About this blogger:
Veronica Brandt holds a Bachelor Degree in Electrical Engineering. As editor, she has produced fine publications (as well as valuable reprints) dealing with Gregorian chant, hymnody, Latin, and other subjects. These publications are distinguished on account of their tastefulness. She lives in the Blue Mountains near Sydney, Australia, with her husband Peter and five children.
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“I have, on the other hand, retained several more or less traditional tunes, absolutely valueless and without merit from a musical point of view, but which seem to have become a necessity if a book is to appeal—as I hope this one will—to the varied needs of various churches.”
— A. Edmonds Tozer (1905)

The Pope's interview, context and Latin.
published 21 September 2013 by Veronica Brandt

Elizabeth EADING THE POPE’S INTERVIEW is a great way to start the day. I’d better admit though, I haven’t read the whole thing yet, but quotes have been flying around the interwebs like confetti. Everyone is doing a take on it. There’s so much in the interview that everyone can find a chunk to bolster their own personal bandwagon. But if you want to really understand it, you need to go back to the interview and look at the chunks in context.

Just out of interest, the word “Latin” pops up in the interview three times. Which is exactly the same frequency as “abortion” and “homosexual”, so let me go off on that tangent, although, like abortion and homosexuality, that is not the main message in the Pope’s interview.

From time to time the idea comes up that it is not practical to use Latin prayers or hymns because your average person in the pew can’t understand it. Some will say that one must study Latin before attempting any liturgical applications of the language. There is a logic here – if one were writing a letter or watching a show, it would be important to know the language, but that is a different context.

Back when I first came across a place that used Latin with lavish abandon, I did fret that I was missing out because I didn’t know what it all meant. I was used to being on the inside of the choir, knowing what was coming up next, having the words and music handy. So I put together a new book of old hymns, digging up old translations and bugging people to help me with new ones.

Then I was sort of disappointed to find that most people didn’t really care that much. They were happy to listen to the beautiful music. Over time they would become familiar with bits and pieces. They might ask after Mass about a particularly striking piece and there would be a choir member there to give more than enough information about its meanings and origins.

More recently someone was warning against relying on Latin hymns, saying the average person can’t understand them. I reassured her that the Mass books in the church had the English versions following each Latin hymn. Except O Sanctissima. That was one of the later additions, when I was making all those compromises that come with collective decisions. But that was alright, she said, because everyone knows that one.

Which is the point with Latin in the liturgy. People just get to know the bits they like. The translations are not that far away. You’re not expected to know everything. If you want to know, then there is someone to ask. And most people don’t care that much.

To borrow a chunk from the Pope:

I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds…. And you have to start from the ground up.

People come to Mass to pray in all sorts of ways. Some for the peace, some to plead for a loved one, some to give something of themselves, some just to glorify God. In our parish there are broken families, broken hearts, people struggling with various trials. In our world it is even crazier. So much to pray for. So much beyond our ability to comprehend!

If you want to join in the singing, then come an hour before Mass starts and I’ll go through the music with you. Please. Your kids can kick a ball around with my kids. And I’ll make sure there’s a piece of cake for you after Mass.

In the meantime you can read Jeffrey Tucker’s pick from the Big Interview at Chant Cafe.