A recent letter in the Catholic Herald has caught my eye. The writer, Susan Carson-Rowland, was raising the question of the new English translation of the Mass, which she described as a “true rendering of the definitive Latin text to replace the inaccurate version we have endured for 40 years”. This situation has been lamented many times over during the last 40 years, both by traditionalists and those, like myself, who attend the Novus Ordo, and I have nothing new to add to the debate. What struck me about this letter was its author’s final question: “Why don’t we have Mass in Latin and avoid all this tiresome palaver?”
I only understood the full force of the question when I happened to attend an ordination to the diaconate at the Oxford Oratory last week. The Mass, sung in Latin according to the Novus Ordo, with the readings and rite of ordination in English, was celebrated magnificently. Bilingual service books were provided for those of us who had forgotten, or were unfamiliar with, the Latin. Of course, having a professional choir helped, though the congregation joined in singing the responses, the Credo and the Pater Noster. And it was a special occasion; I understand that generally Oratories celebrate Mass in the vernacular, while providing at least one Mass in Latin on Sundays and on solemnities.
My mole in the Association of Latin Liturgy tells me that the whole point of this association during the last 40 years has been to encourage the use of Latin (and the musical treasury of the Church, including plain chant) in the Novus Ordo, in an attempt to prevent Latin being swept away altogether. Their remit has been the document on the liturgy which stated: “The faithful must be able to say or sing together in Latin the parts of the Mass which pertain to them.”
Have the aims of the association failed? Judging from the ordinary practice of almost all parish Masses it would appear so. There are only three Oratories in this country and, as my mole further points out, if you want a complete new rite Latin liturgy you have to go either to Pluscarden Abbey in Moray, Scotland, or to St Cecilia’s Benedictine convent in Ryde, Isle of Wight – either the extreme north or the extreme south of the country.
Back to the question raised in the letter to the Herald: why don’t we have Mass in Latin?