GIRM 12-13a: A Brief, Recent History of the Vernacular in Liturgy

Some few but loud Catholics stake their flag on the Latin/vernacular hill, suggesting that the modern Roman Rite has gone off the rails by extending the prescriptions of Sacrosanctum Concilium (SC) to an unlawful extreme. Almost always, this shows a lack of understanding, and a position contrary to the Magisterium itself.

12. Hence, the Second Vatican Council, having come together in order to accommodate the Church to the requirements of her proper apostolic office precisely in these times, considered thoroughly, as had the Council of Trent, the catechetical and pastoral character of the Sacred Liturgy.[SC 33] And since no Catholic would now deny a sacred rite celebrated in Latin to be legitimate and efficacious, the Council was also able to concede that “not rarely adopting the vernacular language may be of great usefulness for the people” and gave permission for it to be used.[SC 36] The eagerness with which this measure was everywhere received has certainly been so great that it has led, under the guidance of the Bishops and the Apostolic See itself, to permission for all liturgical celebrations in which the people participate to be in the vernacular, so that the people may more fully understand the mystery which is celebrated.

13. In this regard, although the use of the vernacular in the Sacred Liturgy is a means, admittedly of great importance, for expressing more clearly catechesis on the mystery, a catechesis inherent in the celebration itself, the Second Vatican Council ordered additionally that certain prescriptions of the Council of Trent that had not been followed everywhere be brought to fruition, such as the Homily to be given on Sundays and feast days[SC 52] and the faculty to interject certain explanations during the sacred rites themselves.[SC 35.3]

I wouldn’t agree that catechesis is the only reason for a vernacular liturgy. Certainly there is spiritual benefit from direct communication in the way worshipers relate to God and to one another in their earthly surroundings. Catechesis might imply that the Mass exists to impart knowledge to the mortal assembly. We can be pretty sure that the Son’s expression of praise to the Father is independent of any particular human language.

The division of the GIRM is peculiar in number 13, as the topic of Communion of the people is taken up in mid-section. We’ll get to that topic tomorrow. Meanwhile, any comments on the vernacular?

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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2 Responses to GIRM 12-13a: A Brief, Recent History of the Vernacular in Liturgy

  1. Liam says:

    I do.

    This is another area where the dimension of beauty that is intimately related to the dimension of truth is left waiting at the altar, as it were. Vernaculars have a capacity for evoking beauty in the musical (poetry and prosody, is) aural plane. Latin is not the only language capable of it, nor is it somehow supremely so (mind you, I love Latin, and singing Latin is often pure joy). The neglect of beauty in the vernacular in our worship is a neglect of another means by which the faithful may be sanctified.

  2. FrMichael says:

    “And since no Catholic would now deny a sacred rite celebrated in Latin to be legitimate and efficacious…”

    That’s a big assumption I doubt is shared among liturgists in my neck of the woods. A lot of people who claim to known SCL backwards and forwards seem to have selective memories when it comes to the normative status of Latin in the Roman Rite.

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