The Latin Mass and What It Means to be Apostolic


On several different occasions now, this writer has had the ill fortune of hearing people argue in favor of the Latin language in Mass. In our Nicene Creed, we state we believe in “One Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.” “Apostolic has a three-fold meaning.

One ugly kid 2Isaiah ends his passage for this Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time, “He touched my mouth with it, “See, now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed, your sin purged.” Then I heard the voice of the NAME, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” “Here I am,” I said; “send me!” From the Septuagint, “ἤκουσα τῆς φωνῆς Κυρίου λέγοντος· τίνα ἀποστείλω, καὶ τίς πορεύσεται πρὸς τὸν λαὸν τοῦτον; καὶ εἶπα· ἰδοὺ ἐγώ εἰμι· ἀπόστειλόν με.” “Hearing the voice of Kyrie saying, ‘Who shall I send/apostle and who shall I send out to this people?’ I said, ‘See, hear I am, apostle me.”

We are apostolic in the sense we are sent out, evangelical. How can we be evangelical, how can we follow Jesus’ mandate in Matthew, “Go, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to guard all that I have commanded you. Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age,” how can we call people to community knowing when they attend our meeting, Mass, they will not understand many of the words, as they are in a foreign language, Latin? In the first sense of the term, apostolic, the Latin Mass prevents us from being apostolic.

St. Irenaeus, in his “Against Heresies” gives us a second understanding of “Apostolic,” when he writes:

Pope Francis UNTradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops… The faithful everywhere, as the apostolic tradition has been preserved continuously by those faithful men who exist everywhere.

St. Paul writes in our second reading, “I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received: Christ died for our deviations, in accordance with the Scriptures; that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures; that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve…whether it be I or they, so we preach and so you believed.”

Three Popes“So we preached and so you believed,” sums up the second meaning of being apostolic. We listen to the teaching of the Pope, our Bishop, and our elders/priests. Priest comes from the Greek, not Latin, presbyter, and means elder. “Deacon,” is also Greek, not Latin. We are the Roman Catholic Church because we claim St. Peter and St. Paul as the founders of our limb of the greater body of Christ. “Church,” is Greek for Kyrie Oikos, or house of God, not Latin. “Parish,”is Greek, not Latin, and means place of travelers. We are apostolic because we are faithful to those traditions as presented by Peter, Paul, and the apostles. They spoke Greek, Aramaic, and possibly Hebrew, not Latin.

The article, “The beginnings of Penance and how this relates to Justice, argues, “James did not know what a sacrament was. “Sacrament,” is Latin, not Greek . The closest the Greeks had, and the one the apostles used is the word from which we derive our word, “Mystery.”In his chapter on the beginnings of the Christian Sacraments Martos writes,
“Common to all of these (Greek) cults was the mysterion, a sacred ritual in which the myth was symbolically presented and its meaning was revealed. In everyday Greek, mysterion meant something hidden or secret, and it had no particularly religious connotation. But the central ritual of each of these cults was in fact something that was hidden, since it was closed to those who had not been initiated into the religion, and so it could be called a mysterion.” He also quotes Theodore Of Mopsuestia, “Every sacrament points to invisible and ineffable realities by means of signs and symbols.”

The Whole idea of Mass and the Eucharist in particular is to enter these mysteries. The New Testament uses “Sacrament, not once. It uses some form of “Mystery” 28 times. Ephesians and Revelations each use the term 4 times, and it is used often in I Corinthians. Jesus himself uses the term in Matthew 13 and Luke 8, in relation to the Parable of the Sower.

Greek has another interesting word on the subject, “Eusebia.” This is the feeling of religious awe we should receive when we attend Mass, when we understand the words, and the words in a different sense, as we meditate upon the murals, statues, and other works of art in our Cathedral.The idea is to gain this religious awe and in the process enter into the mystery. When we do not understand the words at the heart level, and this happens when we hear the words in a foreign language such as Latin, we love this Eusebia, this sense of religious awe.

Latin can, in a sense, be part of this Eusebia, if we understand the words. When we do not, it becomes part of a feel good religion that is everything Jesus preached against. Luke 20:45-47 Mark 12:38-40 A better analogy is that of fruit and its sugar. Fruit is very good for us. Sugar gives it flavor. When we do not understand Latin and insist on singing it and hearing it at Mass, we are like those who eat fructose instead of eating fruit. We want the flavor and the rush, but do not want the Eusebia, the participation in the mystery which comes with it.

Matthew 6 has Jesus say, “When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them.In praying, do not babble like the ethnics, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” He then gives the Our Father. A chapter before he writes, “Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the evil one.” Jesus is a man of few words and he wants all of our words to mean something.

