Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Popes and Latin

This is an article written a couple of months prior to the promulgation of the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, but still relevant. Unfortunately, as far as I know, no Tridentine Masses have taken place in the Diocese of Gozo.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Popes and Latin

by Mgr Anton Gauci, Victoria, Gozo.

It was right and appropriate for 'A Christian Outlook' to remind us of the injunction contained in Vatican II's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy "Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rite" (The Sunday Times, March 25). I am also happy to note that, in The Times Mr Alfred Sladden pointed out that "Pope Benedict himself has urged the universal Church to revamp the use of Latin" (April 2). It is several years that Popes have been hammering on the revival of the Latin language in the Catholic Church. And they want Church schools to take the matter seriously. They know that, for 2,000 years, Latin has been the chief means of expression for the Western Church. And they are aware that the major part, if not the totality, of the Church's traditional teaching has been through this language.

Preserved for our use and benefit in the works the Fathers of the Church and Saints have bequeathed us. Addressing members of the Latinitas foundation in 2005, Benedict XVI insisted that the study of Latin be encouraged and spread. The Pope noted that "Catholics cannot put aside the custom of using Latin as the official language of the Church", adding that "the great treasures of the Latin language cannot be lost". Nor did he fail to remind us of John XIII's Constitution Veterum Sapientia confirming the role of Latin "as the international language of the Catholic Church and the city state of the Vatican".

I would not be so pessimist as to lament that, in our country, these eye-openings of the two Popes have been "cries in the desert". But neither will I refrain from noting that, these last 30 years, Latin has been given a deadly blow in our schools, not excluding those under the responsibility of the Church.

Apart from the fact that traditional courses of Theology and Philosophy are no longer led in Latin, the language itself is no longer taught in either the Church's secondary schools or those of the State.

And, in post-secondary courses here with us, a mere lesson a week is given for two years - which is not even enough for a rudimentary knowledge of the language, let alone the prose and poetry of the classics: of these not a mention is made. I believe it is no exaggeration to note that today's priests know Latin no better than religious Sisters knew the language when they chanted the Psalms in Latin in choirs.

I fail to understand how students proceeding abroad to read for degrees in such subjects as Theology and Canon Law can carry out appropriate research when they know not Latin.

Obviously the blame lies not at the feet of these students, but on the shoulders of those who dealt the deadly blow to Latin in Church schools. There it used to be studied for nine years with a lesson a day. Moreover, lessons in the courses of Theology and Philosophy were delivered in Latin.

It is not only since 2005 that the Holy See has been insisting, even if with no success, on the study of Latin. Way back on November 27, 1978, and November 26, 1979, John Paul II pointed out this necessity in speeches to Certamen Vaticanum. And, in 1981 and 1986, to the foundation Latinitas. Here in Malta, I remember the late Mgr Joseph Lupi insisting on the same need in May 1997. In an article entitled "Reviving Latin", Bernard Vassallo on December 3, 1995 and in "Latinitatis studium, quo vadis Malitae?" Dr Horace Vella on May 25, 1997, did the same thing.

On October 30, 1993, news spread that the "European Community is now trying Latin". And, on April 14 of that same year, Dr Ugo Mifsud Bonnici, then Minister of Education, had "vowed" to reawaken the study of classics in Malta: Dr Mifsud Bonnici was then speaking in a symposium at the University of Malta, and he deplored the decline of Latin and said that the study of Latin had to be "extended to various schools".

It was on this occasion that we had a remark very much to the point, when Professor Anthony Bonanno noted that "very few schools have reintroduced the teaching of Latin on a regular basis". In the symposium, I remember it had been made clear that it was the Catholic Church that had spread Latin throughout Western Europe. Dr Mifsud Bonnici had said that "the decline of Latin in Malta and abroad is a tragedy".

We do not lack people who goad us for the study of Latin. John Paul II, Benedict XVI and various others. But, so far, I am afraid efforts have fallen on deaf ears. Again, I do not blame teachers. The malady goes much beyond that. It comes from above, from upper quarters, those at the helm, whether it be in the Church or in State schools.