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Aristotle A. Esguerra has served in the Diocese of Madison since 2009 as music director at the churches of St. Mary, Pine Bluff and St. Ignatius, Mount Horeb, and as the chant instructor to the Cistercian Nuns of Valley of Our Lady Monastery, Prairie du Sac.
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"To the extent that the new sacred music is to serve the liturgical celebrations of the various churches, it can and must draw from earlier forms — especially from Gregorian chant — a higher inspiration, a uniquely sacred quality, a genuine sense of what is religious."
— Pope John Paul II (June 1980)

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The Cross of Christ and Liturgical Language
published 25 March 2013 by Aristotle A. Esguerra

Oftentimes I hear stories about well-meaning priests and music directors facing resistance from those they serve when they try to reintroduce the Latin language to their particular expression of the Latin Rite. Some of these objections are based on Latin being somehow irrelevant to the modern expression of belief. (I note that these objections are not leveled at the Hebrew/Aramaic words of the Latin rite: Amen, Alleluia, and Hosanna. I also note that oftentimes people will object to the “Latin” Kyrie, even though it is Greek.)

To effectively defend the use of the liturgical languages of the Latin Rite in its mostly vernacular Ordinary-Form expressions, we must look to the Cross as found in the Gospel accounts of the Passion.

From the account of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ according to St. John, which is read every Good Friday:

“And Pilate wrote a title also, and he put it upon the cross. And the writing was: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. This title therefore many of the Jews did read: because the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city: and it was written in Hebrew, in Greek, and in Latin.” — John 19:19–20 (DRV)

These three languages are also mentioned by name in the St. Luke Passion, which in Ordinary-Form Latin Masses was read yesterday (Palm Sunday, Year C):

“And there was also a superscription written over him in letters of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.” — Luke 23:38 (DRV)

We use these languages in the Latin-Rite liturgy not only because they have been handed down to us via the sacred tradition of the Rite but also—and most importantly—because we believe that Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity entered human history, and that the historical reality of his Passion, Death, and Resurrection has eternal ramifications for every human soul.

Use of Hebrew, Greek, and Latin in the Ordinary Form of the Latin Rite is not an outdated practice that points to the so-called Dark Ages. It is a liturgical, linguistic practice that points to the Cross of Eternal Salvation.

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