Mystery or Mystification?

The Limits of Latin in the Liturgy

A couple of years ago I received two requests. The first: to preside at a Latin novus ordo Mass, the post–Vatican II rite in Latin. The second: to say a funeral Mass from the Missale Romanum of 1570. In the first case, the Latin language and the melodies were familiar enough, but the text in song, apart from the Pater Noster (in which the congregation did not participate), was not part of my experience. In the second case, it was 1949 when I had last presided in black vestments and proclaimed that doleful text, Dies Irae and all, at a funeral Mass. The novus ordo celebration required sight reading modern musical notation, not the square Gregorian notes on a four-line staff that I had been familiar with. But that was not a problem. What proved problematic was the syllabication of the sung preface canon (one prayer; interruption by the Sanctus only came later), and seeing to it that the words, familiar in English but not in Latin, fell on the proper notes without the neumes provided in plainchant. My chief impression that Sunday morning was that the congregation regularly in attendance did not engage in the full, active participation I was used to. They attended Holy Mass and gave my leadership in prayer their strict attention.

The second experience requires a brief explanation. A deacon friend in hospice ministry told me that a man he had assisted as death approached...

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About the Author

Rev. Gerard S. Sloyan is a priest of the Diocese of Trenton and professor emeritus of Temple University. His recent publications include Preaching from the Lectionary: An Exegetical Commentary (Fortress) and Jesus: Word Made Flesh (Liturgical Press).