Friday, January 27, 2012

Latin in the Mass: It's Not Rocket Science!

One of the first things one hears from those who resist Mass in the extraordinary form is “But we can’t understand anything; Latin is so hard!”

My first answer to that is in days gone by – centuries of them – the faithful managed to understand what was going on in the Mass and, since the invention of the printing press, have had some written material translating the Mass prayers into the local language. So If one can read at all, one can read the Mass in the vernacular across from the Latin and follow what is happening.  All venues that provide the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite, to my knowledge, provide translations, so no one need remain ignorant of what is being said.

It's easy! One side has Latin...
...the other side has English!

The second important thing to remember is that Latin is still the official language of the Church. Not only did the Vatican II Council not replace it, the documents of the Council reiterate and emphasize that Latin is the mother tongue of Catholicism, just as chant is in first place for the musical expression of liturgical prayer.

And last, but not least, the word “liturgy” comes from the Greek leitourgia, which means literally “work of the people” or “public work.”  Participating in the liturgy does not mean  sitting in the pew saying one’s rosary, as exemplary as that might be at another time and place; nor does it mean  leaving everything to the priest, servers, and choir.  Liturgy demands an attitude of awareness and at least inner participation in the sacrifice of the Mass that Christ has given us as the perfect worship of the Father. The word reminds us that adoration of the Deity must be taken seriously and requires effort by all present.  

One way to do that at the extraordinary form of the Mass is to learn some basic Latin.  Because it is a phonetic language, Latin is a lot easier to access than many other tongues.  If one learns the sound that a certain combination of letters makes, one can always pronounce the combination whenever it appears. For example, a “c” before an “i” or an “e” always sounds like “ch” in English, as in “cibus.”

It is logical to start any language lesson with vowels.  There are five, just as in English, and each one can be long or short, according to most Latin grammars. Some do not distinguish, but give only one sound for each vowel.  However, here we will take the former view.

 A long “A” sounds like “ah,” as in “Father” . A short “A” sounds like the vowel in the English word, “cap.” A long “E” sounds like the long “A” in English, as in the word, “lay.” A short e is the same as in most English words, such as “red.”

The “O” in Latin, when long, is exactly like a long “O” in English, as in “omen.” When short, it is like the ‘O” in “or.” The long vowel “I” sounds like a long “E” in English, as in “meet,” while the short version is like a short “I” in English, as in “tin.”

Finally, the “U,” which can cause the most problems. A long “U” is pronounced like “OO” in English. Never put a “Y” sound before a Latin “U”. The short version of the vowel is like the “u” in the English word “cup.”

Next time: Some common Latin words using the vowels, both long and short and the way to pronounce diphthongs, which are two vowels put together, but said as one. 

Submitted by Stephanie Swee

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