From the Bench: 'What's with the Latin?'

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by Jeremy Kiolbassa, Director of Music & Liturgy

This weekend we begin our Lenten journey. You’ll probably notice a couple interesting changes to the music selections at Mass. I’d like to take a moment to highlight and explain two of these changes.

Why are we singing the Litany of Saints this week?

The circular letter, On Preparing and Celebrating the Paschal Feast (Paschale Solemnitatis, Vatican, Feb 20, 1988) has this to say:

23. The first Sunday of Lent marks the beginning of the annual Lenten observance. [25] In the Mass of this Sunday, there should be some distinctive elements that underline this important moment (e.g., the entrance procession with litanies of the saints).

The litany is recited at Baptism, both for babies and adults at the Easter Vigil. In Lent, we are called to renew our baptismal call by fasting and prayer, and what a better way to pray than by calling upon the Communion of Saints?

What’s with the Kyrie and Latin Sanctus? Didn’t Vatican II get rid of all the Latin?

In my opinion, the documents of Vatican II are probably some of the most misunderstood and misinterpreted documents of all time. Vatican II did mark a huge shift in the Church and the Sacred Liturgy, but many of the things that have become associated with this change may be, arguably, misplaced. For instance, the idea that Latin was completely disregarded is simply untrue. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium, Dec. 4, 1963), has this to say about Latin:

36. Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites…

54. In Masses which are celebrated with the people, a suitable place may be allotted to their mother tongue. This is to apply in the first place to the readings and "the common prayer," but also, as local conditions may warrant, to those parts which pertain to the people, according to the norm laid down in Art. 36 of this Constitution. Nevertheless steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them.

Later in the same document, it goes on to say this about Gregorian Chant:

116. The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services.

So it would seem that the intention of Vatican II was never to remove Latin from the Liturgy. Quite the contrary, it states that the people are to learn and embrace this music, the Church’s music, and to sing it. Don’t worry, we aren’t going to back to Latin Mass! We are, however, going to embrace the spirit of Vatican II and learn some of the beautiful music that is part of our faith tradition. One of the amazing things about being Catholic is that our church spans millennia and continents, and so does our music tradition.