Pope Benedict XVI: The 'Latin Lover'
Pope Benedict XVI may have raised a few eyebrows with his red Prada shoes and Father Christmas-like "camauro" hat but the German-born pontiff is no revolutionary on Catholic Church matters.
However, there was one minor aspect of this apostolic exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis (Sacrament of Charity), that will likely make waves: His decision to encourage the use of Latin in Church.
"I ask that future priests, from their time in the seminary, receive the preparation needed to understand and to celebrate Mass in Latin, and also to use Latin texts and execute Gregorian chant," the pope wrote in his message to clergymen and ordinary Catholics.
The traditional Tridentine Mass in Latin was replaced with updated liturgies in local languages by the Second Vatican Council of 1965. That decision contributed to a schism within the Church led by Marcel Lefebvre, an ultra-conservative French archbishop who was later excommunicated by the late Pope John Paul II.
Since then, congregations wishing to celebrate Mass in Latin are forced to seek permission from Rome or from their local bishops.
The language of Cicero
In his apostolic exhortation, published last month, Benedict made it clear that he was endorsing a proposal made by a 2005 Synod of Bishops and that it was in line with directives issued by the Second Vatican Council.
*quote1* He also noted that he was thinking primarily of international gatherings, where the language of Cicero would be used as a sort of lingua franca (universal language) and help "express more clearly the unity and universality of the Church".
"The papal document is a step towards more dignity during the divine service and Latin can play a role in this," a Vatican Radio journalist, who asked not to be named, told dpa.
"I really see the pope's words as a guideline only, not as a directive," he added.
More than a few Catholics and churchgoers, especially in southern Europe, admit that the old rite in good old Latin had been so "much more solemn, much more exalted."
After all, they argue, "Hic est enim calix sanguinis mei" sounds so much nicer than "This is the chalice of my blood" while "pater noster, qui es in caelis" has a much better ring to it than "our father, who art in heaven."
According to a recent report in the Sunday Times, Benedict, who is fluent in Latin and openly criticised the decision to drop Latin when he was still a cardinal, plans to bring back the old Tridentine Mass despite opposition from some senior cardinals.
*quote2* Vatican sources quoted by the British paper said the pope was considering publication of a papal "motu proprio" (of his own initiative) on the matter. This would do away with the need for approval from Church bodies.
Meanwhile, the Vatican's "Latin lovers" have hailed the document, which experts see as a first step towards a possible "counterrevolution."
A return to Latin would please traditionalists, such as adherents to the Lefebvre movement, as well as Latin experts inside the Vatican, who have been bemoaning the decline of the classical language for years.
"Who can still speak Latin nowadays?" complained Father Reginald Foster, an American priest known as the "Pope's Latinist," in an interview published a few years ago.
"The priests don't know it any more, and not even the bishops do - it's terrible. Some can't even read the inscriptions on gravestones. It's a scandal," he said.
March 28, 2007
Copyright DPA with Expatica 2007
Subject: German, Rome, pope, Christianity, Catholic, church, Benedict