A thread on Latin at PrayTell: dead language or what?
When I was entering my junior year, a friend from Latin II and I were called down to the office. “We’re a Catholic school,” the vice-P said. “And we feel obligated to provide Latin III if anybody wants it. So unless you gentlemen want to transfer into another language class, you’re all that’s left for the third-year class.” My friend and I looked at each other. We had mercy on the administration. And so I traded Caesar’s conquest of Gaul for a basic tourist’s vocabulary of German.
Latin III died in Fall 1974. I don’t know if it ever came back.
As for the Church, I remember schismatics and clingers-on to the old Mass making Latin their last hill on which to stand. My clear recollection is that Latin got its bad rep from the people who wrapped themselves in its banner. Jonathan Ziegler at PT wonders:
I don’t deny that Latin has become a shibboleth of ideology in the church, but I wonder how it came about that way. Is this paralleled with other religious communities and their holy languages? It’s confusing to me because I know lots of very liberal high church episcopalians for example, so it’s hard for me to understand why preferring Latin automatically puts you on one side of the political fence, when otherwise you can support married and women priests, etc..
In 2015, the schismatics have rather declared themselves in or out of the Church, and the post-conciliar resistance has become fairly respectable in many official church circles. The boundaries of the liturgy wars don’t quite coincide with the culturewar: this is true.
I was thinking back to GIA’s rollout of Taize in the early 80’s. The original “yellow” edition had a lot of Latin, plus other languages. but it was followed quickly by the “orange” book, which was all or mostly in English–at least the more popular pieces.
I think another challenge for the advocacy of Latin as a sacred language is the whiff of gnosticism associated with a lingo that must be translated and explained by a class of educated insiders.
Speaking for myself, I don’t mind working at languages. It’s almost as fun as music. But are we now living in an age where it’s still prudent to expect people to work at worship? If all the world is Latin Rite or else, there’s a certain impetus to adapt. Today, if worship is unintelligible, then it’s competing with intelligible options in other languages, and other Christian traditions, or even “none.”
My sense is that the burden is on Latin: the music and spoken texts better be exceptional. Perhaps in 1970, that was less than necessary. Today, there’s no lack of outstanding church music in the vernacular–especially if you know where to look. And I’ve seen quite a bit of Latin chant over the years. Some pieces may have survived for centuries, but not everything in the repertoire is great music. So my question with Latin might be: why bother?