Academic journal article Sacred Music

English, Music, and the Liturgy

Academic journal article Sacred Music

English, Music, and the Liturgy

Article excerpt

In 1963, the bishops present at the Second Vatican Council made the historic decision to allow the possibility of parts of the Mass of the Roman Rite to be in the vernacular. This was no small decision and was not treated as such initially. According to reports, about one hundred bishops took the floor to speak on this issue before voting and the compromise worked out at the time, according to the relator, was interesting--those who wanted the Mass to be entirely in Latin could have this; those who wanted the option of some of the parts ("those pertaining to the people") to be in the vernacular could have what they wanted.

Thus, the most radical situation that was intended for Roman Rite Catholics at the time was that some parts of the Mass could (as an option) be in the vernacular--while the priest's parts would stay in Latin. I have heard multiple confirmations of bishops and others coming back from Rome during the Christmas break after that particular session of the council and telling of the historic vote, but adding, "of course, the Canon of the Mass, will always be in Latin."

Within five years that all changed and Catholics of my generation were brought up with the story that "Vatican II abolished the Latin Mass."

Now, at least part of a new generation is being brought up with the newly freed-up Tridentine version of the Roman Rite without the vernacular option. While those of my generation were grateful for even a little bit of Latin at times, in this post-Summorum Pontificum era there are those of a newer generation (at least some) who cannot understand why anyone would want any vernacular in the Mass at all.

Let us look at both sides.

First, it is an anthropological fact that all religions tend to have a sacral language. A formal version of an ordinary human language ends up being fixed in place and--because it resists change--ends up representing the timeless things of God. Latin, Old Church Slavonic, Hindi, Classical Arabic, etc. are all examples of this. Usually a sacral, cultic music grows up around this particular language with its vocabulary, accentuation pattern, and cursus. …

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