo, omnibus Sanctis, et vobis fratres, quia peccavi nimis cogitatione verbo, et opere: (the priest strikes his breast three times) mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. Ideo precor beatam Mariam semper Virginem, beatum Michaelem Archangelum, beatum Joannem Baptistam, sanctos Apostolos Petrum et Paulum, omnes Sanctos, et vos fratres, orare pro me ad Dominum Deum nostrum."

Can I translate that easily with my two years of Latin One? No. But I am learning to. I know that the priest is talking about "blessed" ("beatae") people and "confession" ("Confiteor") and "sin" ("peccavi") and "words" ("verbo") and "my fault" ("mea culpa"). And, as I enjoy this mysterious and beautiful experience, I find the keys to unlocking the English vocabulary. But, again, you need not sit there and translate. You will get the message.

A communication involves messages being send back and forth through media by senders and receivers who typically have different agendas and dispositions. To share a common reality they struggle for many reasons, not the least of which is noise, clutter, distractions. If you attend the Latin mass, you will not share a common language, but you will share a message, subtle perhaps, that matters of the spirit are profound and mysterious, that they penetrate beyond language.

No comments:

Post a Comment