Our authority for speaking of sacraments is the living tradition handed on to us by the Church Fathers.When we emphasize this tradition as coming from Tertullian who writing around the year 210 first used the Latin word sacramentum, we date our faith as coming from the third century, and therefore not the apostles. With the emphasis on Latin, we give credence to the arguments that we are not apostolic.

Tertullian gives our third definition of apostolic:

LectionaryThey (The apostles) in like manner founded churches in every city, from which all the other churches, one after another, derived the tradition of the faith, and the seeds of doctrine… that they may become churches. It is on this account only that they will be able to deem themselves apostolic, as being the offspring of apostolic churches.

We are apostolic because we are members of one of the churches founded by the 12 apostles, not because we sing or speak in Latin. Latin is a change, and makes us less apostolic. Our heritage ultimately come from Hebrew. One source on Jewish prayer writes:

Words of Institution“The most important part of prayer is the introspection it provides. Accordingly, the proper frame of mind is vital to prayer. The mindset for prayer is referred to as kavanah, “concentration” or “intent.” The minimum level of kavanah is an awareness that one is speaking to God and an intention to fulfill the obligation to pray. If you do not have this minimal level of kavanah, then you are not praying; you are merely reading. In addition, it is preferred that you know and understand what you are praying about and that you think about the meaning of the prayer.”

Chi RhoIf we speak in Latin, and do not know the meaning of the words, we are not fulfilling our religious obligation. Our Kyrie Eleison is Greek, not Latin. The Chi Rho we see everywhere in our Cathedral, is the first two letters for “Christ,” in Greek. “Liturgy,” is a Greek term, not Latin. Fundamentalists like to argue, “Liturgy,” does not appear in the New Testament. It does, in Luke 1:23, II Corinthians 9:12, Philippians 2:30, Hebrews 8:6, and 9:21.

As we prepare for the Liturgy of the Eucharist we have an “Anaphora” which is related to our word, “Phosphorus.” “Phosphorus,” is a light carrying element, or Photos, Phorus/carrying. These are both Greek terms, not Latin. “Lucifer,” is the Latin form for “Light Carrier.” In our  Mass, inside our Anaphora, we have an “Anamnesis,” another Greek term. We speak of “”Mnemonic,” devices to help us remember things. “Ana,” is a Greek term for “Above.” “Anamnesis,” is something coming from God, through the Mass, to help us remember Christ’s dying and resurrection. It also helps us to remember our dying and rising through participation in the Eucharist. Eucharist is a Greek term meaning, Thanksgiving. The main parts of our Mass, are Greek, not Latin.

One person, arguing for Latin, argued for the Sanctus, part of our reading for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary time. “They cried one to the other, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts! All the earth is filled with his glory!”

This comes from our first reading, from Isaiah, who spoke Hebrew. It reads in the original language, מְלֹא כָל-הָאָרֶץ כְּבוֹדוֹ קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת, “Chodesh, Chodesh, Chodesh, the Name of Sabbaoth. Full is all Earth with your distinction,” not, “Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus Dominus Deus exercituum ; plena est omnis terra gloria ejus.” The Latin is a good translation, but still, a translation.

The Sanctus is also called the “Epinikios hymnos. In Greek: Eπινίκιος ὕμνος, or the “Hymn of Victory.”) In the liturgy of St’s Basil and St. John Chrysotom the Psalm goes something like, ” Ἅγιος, ἅγιος, ἅγιος Κύριος Σαβαώθ· πλήρης ὁ οὐρανὸς καὶ ἡ γῆ τῆς δόξης σου, ὡσαννὰ ἐν τοῖς ὑψίστοις. Εὐλογημένος ὁ ἐρχόμενος ἐν ὀνόματι Κυρίου. Ὡσαννὰ ὁ ἐν τοῖς ὑψίστοις.” This speaks to the Greek, not Latin, source of the prayer. John of Revelation also took this prayer, from Isaiah, and placed it in Revelation 4:8. To show how old it is, Judaism still places this prayer, in Hebrew, after the third Benediction of the Standing Prayer, the Amidah. Jesus and the Apostles almost certainly recited it as part of their liturgy. It is apostolic.

Our Gospel adds an important part to our understanding of being apostolic. When Isaiah gets the call, he grumbles of being a man of unclean lips. In our Gospel, St. Peter does not brag about being an apostle, a missionary. Average people compare themselves with others, and seeing their faults, reason they are not so bad, maybe even good. They come to think of themselves as greater than others are. The truly great people compare themselves with God, and find themselves wanting.

“Apostolic,” means being missionaries, sent out into the world to make it a better place, in God’s image, in Jesus’ image. Apostolic means being a member of the grander community of saints with a lineage going all the way back to the first apostles. Being apostolic means being Christian, like Christ, and like the apostles, not saying Mass in Latin.

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